Sauerkraut fish

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All right, I know it sounds funny, but it's a thing in Taiwan, as at this Taichung restaurant:

To clear up the first problem, the Chinese word that is translated as "sauerkraut" is suāncài 酸菜 (lit., "sour vegetable").

What is this suāncài 酸菜?  Wiktionary tells us:

  1. (Northern, Northeastern China) a variety of Chinese pickle made by fermenting salt-cured napa cabbage
  2. (Southern China) any variety of pickled mustard greens

It is not, I repeat NOT, kimchee.

Nor is it exactly Germanic sauerkraut, but analogically that's what it amounts to, and a lot of folks in Taiwan and China think of it that way, so I'll go with the flow of the juices, at least for this post.

As a fan of practically all vegetables that are fermented or pickled, I especially love suāncài 酸菜.

Let's run through the writing on the front of the restaurant:

suāncàiyú 酸菜魚 ("sauerkraut fish") — the name of a celebrated dish, odd though it may sound to unaccustomed ears, that is featured in this restaurant

diāomín 刁民 ("crafty / cunning person; crafty and malevolent people [dated]) — said to be associated with poor, adverse environments

slogan:  bù dāng yúmín, dāng diāomín 不當愚民 ,當刁民 ("don't be a stupid person, be a crafty / cunning person")

Couplet on the sides of the main entrance:

diāomín zǒng shì kǒuwèi diāozuān 刁民總是口味刁鑽 ("crafty / cunning people always have eccentric tastes")

suānmín zǒng shì suānyán suānyǔ 酸民總是酸言酸語 ("sour people always have sour speech")

I'm looking forward to eating suāncàiyú 酸菜魚 ("sauerkraut fish") later this week when a neighbor brings me some.  Drooling already.


It seems that Language Log, especially in recent weeks and months, has an affinity (yǒuyuán 有緣) with plants of the Brassica genus).

Selected readings

[Thanks to Mark Metcalf]


  1. AntC said,

    November 25, 2023 @ 2:26 am

    Yummmm! I'll be in Taiwan — in fact, Taichung — next month. Have put in a request to my hosts. (Although Diao Min Asia seems to have a branch in Taipei.) Most of the reviews say how long you have to queue to even get in.

    The food photos show a serious number of those small red Sichuan vicious chillis floating in the soup.

    One review says "bore a striking resemblance to famed Tai Er 太二 sauerkraut fish …" Singaporean?

  2. Athel Cornish-Bowden said,

    November 25, 2023 @ 4:22 am

    I'm not sure that it sounds all that funny. At the CNRS canteen in Marseilles where I often have lunch they sometimes offer choucroute, and when they do there is a choice between fish or meat. I always choose meat, but fish is evidently popular enough for it to be available.

  3. Thomas said,

    November 25, 2023 @ 6:40 am

    If suancai is not kimchi and this needs to emphasised so very much, then it is definitely not sauerkraut. It seems suancai is a dish sui generis. Or maybe the Germans just don't care as much as the Koreans about this mislabelling and naming suancai sauerkraut is okay.

  4. Charles T said,

    November 25, 2023 @ 10:47 am

    Thank you! This sheds some light on the circumstances of the "Classic Sauerkraut Fish Stew" that appears on the menu of Mr Luo's Rice Noodle House, a few blocks from me on Wellesley Street in Toronto.

  5. Chas Belov said,

    November 25, 2023 @ 7:42 pm

    I've had that dish as soup, and love it. My best friend and I, neither of us Chinese, have always referred to the cabbage in the soup as sauerkraut, even though I've never seen it translated that way on a menu. I've seen it on a number of menus in the San Francisco area.

  6. xiesong said,

    November 26, 2023 @ 8:07 am

    One can easily change the phrase "不當愚 yu2 民,當刁diao1民" to "不當渔 yu2 民,當钓 diao4 民." 渔民 are professional fishmen equipped with boads and nets whereas 钓民 are amateur fishmen with fishing rods and baits. Traditionally in China, only fresh-water fish harvested by professional fishmen from rivers and lakes is available for most inland residents. Nowadays, due to the environmental and ecological concerns, most rivers and lakes no long function as fisheries and the number of inland 渔民 is diminishing quite rapidly. Some of them shift to fishfarming in numerous village ponds near cities. While selling fish to the market, those new 渔民 also lure the city 钓民 to come to the pond. At the end of the day, 渔民 collect a fishing fee of each spot rent out to 钓民 and charge each fish caught by 钓民 at a favored price. On the occasion when a 钓民 finishes empty-haned, he often rushes to the market to buy a couple fish and fakes a few wounds in the fish mouth as proof of being-on-hook before heading home to please his wife and kids. After all, 鱼 (yu2, noun. fish) from fishfarming to mouth is a business of 娱 (yu2, entertaining).

  7. AntC said,

    December 21, 2023 @ 7:15 am

    I'll be in Taiwan …

    Visited today. (The restaurant is very close to Fengjia night market.)

    Those food photos weren’t kidding: practically a layer of the vicious chillis atop the huge tureen of soup brought to the table. I carefully avoided them. So I survived, but only just.

    The finely-sliced fish was delicious; the prawn meat just about bearable; the pickled cabbage at full-scale paint-stripper level of spiciness.

    As Victor says, not sauerkraut, not kimchee.

    The place wasn’t over-busy — but it was mid-afternoon on a Thursday just before Winter Solstice festival (Donghzi).

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