Notes and Idioms
A cài / "A" vegetable: a vegetable which resembles romaine lettuce. I first encountered this vegetable at Tainan Taste, in Milpitas. Although it's often listed as "A 菜," the other day, Jennifer sleuthed that the character for "A" is actually 鴨/yā/duck. In Taiwanese, 鴨/yā is pronounced "A," and thus "A cài" literally means "duck vegetable." Mystery solved?
ài yù/愛玉/love-jade jelly: A yellow, lemony-tasting jelly (like jello), traditionally produced from the seeds of a Taiwanese fig. These days, I suspect it's mostly lemon jello.
bái ròu / 白肉 : literally "white meat," but it's not chicken (unless your chickens say "oink").
bái yè / 百頁: tripe
bǎi yè jiē / 白葉結: "white leaves" are tofu sheets, tied in a knot.
Bi Feng Tang (Bì Fēng Táng) / 避風塘: "Bi Feng Tang" is a type of boat shelter found in Hong Kong, used to protect small boats from hurricanes; the literal translation is "covered area to avoid the wind." Chinese Wikipedia has an entry on bi feng tang. Hong Kong fishermen, trying to liven up yet another meal of the day's catch (poor fisherman!), invented this dish, in which the main ingredient (fish, eggplant, etc) is covered in a mixture of panko, dried shallots (garlic?), and white sesame seeds. The mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs and is good enough to eat, but you and your breath will be something to avoid the next day. Thank you Nancy for clarification.
cán dòu bàn jiang / 蠶豆瓣醬 : Fermented broad bean sauce. In the menu, 蠶 is practically illegible. By sheer luck, I spotted a similar looking ink blob in the "tops" table (McCawley 1984: 111), under T10, and it turned out to be the correct character. McCawley also lists 豆瓣醬 (dòu bàn jiàng) as Sichuan fermented bean sauce (McCawley 1984: 155).
chîm-á-bi-ge / 蟳仔米糕: lit. "crab glutinous rice." This is a Taiwanese dish simply consisting of crab arrayed on a bed of glutinous rice. In my mom's Taiwanese cookbook, this dish is listed as chîm-á-png; Jennifer says that in Taiwanese, glutinous rice is "bi ge."
chîm-á-png / 蟳仔米糕: See chîm-á-bi-ge.
dāo xuè miàn / 刀削麵: Hand-cut noodles. By searching googling for "刀削 cut", I found this website about 牛肉麵. This let me deduce an association between "刀削" and noodles, which then led me to this useful website. As it happens, McCawley actually lists 刀削 as "hand-cut noodles." Finally, I asked Tracy, who reminded me that I've actually seen 刀削麵 being made on the streets of Taipei: a block of noodle dough is held in one hand over a pot of boiling water or broth. With a knife held in the other hand, the cook rapidly and dramatically "shaves" noodles from the dough, which drop into the pot.
fěn pí / 粉皮: mung-bean flat noodles, literally "sheets." McCawley translates fěn pí as "peastarch noodle in sheet form." It's the same fěn as in fěn sī (粉絲), bean threads, so I'm assuming it's the same stuff, different shape. McCawley also identifies fěn tiáo, "peastarch noodles in noodle form." When I went to Keelung Night Market, in Taiwan, we came across one stand that offered a noodle soup, except the "noodles" were flat sheets that formed at the surface of something boiling in a large wok. I remember they were a bit rubbery, and I'd never seen anything like them before. Now I'm wondering what they were.
gān / 乾 : lit. "dry." Gān is often shorthand for dòu fu gān / 豆腐乾 / dried & pressed tofu.
gē bāo / 割包: see tái shì gē bāo/台式割包.
hé fěn / 河粉: flat rice noodles (Guangdong) (McCawley 1984: 121).
huá shuǐ / 划水: literally "paddle water." A canoe paddle? A water skiier? McCawley comes through once again: it's fish tail.
jīng / 京: jīng is short for Běijīng.
kǎo fū / 攷麩: literally "dry-roasted dough." The Joy Restaurant section of Olivia Wu's article identifies kǎo fū as white gluten, otherwise known as seitan.
kāi yáng / 開洋: A style of dish in which something is cooked with little dried shrimp. For example, kāi yáng bái cài is Chinese cabbage, fried with dried shrimp. I'm not sure about the origin of this term (literally "open ocean?"). Tracy thinks it is a place name.
kōng xīng cài / 空心菜: Literally "empty heart vegetable." A green vegetable with a hollow stem; also appears on menus as kang kong, convolvolus, or water spinach. A relative of the morning glory.
nián gāo / 年糕 : rice cake
níng shí / 寧式: níng shí means cooked in the style of 寧波 (Níng Pō) a famous coastal city in the province of 浙江 (Zhè Jiāng).
qí cài / 齊菜: a leafy, bright-green vegetable. Notes Nancy: At A&J Cafe in Cupertino, you can get 齊菜大餛飩 which is the same vegetable as the filling in a "large dumpling" (Shanghai-style dumpling) served in soup.
qīng cài / 青菜: specifically refers to leafy green vegetables
ròu / 肉 : unless otherwise specified, ròu always means pork.
ròu sī / 肉絲 : shredded (julienned) pork
qīng chǎo xiā rén / 清炒蝦仁: literally "pure fried shrimp kernels." According to Olivia Wu, this is nothing more than fried shelled shrimp.
tái shì gē bāo /台式割包 : A "Taiwanese-style" sandwich. According to my mom, this is a well-known snack in southern Taiwan which is often called tiger bites pig (hó• kā ti). Despite the name, no pig (or tiger) is consumed . A round, flat bun of steamed bread (mán tou/饅頭) is folded in half and stuffed with fatty pork (pork belly?) and cilantro.
Taiwanese cuisine at Joy Restaurant: The English menu states that the restaurant carries "Szechuan, Hunan, and Mandarin cuisine." According to my mom, the Taiwanese influence is represented by Taiwanese-specific dishes such as台式割包/"tiger bites pig" and 蟳仔米糕/xún zǐ mǐ gāo/crab with glutinous rice.
tè cān / 特餐 : tè cān refers to local delicacies.
wú xí / 無錫: lit. "nothing tin." Wúxí is a city in Jiāng Sū (江蘇) province. wúxí-style spare ribs are marinated, fried, then combined with a sweet-sour sauce. Thanks Jennifer and Nancy for clarification.
xī yáng cān tǔ jī tāng: this was a tough one to translate. The literal translation is "western-style consult/participate earth chicken soup": huh? Lina emailed me to set me straight: cān (參) is a synonym for ginseng when used in soup, so "xī yáng cān" is western-style ginseng, i.e. North American ginseng. The "earth chicken" (tǔ jī) is not chicken slathered in dirt, but rather organic chicken. And thus we have a new translation: organic chicken soup with North American ginseng.
xiān / 鮮 : lit. "fresh." Xiān is often shorthand for hǎi xiān / 海鮮 / seafood.
xiān cǎo / 仙草: grass jelly. This is black, herbal "jello" which is particularly popular in hot weather.
xiè huáng / 蟹黃 : lit. "crab yellow." This is the strongly-flavored yellow stuff inside a crab which most Americans sniff at, wince, then toss. It is not crab roe.
xiè ké huáng / 蟹殼黃 : lit. "crab shell yellow." Is this different from xiè huáng? Here is an article referring to xiè ké huáng which makes me believe that this is some sort of Shanghai-style snack.
xuě cài / 雪菜: Literally "snow vegetable." Pickled mustard greens. In McCawley, 雪菜 is defined as pickled greens (McCawley 1984: 7), or, unhelpfully, as "red in snow" (McCawley 1984: 202). Jennifer and mom agree, and add that the greens are specifically a mustard-like vegetable. This USDA documentation defines 雪菜 as a type of mustard, brassicaceae juncea. See also pickle page.
xún / 蟳: This is the Taiwanese word for crab (chîm). See chîm-á-png.
yǒng hé / 永和: A district in Taipei known for its dòu jiāng and shāo bǐng.
yóu tiáo /油條: literally "oil stick." A twisted piece of dough, deep fried. Often referred to as a Chinese donut, or Chinese fried bread. Yóu tiáo, along with dòu jiāng and shāo bǐng, are traditional breakfast items. From my first trip to Taiwan, at age 6, I have a fuzzy recollection of my first encounter with yóu tiáo. During a morning walk through Lotung, we came across an outdoor street stall. Many people sat at tables clustered around the stall, enjoying breakfast. In the center of the crowd sat a plump woman on a low stool, slapping and shaping raw dough between her hands. The dough went into a large wok of hot oil, where it transformed into yóu tiáo, golden and crispy.
yān dǔ xiān / 醃篤鮮: This mysteriously-named dish is a soup: fresh bamboo, young bamboo, ham, tofu skin in a clear broth. My original (bad) translation: 鹽蕉鮮/yān jiāo xiān "salty banana delicacy (big)." Apparently, this is a classic Spring dish around Shanghai:
The pickling process is called "Yan" in the Shanghai dialect, the simmering is called "Du" and the fresh meat and bamboo shoots are called "Xian", giving the soup its name.
zhèng zōng / 正宗: literally "orthodox school." Means "authentic."
zhōng huā lù guō tiē / 中華路鍋貼: Zhong Hua Road potstickers. These potstickers differ from the usual potsticker in their shape: instead of the archetypical crescent shape, Zhong Hua Road potstickers are cylindrical, and open at both ends.
zhǔ sheng / 竹笙: bamboo fungus? While at the Asian market, I came across a package of what appeared to be dried fungus; unlike mushrooms or tree ears, these fungus were strangely narrow and spongy, like a morel. I've since learned that this fungus is a form of stinkhorn mushroom-- additional proof that the Chinese will eat just about anything. Sometimes translated as "bamboo pith."
Resources and References
The most basic resource, of course, is some knowledge of Mandarin. I know from personal experience that it's a tough language to crack, but the food is worth it!
http://www.cuisine-asia.com/ingredients/ing070716.asp - cuisine-asia's pickle page
- got some interesting results by searching internet for "jiucai hezi" (see cached sinorama page)
A good website on menu and cooking terms
Chowhound - Joy Restaurant appears to have a large fan base in the Bay Area
McCawley, James D. The Eater's Guide to Chinese Characters. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.
- An immensely useful reference.
North American Taiwanese Women's Association-Northern California (NATWA-N Cal.) & Northern California and Taiwanese American Citizens League. Taiwanese Homestyle Cooking 1995.
- This unique cookbook focuses on Taiwanese recipes. Recipe names are listed in both English and transliterated Fujian-hua.
SfGate - Olivia Wu's article about "real regional Chinese cuisine" in the Bay Area. Includes a discussion of Joy Restaurant.
Wang, Hui Lan. Sichuan Recipes (四川名菜). Hong Kong: Wan Li Book Co, Ltd., 1988.
This cookbook would be an extremely useful vocabulary reference, if only it were machine searchable. Full of exotic recipes; see BearsPawRecipe.
- My mom