Let's have Mr. and Mrs. Smith for lunch

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From Charles Belov:

While restaurant hunting in the East Bay, I happened upon these dishes with the intriguing English names of "Mr and Mrs Smith" and "Boiled Omasum with Chili Pepper." Omasum turns out to be an obscure name of a variety of tripe, but I'm puzzled as to how the Smith family made it into Chinese cuisine.

The first dish pictured above is:

zhāopái báizhuó niú bǎiyè
招牌白灼牛百叶
("signature scalded / boiled [in plain water] omasum")

Though it sounds a bit strange, the translation of this dish given by the restaurant is not bad.  As Charles points out, "omasum" is a kind of tripe:

The omasum, also known as the bible, the fardel, the manyplies and the psalterium, is the third compartment of the stomach in ruminants. The omasum comes after the rumen and reticulum and before the abomasum.

(source)

If "omasum" is obscure, some of the other, alternative names are equally arcane:

fardel: Middle English, from Old French, diminutive of farde, package,
from Arabic farda, single piece, pack, bundle, from farada, to be separate;
see prd in Semitic roots. [from AH Dict., 5th ed.]

One thing these names tell us is that the cattlemen and beef butchers who produced, processed, and sold the omasum knew their religious texts.  Some of them also point to the identical derivation of "niú bǎiyè 牛百叶" (lit., "bovine hundred [i.e., many] leaves").

The name of the second dish pictured, "fūqī fèi piàn 夫妻肺片" (lit., "husband and wife lung slices") gives rise to many hilarious Chinglish translations, of which "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" is but one.  Here I must quote in extenso from the Wikipedia article on this dish:

Fuqi feipian (Chinese: 夫妻肺片; pinyin: fūqī fèipiàn; literally: 'husband and wife lung pieces') is a popular Sichuan dish, served cold or at room temperature, which is made of thinly sliced beef and beef offal. Common ingredients in the modern version include beef heart, tongue and tripe, and a generous amount of various spices, including Sichuan pepper. True to its Sichuan roots, the desired taste should be both spicy and mouth-numbing. Despite its name, actual lung is rarely used.

As early as the late Qing dynasty, many vendors were already selling beef slices served cold in the streets of Chengdu, using beef offal because they were relatively inexpensive. Because of its low cost, the dish was popular among rickshaw pullers and poor students.

In the 1930s, a married couple in Chengdu became famous for making beef slices. The husband, Guo Zhaohua (郭朝華), and wife, Zhang Tianzheng (張田政), were particular about the beef slices they made, and often experimented with new ingredients. As a result, their beef slices had a distinct taste from the other beef slice vendors, and their business boomed. Often though, mischievous children would pull a prank on the couple, and stick paper notes that read fuqi feipian ("husband and wife lung pieces") on their backs, and sometimes people would yell the words out. Later on, a merchant tried the fuqi feipian and was so satisfied, he gave them a gold-lettered plaque that read fuqi feipian, and the name has stuck ever since.

To suit their customers' tastes, the couple made many improvements on the dish, and offal slices were eventually replaced by various beef or lamb slices. Many people still preferred calling the dish fuqi feipian, thus the name is still used today.

The meaning of fei was originally waste parts or offal (廢) but later changed to [homophonous] lung (肺) so the dish sounded less repulsive. The lung could be a part of this offal, but fei is not lung by itself in this dish's meaning.

(source)

As might be expected, there are variants to this story, with increasing specificity.  Here's one from a correspondent:

At the end of the Qing dynasty, street vendors commonly sold dishes made of beef slices, beef offal, spices, and other hot sauces in Chengdu. People called such dishes "feipian 废片" ("offal slices") because the thin beef slices and beef offal that were used for this dish were very cheap and didn't hold any sale value if sold individually.

In the 1930s, one couple in Chengdu, husband's name Guo Chaohua 郭朝华, wife's name Zhang Tianzheng 张田政, made this dish especially well. One customer liked it so much that he wrote for them a banner / store plaque saying "fuqi feipian 夫妻肺片" ("husband and wife lung slices"). He didn't use "废片" ("offal slices") because it didn't sound nice for a food store. That's why this dish is called "夫妻肺片". In 1998, their daughter opened this store again with the name "Guo shi chuanren fuqi feipian 郭氏传人夫妻肺片" ("Husand and wife's lung slices by a descendant of Guo").

Meanwhile, the name of this dish has became very popular and wide-spread. Now this dish is available all over China.

There is a joke that says, "Chinese food names are interesting. You don't always get what it says. For example, 老婆饼里没有老婆, 狮子头里没有狮子, 夫妻肺片里没有夫妻…, etc. ('There is no Laopo / wife / old lady in the pastry Laopobing; there is no lion in the dish lion head / meatball; there are no husband and wife in the dish Fuqi Feipian / husband and wife lung slices')".

I should note that most Chinese I've talked to who enjoy eating this dish don't know these stories and don't worry about the meaning of "fūqī fèi piàn 夫妻肺片" (lit., "husband and wife lung slices").  They just devour it without getting involved in the semantics of the name.

Readings

[Thanks to Jinyi Cai, Zeyao Wu, and Qing Liao]



18 Comments

  1. Philip Taylor said,

    April 3, 2019 @ 7:06 am

    Intrigued by the statement that "[t]he meaning of fei was originally waste parts or offal but [was] later changed to lung so the dish sounded less repulsive". Perhaps one's sensitivity such things is primarily conditioned by one's upbringing, but for me "offal" is a far more attractive-sounding ingredient than "lungs", given that the former can include heart, kidneys, liver, etc., all of which I personally regard as delicacies.

  2. Laura Morland said,

    April 3, 2019 @ 7:10 am

    Wonderful stories!

    However, as a resident of the East Bay (assuming that he was indeed speaking of the land directly East of San Francisco), I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop: namely, what is the name of this restaurant, and how was the food? (Assuming that Mr. Belov tried something other than the various linguistically-interesting varieties of tripe, as I am not so adventurous myself.)

  3. Victor Mair said,

    April 3, 2019 @ 7:32 am

    @Philip Taylor

    I think people (myself included) are shy about eating offal because, well, it sounds awful, not to mention that the name itself reminds one that it consists of those parts of the animal that have been cast off.

    —–

    offal (n.)

    late 14c., "waste parts, refuse," from off + fall (v.); the notion being that which "falls off" the butcher's block; perhaps a translation of Middle Dutch afval.

    Source: https://www.etymonline.com/word/offal#etymonline_v_2511

  4. Francois Lang said,

    April 3, 2019 @ 7:48 am

    At the Chinese supermarket I frequently shop at, the bible tripe (or maybe the honeycomb tripe?) is labelled "Omasum".

    Now…why is it called "bible" tripe? According to

    http://nosetotailapp.com/meat-cuts/beef/bible-tripe

    The reason for calling this kind of tripe 'Bible' or 'Book' Tripe is because it comprises a number of folds that give it the appearance of a book.

  5. Birion said,

    April 3, 2019 @ 7:53 am

    "see prd in Semitic roots"

    I don't think I will do that, if it's all the same to you.

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/prd

  6. Keith said,

    April 3, 2019 @ 7:56 am

    I don't see how the word "omasum" indicates that "the cattlemen and beef butchers who produced, processed, and sold the omasum knew their religious texts".

    Omasum is an anatomical term for this part of the cow, and the term "bible" is simply descriptive of the texture resembling leaves or pages, as are the terms "manyplies" and "psalterium" (and as are many words for this bit of the cow in other languages: "centopelle" (Italian), "saltério" (Portuguese), "Blättermagen" (German), "Buch" (German), кни́жка (Russian) etc.).

    Personally, I learnt the word "offal" as a small child in the UK, long before I learnt its etymology; hence, I find that word nicer than the term "organ meat" that I encountered in the US.

  7. Michael Carasik said,

    April 3, 2019 @ 8:43 am

    Note the line "who would fardels bears" from Hamlet's "to be or not to be" speech.:

    Who would fardels bear,
    To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
    But that the dread of something after death,
    The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
    No traveller returns, puzzles the will
    And makes us rather bear those ills we have
    Than fly to others that we know not of?

  8. Victor Mair said,

    April 3, 2019 @ 8:58 am

    @Keith

    "Bible" and "psalterium" both have to do with religious texts.

    https://www.thefreedictionary.com/Psalter

  9. Ralph Hickok said,

    April 3, 2019 @ 9:32 am

    It's all humble pie to me :)

  10. Philip Taylor said,

    April 3, 2019 @ 10:53 am

    Umble, Sir, umble — you 'ave a hintrusive haitch !

  11. Keith said,

    April 4, 2019 @ 3:36 am

    @Victor

    In "the cattlemen and beef butchers … knew their religious texts", I thought that you meant that these cattlemen and butchers knew the texts themselves, the words printed on the pages.

    I was trying to say that they didn't need to know the texts or even know how to read; it would be enough to know the name of the biggest book in town, and use that name for other things with lots of folds.

    Keith.

  12. Rodger C said,

    April 4, 2019 @ 6:50 am

    @Birion: What a beautiful cognate!

  13. IMarvinTPA said,

    April 4, 2019 @ 11:30 am

    Did I miss the bit that explains how we get from "Husband and Wife Lung Slices" to "Mr and Mrs. Smith"?
    I'm suspecting a movie of that title is somehow involved.

  14. Narmitaj said,

    April 4, 2019 @ 6:03 pm

    @ Michael Carasik – Who Would Fardels Bear? is the title (suitably Shakespearean, but also pretentious and mostly incomprehensible out of context, at least to me) of the sole decades-old novel by curmudgeonly and mostly-failing hack writer Ed Reardon in the BBC Radio 4 comedy series Ed Reardon's Week (a play on "Ed Reardon is weak", I think).

    ER's other work, apart from an episode of 1980s Japanese POW drama Tenko ("Escape from the Bamboo Noose") is mostly commissioned works like Shed 22lb in a Week the Vanessa Feltz Way, Armando Iannucci's Carpathian Walks, The Stig's Big Book of Speed Cameras, Nigel Mansell's Love Poetry and the autobiography of a racehorse, Desert Orchid.

    The books, plays and TV episodes are fictional, but those British TV and fast car celebrities are real, as is Tenko itself, and the horse. The genuine Iannucci may be best known to Americans as creator of Veep and to Loggers as creator ofThe Thick of It, whence the 2012 OED word of the year, omnishambles, came. And the shambles bit of omnishambles ties back to butchers, fardels and offal, of course.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ed_Reardon%27s_Week#Origins_of_the_character_of_Ed

  15. Chas Belov said,

    April 5, 2019 @ 12:42 am

    Thank you for the explanation. My Chinese is sufficiently poor that while I thought I saw the character for husband in there I did not recognize the character for wife.

    I did not ultimately wind up eating there, and don't recall the name, but it is one of multiple Chinese and other restaurants in a strip mall which includes the Milpitas, CA, branch of the Lion chain Asian supermarket, which is fascinating in its own right.

  16. Fred said,

    April 6, 2019 @ 6:11 am

    @Philip Taylor
    More revealing will be to note that 废 means "waste, trash" or "to discard, to abandon," not specifically "offal" except by […not synecdoche; that other one].

  17. Viseguy said,

    April 6, 2019 @ 7:16 pm

    This reminds me of a restaurant scene from "Triangle at Rhodes", with David Suchet as Hercule Poirot.

    Poirot has been reading the menu in an English translation described as "a bit rough". He asks the waiter: "The 'bowels in spit'. I have your assurance that it is the kidneys of a lamb, but on a skewer, yes?" Receiving an affirmative answer, Poirot replies, "Very well, then. For me, the bowels in spit."

  18. Chas Belov said,

    April 9, 2019 @ 11:26 am

    After some reflection, I'm not quite ready to dismiss "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" as Chinglish. I'm suspecting it might reflect the menu-maker's sense of humor and be fully intentional. I'm concerned that we not automatically attribute odd translations to a lack of knowledge of the target language. Not saying it's not, but not quite ready to say it is.

    I am reminded of the slogan for San Jose's Pho 69, which is "Something hot coming to your mouth." When I read the review of the restaurant in the weekly newspaper, the reviewer attributed the slogan to the restaurant personnels' lack of English as to what the implication was. I thought, no, you fools, it's marketing and they know exactly what they're saying.

    "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" of course is not provocative on that level. Still, we need to not jump to the Chinglish conclusion when it might just be marketing.

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