Awesome sushi barbecue restaurant

« previous post | next post »

From Nora Castle, who came across this restaurant which has just opened in Coventry, England:

What a motley mixture, both of language and of cuisine!

As Nora explains, "The restaurant is predominantly a 串* place, though they do have a small sushi section on the menu. I guess they assumed that no non-Chinese person would know the connotations of 牛B**!"

*chuàn ("roasted meat on a skewer") — the character even looks like it (though this Bronze Age character could refer to anything [e.g., beads, cowrey shells] strung together — i.e., shish kebab, from Turkish şiş ("sword or skewer") and kebap ("roasted meat dish") Source (with more detailed etymology)

**niúB ("bovine B") — that will require a lot of unpacking, for which see below

Some people who don't realize that's a "B" read it as zhào 召 ("imperial decree; to call together; to convene; to summon")

There are various ways of writing "niúbī", e.g., 牛B and 牛逼***, which are bowdlerizations of niúbī 牛 屄.  This is regularly rendered as "awesome", but it literally means "cow cunt" (I'm not kidding). We've mentioned this ubiquitous term quite a few times on Language Log before (see, for example, herehereherehereherehere, and especially here for examples of usage).  Among the more detailed and direct comments on niúbī 牛B / 牛逼 / 牛 屄 are this one by Bob Violence and this one by bocaj (second paragraph).

***bī 逼 literally means "force; drive; press; compel; oblige; coerce; extort; close in; press on; constrain; narrow", but here is being for transcriptional purposes to render the sound of 屄, so people don't have to look at that supposedly gross Sinograph (ideogrammic compound (huìyì 會意):  shī 尸 (“body”) + xué 穴 (“hole”) — a hole under a body; the word itself derives from Proto-Sino-Tibetan *b(j)at (“vagina, vulva”) Source

All right, so now we have a pretty good idea of what "niú B 牛B" means — you can render it as graphically or euphemistically as you wish.

How about dàchuàn 大串?  We'll just say that it means "big shish kebab", though the restaurant itself translates that part of its name as "barbecue".

"Sushi" is a global word that doesn't require explanation for most people.

PaPa?  It's a Graeco-Latin term borrowed into English via French.  The first thing I thought of when I saw it as part of this restaurant name is Beard Papa's (Biādo papa ビアード・パパ), an international chain of cream puff stores (I always buy one of their pastries when I go to a Japanese food court).  Perhaps this humble, yet aspiring barbecue-sushi shop in Coventry wanted to hop on to the global glamor of the fairly ubiquitous Beard Papa's.

I wrote to several colleagues and asked what they thought of this "mixed Chinese-Japanese restaurant".  Here are some of the replies I received.

Linda Chance:

Both the noren and the Chinese name refer to barbecued meat on skewers.  Maybe the question is what does sushi have to do with this restaurant? The last things I would want to eat in the same establishment are grilled meat and raw fish. (Although I have no doubt it's done.) I don't suppose there is a nod to Beard Papa's, the cream puff chain.

So Linda had the same idea I did about PaPa.

From Ted Bestor:

An odd shop name.  The only papa I can think of is an affectionate name for dad, which is not uncommon in informal, familial Japanese settings.  Maybe you need to think of it as “Daddy’s Sushi”?

From Nathan Hopson:

This isn't so much a "mixed Chinese-Japanese restaurant" as a Chinese restaurant capitalizing on the sushi boom, I think.

This photo is what I'm basing that assumption on, as well as some of the photos of the interior and food also available through Google Maps. As you know my Mandarin is garbage so I can't go too deep here, but it looks like there is at least one restaurant with the same name in Dalian. If the one Japanese blog entry about it is correct, the name comes from Chinese slang (牛逼) for something like "amazing." (The blog warns that it's "an extremely low class word, so women would be better avoiding it." So, there's that.) [VHM:  !!]

Anyway, my feeling is that this is probably exactly the kind of restaurant that gets all sorts of bad attention in Japan for "perverting" Japanese culinary culture for a quick buck. It's the kind of thing that inspired the government to float a plan a few years back — quickly dubbed by detractors the "Sushi Police" — "to certify ‘genuine’ Japanese cuisine abroad" (Sakamoto and Allen 2011:100).  [VHM:  Like the problem with "champagne"]

The spread of Japanese restaurants worldwide was given as a reason for the establishment of this organization as was the fact that adaptations of Japanese food had emerged such as the California Roll, which is one of the most prominent examples of an adaptation of sushi. This attempt by the MAFF [Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries] to monitor and ‘authenticate’ Japanese restaurants outside Japan was soon mocked as the ‘sushi police’. (Assmann 2017:119)

There was even a movie about the "Sushi Police." Or at least it was planned.

I'm with Linda: much as I can appreciate surf and turf entrées when thoughtfully conceived, I would not want to combine shish kebab and sushi, though I'm happy to go to shops that specialize in them separately.

[Thanks to Chenfeng Wang]


  1. Jon W said,

    August 8, 2019 @ 2:49 pm

    I agree that if I found myself in Sushi PaPa, I'd stay away from the sushi. But it's not uncommon to find sushi and yakitori sold together; izakaya will commonly serve both. The Denmark/UK chain Sticks'n'sushi has been quite successful in marketing the combination (and their food isn't bad!).

  2. maidhc said,

    August 8, 2019 @ 3:40 pm

    There is a chain of Chinese restaurants in the SF Bay Area called Cooking Papa. I don't know if they exist anywhere else as well. I only know three locations. 好煮意 (Hǎo zhǔ yì) seems to be their Chinese name.

    They started out as HK style but their new management seems to be moving to a more generic Cantonese style.

    There is also a manga series
    but I don't believe there is a connection.

  3. Michael Watts said,

    August 8, 2019 @ 4:16 pm

    The blog warns that it's "an extremely low class word, so women would be better avoiding it."

    Several years ago, a female Chinese high school student of my acquaintance wanted to teach me the word 装B. She felt very strongly that the second syllable should be written "B" for euphemistic reasons, but she didn't have any problem saying it. (And similarly with 牛B.)

  4. Chris Button said,

    August 8, 2019 @ 10:31 pm

    Regarding the form of 串…

    the character even looks like it (though this Bronze Age character could refer to anything [e.g., beads, cowrey shells] strung together

    It looking like a kebab does make a nice mnemonic. Following the discussion in Takashima's Bingbian commentary where he tentatively cites He Linyi, a more likely intepretation is that it is graphically associated with the original form for 盾 "shield", which Takashima notes as the central component (i.e., without the box, which when included may reflect 毌) found in the form here:

  5. Andrew said,

    August 9, 2019 @ 2:05 am

    Contrary to popular misconception, raw fish is not a necessary ingredient of sushi – you (and Linda Chance) are thinking of sashimi.

  6. Jamie said,

    August 9, 2019 @ 2:54 am

    I did wonder for a moment if they did raw fish on skewers as part of their sushi range

  7. Kristen said,

    August 9, 2019 @ 4:33 am

    In Australia we have a Malaysian restaurant chain called PapaRich (punctuation intended).

  8. Victor Mair said,

    August 9, 2019 @ 2:52 pm

    From an anonymous contributor:

    I think the restaurant is run by a Chinese guy, because a non-Chinese would probably not know the meaning of "niú bī 牛逼". Then I suppose this guy, who created this name, should also know the new connotations of "papa" (爸爸), in the recent Chinese popular culture. "爸爸" can have the meaning of authority, dominance, or even supremacy. It is usually used in an unserious situation to refer to someone who is respected, obeyed, or worshiped by others, with a sense of joking. It can also mean something which takes the leading position in its field or industry. We have the word "Ālǐ bābā 阿里爸爸" and "Téngxùn bàba 腾讯爸爸" in China. Thus here, I guess "sushi papa" means "the best sushi," just like "Niúbī dàchuàn 牛逼大串" means the best, awesome barbecue.

    Interestingly, I just googled how did the word "爸爸" get these new meanings in the Chinese popular culture, and found that , just like "牛逼", it originated from a sexual usage, which you could google "jiào bàba 叫爸爸**" ("call daddy"), hahaha. So it seems that if interpreted in this way, the name of this restaurant has a clumsy "duìzhàng 对仗"* in it.


    *VHM: If you Google on this sequence of three characters, you will get plenty of results in Chinese explaining the meaning of the phrase, it's derivation, usage, etc. Even if you don't know Chinese, the illustrations (including image macros, gifs, etc.) will make it pretty clear what it conveys.


  9. Chas Belov said,

    August 10, 2019 @ 3:03 am

    "King" is commonly used in the Bay Area to imply best of, e.g., King of Noodle, King of Dumpling, Porridge King, Dim Sum King.

  10. jin defang said,

    August 10, 2019 @ 11:06 am

    Interesting. “King” also appears frequently in Miami, in Spanish, as in the popular chain whose name is King of Fries. There’s also a Palace of Juices chain, actually large full-service cafeterias with counters where El Rey serves smoothies made from one’s choice of a dozen or so fruits, created as you watch. Minimal to no English spoken, but pointing and hand gestures are usually enough.

    In China, there’s Xi [jinping] Baba, probably used sarcastically at least some of the time.

    On the sexual overtones of baba among some Chinese users, think about Sugar Daddy.

  11. Linda Chance said,

    August 10, 2019 @ 11:19 am

    Point taken, Andrew. Of course sushi refers to vinegared rice, not to raw fish. But the restaurant does not claim to be Sashimi PaPa, and I was not thinking of sashimi. I was actually thinking of some establishments on the east coast of the US, where the raw fish for sushi is treated in quite a cavalier fashion. Introducing grilling of large amounts of skewered meat there would not improve the appeal for me. But as Jon W points out, izakaya commonly serve both yakitori and sashimi (sushi less commonly). And of course there is an amount of grilling in most sushi restaurants, for eel and these days for a growing variety of charred and cooked sushi toppings. I was thinking like a veritable member of the sushi police. Mea culpa.

  12. maidhc said,

    August 10, 2019 @ 4:26 pm

    I mentioned the SF Bay Area chain Cooking Papa, whose Chinese name is 好煮意 (Hǎo zhǔ yì). I didn't mention that (according to Google Translate) it means "good cooking", which is consistent with the use of papa as "best" as described by Victor's contributor above.

    There seems to be a cluster of restaurants mostly in Texas with names like Papa Chan and so on. We have a Mama Chen here but it's not part of a trend.

    As Chas Belov says, we have a lot of kings, like King Eggroll, Eggroll King, etc. And a few queens.

    King Wah is a popular name for Cantonese restaurants, but I'm guessing that King means something in Cantonese, it's not related to the English word?

  13. Victor Mair said,

    August 10, 2019 @ 8:41 pm

    From Diana Zhang:

    "Papa" and 牛B remind me of the new internet meme within a group of Chinese young people — 叫爸爸 or simply 爸爸 when one expresses amazement at something/someone really 牛B, or authoritative (usually sarcastically, in the latter case). Sometimes it is also written 霸霸. For example: 馬雲霸霸 “the Papa Jack Ma” or 霸霸帶帶我 "Guide me through it, Papa!".

RSS feed for comments on this post