Awful offal

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The following YouTube presents "25 Crazy Things You’ll Only Find In Chinese Walmarts".  If you have 4:14 to spare and want to know what special sorts of things are sold in Chinese Walmarts, you can watch the whole video.  If you're pressed for time, then skip to 3:13, which is what I'll be discussing in this post.

The name of the product on the package is báitāng yángzá 白汤羊杂.  The announcer misreads the English as "Deception of Sheep Offal", but — according to what's written on the package — it should be "Decoction of Sheep Offal".  For most people, however, that's probably not going to mean much either.

A decoction is a medicinal preparation made by heating or boiling a substance, especially a plant or plants.  I think that what we have here is material for making a broth or bouillon, together with sheep innards / viscera to be cooked in it to make a soup.

From Jinyi Cai:

It’s sheep offal soup / bouillon with no chili oil. It’s a common dish in north China, especially in Shanxi and Shaanxi areas where there are lots of Huímín 回民 ("Hui nationality"), who are Muslims and thus don’t eat pork. I personally liked the spicy kind of sheep offal soup a lot before I became a vegetarian.

I thought maybe the manufacturer used translation tools to translate and I tried both Baidu translation and Google translation to see how they would translate “白汤羊杂”. It’s interesting that Baidu says “Haggis soup” while Google says “White soup sheep miscellaneous”. Maybe the manufacturer thought “decoction” is a fancier word?

Notes by Jing Wen:

This video is so interesting. The 25th “crazy thing” is not that crazy. It is just duck eggs, salted or preserved in lime. There are also quail eggs, which are sold in some US supermarkets too.

Pig faces are seldom sold in supermarkets. At least in Beijing, I can hardly see pig faces! In the past, people cooked pig faces during the Spring Festival, mainly as an offering for the ancestors. (Of course, the pig heads were consumed by family members. Ancient Egyptians used bullheads as an offering to the dead.) I did not know diet water either. As for crocodiles, it must be a supermarket in southern China! I have never seen a shark head in the supermarket either! People may order frog legs in restaurants, but I don’t think anyone would want to buy them and kill them at home….  At least in northern China, people don’t buy frogs.

I think it should be bouillon or broth of sheep or goat offal, usually blood, heart, liver, lungs, tripe, and intestine. Basically, it is white (i.e., plain) soup cooked with sheep or goat offal to be served as breakfast. It is popular in the northwest. Not sure why the English is “deception of sheep offal.” Decoction does not sound right either because decoction means to boil medicinal herbs with water, “煎汤药.” We never say 煎羊杂.


"Offal is not awful" (12/9/16)

"Walmart China talk" (9/16/15)

[h.t. Reuben F. Johnson; thanks to Jiajia Wang and Xiuyuan Mi]


  1. Philip Taylor said,

    March 27, 2018 @ 2:02 am

    Live frogs are certainly sold for food in Shanghai street markets — one reason why I avoid such places like the plague. On the other hand, I have no problem with offal (of any sort) at all.

  2. Keith said,

    March 27, 2018 @ 3:41 am

    It's quite typical for Youtube video makers to get things wrong and to exaggerate like that.

    "Animal eggs"… OK, just duck eggs, goose eggs and quail eggs, maybe. The narrator has perhaps never seen any other kind of egg than a plain bright white battery-hen egg.

    "Crocodiles on ice"… to keep them fresh, just like in the US at the Whole Foods fish counter, the fish are on beds of ice.

    "Pig faces", "Chickens' feet"… the narrator should get out more. I used to see pigs' heads sold in the market in the UK, chickens' feet and goat liver in the US (in Hispanic butchers' shops).

    Then there are the bad translations or just badly chosen product names.

    "Diet water" is clearly marked as being made by Saporro, better known as a Japanese brewer of beer. The "diet water" is supposed to contain molecules that help to lose weight. Hardly any more weird that the row after row of supplements and weight-loss products that you'd find in Wal-Mart of Costco.

    It reminded me of the Pocari Sweat (it's got electrolytes!) that I used to see in Japanese and Korean grocery stores in the US. Not for the similarity of the product, but for the odd name.

  3. Keith said,

    March 27, 2018 @ 3:43 am

    I forgot to mention that it's also fairly common in the US and in Europe to have a tank of live lobsters or live crabs at a fish counter of a supermarket.

    OK, maybe not in the mid west, but along the coastal states.

    So why be surprised to see live fish for sale?

  4. richardelguru said,

    March 27, 2018 @ 6:54 am

    “Haggis soup” I'm half Scottish* and that's exactly what I thought of from the description, though presumably san oatmeal.
    * or rather Sesqui-Scot!! Ahh, the perils of the half-breed!
    I am clearly either a Scot and a half or an Englishman and a half, the logic being as follows:—
    Each of my parents insists, following ancient tradition, that one of their race is equal to any two of the other.
    Thus my composition is either:

    one half English plus one half Scottish times two, totalling 1.5

    one half Scottish plus one half English times two, totalling 1.5

    Hence a Sesqui-Scot since that flows so much better than *Sesqui-Englishman.

  5. richardelguru said,

    March 27, 2018 @ 6:56 am

    Oooops! For san read sans throughout (serves me right for trying to be witty)

  6. Andreas Johansson said,

    March 27, 2018 @ 8:28 am

    Philip Taylor wrote:
    On the other hand, I have no problem with offal (of any sort) at all.

    I don't have any problem with offal either, except that I irrationally dislike the English word. It sounds like it should refer to something disgusting.

    One of the little disappointments of my childhood was that my younger siblings all hated liver stew, so my mother largely stopped making it.

  7. Frans said,

    March 27, 2018 @ 10:10 am

    Agreed that most of that stuff isn't nearly as weird as it's made out to be. Are our dill pickle Lay's weird? Probably, but cucumber Lay's are hardly weird in comparison.

    Not too long ago I saw a guy purchase a bunch of pig's feet and chicken legs at the local butcher's right in front of me. (That's in Antwerp.) By itself that's not terribly remarkable. After all, how else are you going to make good chicken bouillon. But when I say a bunch I mean some eight feet and a whole big bag of chicken legs.

    @Andreas Johansson
    I'd say offal is disgusting as a word. It's quite literally trash/garbage (cf. Dutch afval, the translation of trash, which afaik is etymologically the same word).

    Calling organ meat butcher's trash (offal) is expressing an opinion. Much like how I might say McDonald's is trash.

  8. Andreas Johansson said,

    March 27, 2018 @ 10:33 am


    Also Swedish avfall "trash, waste" – but I didn't know that when I formed my aversion to the word. I first encountered it in the food sense.

  9. Philip Taylor said,

    March 27, 2018 @ 11:06 am

    Andreas : oddly enough, not only does the thought (and taste) of offal not worry me in the least, I also have no aversion to the word. But "variety meats" drives me crazy — I mentally classify it in the same category as writing "shute" when one clearly means "shit" (interjective, not substantive, of course).

  10. Lewis said,

    March 27, 2018 @ 11:22 am

    Offal or haggis or chittlins or anything remotely like that is revolting, but, strangely, I like scrapple, and I don't want to know what's in hot dogs.

  11. bratschegirl said,

    March 27, 2018 @ 11:35 am

    Is a "decoction" the opposite of a "concoction?"

  12. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 27, 2018 @ 5:37 pm

    Not on the subject but only on the wordplay in the title of the post. Am I right that awful and offal ought to be homophones only for those speakers with the caught/cot merger? I definitely don't have that merger, but I find upon reflection that I have no good sense of how I pronounce "offal," presumably since it's a word I apparently don't say aloud and do not hear others say aloud with any frequency. So any pronunciation of it (including with my "cot" vowel) I might utter requires a self-conscious pause, meaning whatever might come out of my mouth is no evidence of what my natural pronunciation of the word would be if I had one.

    But I'd be interested from hearing from others who do say "offal" with enough frequency to have a non-self-conscious pronunciation of it to see if it follows their "cot" vowel (esp if unmerged with their "caught" vowel) and, if not, what vowel it has.

  13. Rhona Fenwick said,

    March 28, 2018 @ 12:06 am

    I wonder if 白汤羊杂 is similar to what the Turks call işkembe çorbası. I tried it once, but found that the aftertaste was too similar to bile and the aftermath of a vomiting bout for me to find it enjoyable. I do love the red organs, though – kidney, liver, heart. I grew up in a household with Germanic and farming heritage so liver and bacon was always around, and the Turkish style of fried liver, çiğer kebabı, is probably one of my very favourite foods.

    Lung's rare here in Australia and I've never tried it, but it does form part of the Ubykh ċ°agʹəċ°ạ́ḇa "pluck", the heart, liver and lungs taken out of a sacrificial animal as a unit that would be roasted as food, especially during the ancient spring equinox festival of the cattle god Aχəna. That's about the limit of my knowledge of lung as food.

  14. Rhona Fenwick said,

    March 28, 2018 @ 12:08 am

    @J. W. Brewer:
    I'd be interested from hearing from others who do say "offal" with enough frequency to have a non-self-conscious pronunciation of it to see if it follows their "cot" vowel (esp if unmerged with their "caught" vowel) and, if not, what vowel it has.

    Yep, my pronunciation of it (Australian English, therefore unmerged) has always been the COT vowel.

  15. Lazar said,

    March 28, 2018 @ 12:46 am

    Am I right that awful and offal ought to be homophones only for those speakers with the caught/cot merger?

    No – as far as I'm aware, most Americans without the cot-caught merger would also say them the same, because offal was subject to the lot/cloth split (cf. "Cawfee Tawk"). But in non-North American varieties they would definitely be said differently, excepting Scotland and a handful of U-RP speakers.

  16. V said,

    March 28, 2018 @ 2:13 am

    "I wonder if 白汤羊杂 is similar to what the Turks call işkembe çorbası."

    That's the first thing I thought, and I was waiting to see if someone else will make the association. Here in Bulgaria шкембе чорба. But this sounds more like lamb комплект for making things like drob sarma (sort or like a risotto with lamb intestines), kurban chorba (similar but with a lot of leafy greens and a soup), or kukurech for St. George's day and Easter, found in every Bulgarian supermarket in spring. OTOH shkembe chorba is usually made with beef stomach, pork or lamb are more rare. And the festive meals I mentioned above are made with the small intestine, lungs, kidneys, liver, heart, and spleen. Stomach is not included — it's for the mundane shkembe chorba.

  17. Philip Taylor said,

    March 28, 2018 @ 2:16 am

    JWB: for me (Southern <Br.E:gt; speaker. 71) "offal" has the COT vowel, "awful" has the CAUGHT vowel. Offal is a normal part of everyday language for me, so no introspection needed.

  18. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    March 28, 2018 @ 4:00 am

    As Lazar says, U-RP speakers traditionally pronounced 'off' as 'awf', despite not having the cot-caught merger. Fowler discuses the question to which cases this applies; there's also a passage in The Pirates of Penzance (I think) which turns on 'often' being pronounced the same as 'orphan' (non-rhotic). I don't know if anyone still speaks like this, though.

  19. Philip Taylor said,

    March 28, 2018 @ 4:07 am

    Andrew (ntso) : "I don't know if anyone still speaks like this, though". Of course they do, dear boy, of course they do; rather like the Masonic handshake, it offers an immediate entrée into the social circle with which its use is traditionally associated. Of course, it also helps to affect the correct attire, thereby further speeding up the process of mutual recognition.

  20. Rodger C said,

    March 28, 2018 @ 6:47 am

    One more data point: Like others here, I don't have the COT-CAUGHT merger, but I pronounce "offal" and "awful" the same, with the CAUGHT vowel.

  21. Victor Mair said,

    March 28, 2018 @ 8:06 am

    The usual word for sheep / goat ("ovicaprid") offal / entrails / innards, viscera is yángzá 羊雜 (lit., "sheep / goat miscellaneous"). A more colloquial northern expression is yáng xiàshuǐ 羊下水 (lit., "sheep / goat down into the water"). That sounded strange to me the first time I heard it, but later I realized that it refers to the bucket of water on the floor below the cutting table into which the butcher throws these parts of the animal as he is working on the more immediately desirable cuts of meat.

    Cf. offal = off + fall.

    On "ovicaprid":

  22. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 28, 2018 @ 10:18 am

    Although I lack the cot-caught (a/k/a LOT-THOUGHT) merger I do (like many/most AmEng speakers w/o that merger?) have the LOT-CLOTH split, so … I guess my default "natural" pronunciation of "offal" should indeed be homophonous with my pronunciation of "awful." I shall try to keep that in mind should the need to say the word aloud ever arise.

  23. David Marjanović said,

    March 29, 2018 @ 6:25 pm

    I shall try to keep that in mind should the need to say the word aloud ever arise.

    First rule of offal club…

  24. Victor Mair said,

    March 31, 2018 @ 6:38 pm

    From Peter Golden:

    I can remember smelling işkembe çorbası half-way down the street on which the restaurant that specialized in it was located.
    Haggis I like and have enjoyed it in Scotland. My wife, a native of Shanghai, thinks it is “barbaric”…but has no problem with eels (quite good when prepared Shanghai style). To each his/her own.

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