Sautéed Jew's ear

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Don Clarke spotted this suspiciously named dish at the Diàoyútái dà jiǔdiàn 钓鱼台大酒店 (Diaoyutai Hotel) in Beijing on 12/9/15:

Strange as the name may seem, the problem is not with the "Jew's-ear" but with the "Scallion".

yángcōng chǎo mù'ěr 洋葱炒木耳 ("fried onion with wood ear")

"Wood ear" is from Chinese mù'ěr 木耳 or hēi mù'ěr 黑木耳 ("black wood ear").  This is the fungus "Jew's ear" (Auricularia auricula-judae), which gets its English name from a deformation of "Judas's ear" (for the origin of this name, see here).

The wood ear or Jew's ear mushroom, which is highly esteemed in Chinese cooking (one of my favorite ingredients!), has been mentioned in a number of Language Log posts.  See:

Back in 2010, a canned beverage made from this fungus was all the rage in China:  "The Jew's ear Juice", see here and here.

The terminology concerning onions in their diverse manifestations is vexed, and we have delved into it rather extensively in this post and the comments thereto:

Without going into unnecessary detail here, I will merely note the following:

1. yángcōng 洋葱 (lit., "overseas [i.e., foreign] onion") is the common, ordinary onion

2. "scallion" is commonly referred to in Chinese as cōng 葱, without any qualifier

No matter what you call it in English or Chinese, yángcōng chǎo mù'ěr 洋葱炒木耳 ("fried onion with wood ear") is super delicious.


  1. Ralph said,

    December 10, 2015 @ 3:26 pm

    My Chinese is rusty, why "fried onion with wood ear"? Isn't the construction "fried wood ear with onion"?

  2. Victor Mair said,

    December 10, 2015 @ 5:19 pm


    Right. I seriously considered translating it that way too, but it didn't sound as good in English to my ear (!), and the amount of onion is apt to be as much as or (and in many cases where I've eaten this dish) more than the wood ear. Check out these pics.

  3. Theophylact said,

    December 10, 2015 @ 8:33 pm

    Oddly enough, when I buy wood ear (or "tree ear") at a Chinese or Korean grocery, the package is often labeled "seaweed" — but the contents are defined as "Auricularia".

  4. C. Reider said,

    December 10, 2015 @ 8:35 pm

    In the English speakiing fungophile community as I've experienced it, "Jew's Ear" has fallen far out of favor as the common name for this mushroom, Tree Ear or Wood Ear is far more acceptable.

  5. Zizoz said,

    December 10, 2015 @ 8:40 pm

    With how much the English text is squished horizontally, I thought it said "Jen's-eat".

  6. Victor Mair said,

    December 11, 2015 @ 10:39 am

    Good one, Zizoz!

    And "With" looks like "Vith".

  7. Victor Mair said,

    December 11, 2015 @ 10:48 am

    @C. Reider

    Let's hope it dies out altogether. In the first place, it's based on a mispronunciation. Second, it's disrespectful. And, third, "tree ear" and "wood ear" are perfectly serviceable.

  8. Calvin said,

    December 11, 2015 @ 7:37 pm

    @Ralph, @Victor Mair

    My take of the English translation for this dish would be "sautéed wood ear with onion". This is because wood ear is the main ingredient while onion is the accompaniment. Same way you would call "filet mignon with goat cheese", not "goat cheese with filet mignon".

    炒 means cooking in high heat and moving the ingredients constantly, in the same manner as sauté. It is sometimes translated as "stir-fried", which is also acceptable. BTW, the original sign for this dish also used "sautéed" but without the accent.

    煎 means shallow-fry the food in low to medium heat without moving the food much. One popular dish in Hong Kong-style restaurants is "洋蔥煎豬排" ("fried pork chop with onion").

    炸 is deep-frying the food.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    December 11, 2015 @ 11:42 pm


    Of course, but you missed one of my comments on the proportion of the ingredients.

  10. Victor Mair said,

    December 12, 2015 @ 12:56 am

    From an anonymous colleague:

    I wanted to mention that Mu'er 木耳 is what misty (朦胧) poet Gu Cheng 顾城 called his son. That supposedly came from 桑木耳, a Sinification of his English name Samuel.

    Gu Cheng killed his wife and himself in 1993. Samuel/Mu'er, who was five at the time, grew up in (I think) New Zealand and never learned much Chinese.

    I just wanted to share this information without publicly commenting on the incident, since I'm not sure how much Samuel Gu would appreciate the publicity.

    Relevant link:

    Gu Cheng poem I used to especially like:

  11. Calvin said,

    December 12, 2015 @ 12:57 am

    @Victor Mair

    Yes I saw your comment. One likely reason for the larger portion of the onion is cost — I am most certain that wood ear costs much more than onion.

    This bring to mind my "culture shock" when I first encountered "chop suey" (雜碎) — Americanized Chinese cuisine. I ordered "beef chow mein" (牛肉炒麵), anticipating a hearty portion of fried egg noodles with just some beef. Instead it was a full plate of beef mixed with some vegetables, and less than a handful of noodle crisp sprinkled on top.

  12. Victor Mair said,

    December 12, 2015 @ 11:08 am

    In the o.p., I considered mentioning the relative cost of the two main ingredients, but thought better of it because that was so obvious.

  13. Victor Mair said,

    December 12, 2015 @ 11:15 am

    @an anonymous colleague

    I remember Gu Cheng well. He used to wear a strange appurtenance on his head; hard to define what it was.

  14. Victor Mair said,

    December 12, 2015 @ 11:16 am

    From an anonymous colleague:

    I think it was a hat cut out of a trouser leg. After that one wore off his wife made him new ones.

  15. Victor Mair said,

    December 12, 2015 @ 11:19 am

    @an anonymous colleague

    Here's the Wikipedia article on Gu Cheng:

    And here are some images showing him with his strange headgear.

  16. K Chang said,

    December 18, 2015 @ 4:39 am

    I think there's another consideration on which goes first, not just the portions. IIRC, I think the "meat" go first. 蛋炒飯 is Fried rice with egg. Egg is the "meat" equivalent, the non-vegetarian portion. I seem remember Buddhist lore said that scallion and onions are considered "meat" and must be avoided, so I can see why onion may go first.

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