Pork in a pot

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That's how Google Translate renders "Guō bāo ròu 锅包肉", and it sounds pretty good, though it's wrong, as we will discover below.  Baidu fanyi gives "Soul of shadow", for which I have no idea how they got it or what it means in relation to a pork entree.  Microsoft Bing Translator has "Pots and pans of meat", which leaves me wondering how carefully prepared it might be. 

I got interested in this term, "Guō bāo ròu 锅包肉" (lit., "pot package / bag / bundle meat") because of these remarks by Michael Broughton:

I am a Chinese translator and a long time reader of Language Log. 
 
I am currently in the midst of translating a travel book from Chinese to English and have recently come across a dish called 锅包肉. 
 
After doing some searching online I discovered that the most common translation for this dish is "Fried Pork in Scoop" (over 2000 hits in Google when searched with quotation marks [VHM:  I got 11,500 hits]).

I can't for the life of me understand what "scoop" means in this context and how the translation could have possibly come about. 
 
If you ever are looking for things to write about in Language Log this translation mystery may be worth investigating. 
 
Given the absence of any published material on the matter, Language Log would be sure to have the scoop on this one.   [VHM:  nice!!]

Michael's question about "scoop" is especially pertinent.  Indeed, the name of the dish is so intriguing / puzzling that I decided to do a little bit of research on it myself.

First of all, this is supposed to be a Dōngběi 東北 ("Northeastern") specialty.  The term begins with "pot", so one wonders how they also use a "scoop", if indeed there is a scoop involved at all.

Here are the most common English translations for Guō bāo ròu 锅包肉 that I got from quickly scouring the web:

Double Cooked Pork Slices   (18,800 ghits)

Fried Pork in Scoop (11,500)

Pork in a Pot (556,000) — I don't think this one and some of the other translations always refer specifically to "Guō bāo ròu 锅包肉"

Double Cooked Pork (90,300)

Sweet and Sour Pork (1,830,000) — this one definitely has other, more general implications

Twice Cooked Sweet & Sour Pork (8)

Double Fried Pork Slices (564)

Sweet & Sour Crispy Loin Slices (1)

Crispy Sweet and Sour Pork Slices (1,280)

There certainly is no unanimity of opinion about what to call this dish in English, and it's fairly obvious that many restaurants and cooks just strike out on their own and make up idiosyncratic translations.

Well, now, if we're going to clear up this translational hash, the first thing we have to do is point out that translating "bāo 包" as "scoop" is an error.  Rather, "bāo 包" means "parcel; package; packet; pack; sack; bag; bundle; bale; bump; swelling; bun; Mongolian style tent" — along with relevant verbal usages.

So what do these meanings have to do with cooking pork in a guō 锅 ("pot; pan")?

Ah, there's the rub!  They don't have any connection with the preparation of a pork dish in a pot.  It turns out that the "bāo 包" ("packet; parcel", etc., not "scoop") of "guō bāo ròu 锅包肉" ("double cooked pork slices", or whatever) is a corruption of "bào 爆" ("burst; explode; crack; quick-fry").  Since guō bāo ròu 锅包肉 ("double cooked pork slices") is a Northeastern dish, the confusion over "bāo 包" vs. "bào 爆" must be due to topolectal (tonal) reasons.

Here are some basic observations about what the dish is like and how to prepare it.  The phrase  "guō bào 锅爆" (lit., "pan burst") refers to quick stir fry, emphasizing the hot temperature of the oil and the pan as well as the rapid process.  Then you pour in the sauce and cook it again.  In terms of the technique of cooking, translating "guō bào ròu 锅爆肉" as "Pan Fried / Seared Sweet and Sour Pork" would be serviceable. However, "Double Cooked Pork Slices", which is already widely used, also makes sense.

 

Selected readings

 

[Thanks to Jinyin Cai]



3 Comments »

  1. Daniel Barkalow said,

    February 23, 2021 @ 12:00 pm

    Calling it "double cooked pork" is as bad as "sweet and sour pork", since there's also 回锅肉, which is also pork cooked twice, only it's first simmered and then stir-fried.

    As far as I can tell, it seems like the Dōngběi dish is generally deep fried (in potato starch) and then stir-fried? If that's right, I'd guess 锅爆 was "then stir-fry it a bit", but people heard it as 锅包 for "packaged in the pot" (referring to the deep-fried coating being on when putting it in the pot the second time).

  2. Elizabeth in Astoria said,

    February 23, 2021 @ 8:01 pm

    I have found that inputting Chinese characters into Google Images will solve many mysteries, including the identity of culinary dishes.

  3. Hang Zhao said,

    February 23, 2021 @ 11:43 pm

    In my experience 爆 in 锅爆肉 is similar to 爆 in 油爆虾, there're multiple variety of 爆, with oil, with water or with sauce, here 锅爆肉 and 油爆虾 with oil(which is exactly fry). But 锅爆肉 needs first time fry and one or two times refry and then glaze with suger and vinegar, I cook it a lot of times since I came here in US

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