Indispensable condiment

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Valerie Hansen gave me the following package:

I was pleased that I could read the cursive script without hesitation:

shuàn bùlí 涮不离

Figuring out exactly what this expression means is another matter altogether.

The last two characters are relatively easy:  "[can]not separate / be apart (from)".

The first character is harder; it basically means "rinse; swill", but — in a more specialized sense — it also means "scald thin slices of meat (especially mutton) and vegetables in boiling water".  It's the Northern Chinese variant of huǒguō 火鍋 ("hot pot") , which was well established under the Mongols and then elaborated under the Manchus, but is now best known by its Sichuanese and Chongqing exemplars.

Shuàn yángròu 涮羊肉 ("instant-boiled mutton") may be thought of as the Chinese equivalent or parallel to Japanese shabu-shabu (that's an onomatopoeic term describing the sounds of the ingredients being swirled in the boiling water; shuàn 涮 itself might also be onomatopoeic).

Now that we know what shuàn 涮 means as a cooking technique ("scald thinly sliced meat, vegetables, etc."), let's proceed to try to make sense of the whole expression, shuàn bùlí 涮不离:

"scald not leave / separate / part"

Even some native speakers of Chinese to whom I showed this expression didn't know quite what to make of all three character together.  After giving it some thought and pondering the package as a whole, it begins to dawn on you:  as a dipping sauce for shuàn yángròu 涮羊肉 ("instant-boiled mutton [and other thinly sliced meat or vegetables]"), you can't be without it.

"[when you] scald [meat, etc.] [you] cannot be separated / apart from it"

In other words, it's an indispensable dipping sauce for this style of hot pot.

[Thanks to Yixue Yang]


  1. BZ said,

    January 23, 2018 @ 4:08 pm

    So the translation is correct for a change?

  2. Alex said,

    January 23, 2018 @ 4:35 pm

    For some reason, it makes me think of the spider's syntax in Charlotte's Web; "Some pig!" Though it would take a lot more silk to spin out "Indispensable condiment."

  3. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 23, 2018 @ 6:37 pm

    BZ: Given native Chinese speakers' difficulties, I almost wonder whether the Chinese is a translation of the English.

  4. Chris Buckey said,

    January 24, 2018 @ 8:22 am

    So is this the Chinese version of Cavenders Greek Seasoning?

  5. bratschegirl said,

    January 24, 2018 @ 12:22 pm

    Perhaps a machine on the production line malfunctioned, and the little slit without which such packets can't be torn open was not added, rendering the contents unable to be dispensed…

  6. Ellen Kozisek said,

    January 24, 2018 @ 3:52 pm

    The ambiguity of "indispensable condiment" in English stands out for me. Either a condiment that you can't do without, or a condiment that you can't get of of the dispenser.

  7. BZ said,

    January 25, 2018 @ 1:25 pm

    @Ellen Kozisek,
    Is your second use of "indispensable" actually attested or was that a joke? I think the correct form for that would be non-dispensable.

  8. Hanson Carbokaplama said,

    January 27, 2018 @ 3:10 pm

    non-dispensable or indispensable? [link=]carbokaplama[/link]

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