From Eccentric Flower




This page is a catch-all for a few special menu oddments before we finish up with the plebian, but important matter of starch.

Some special items are just plain going to be untranslatable. In a couple of pages I review the characters for numerals. If you see a number in a dish's name - like "eight treasures" or "eight precious" or "four happiness" or "three delights" - you might or might not have an idea what the dish contains. It depends.

"Delight of three," as I have noted, most often contains chicken, beef, and shrimp. Notice that pork, the default meat, is missing from the usual combination - which may be exactly the point. These three are (well, were until recently) rarer foodstuffs. Three luxury foods in one luxurious dish. But various restauranteurs are apparently trying to keep up the idea of "three luxury foods," and so play games with the three-delights formula from time to time.

A "four happiness" dish is likely to be the three delights plus the pork. But, again, no promises.

Eights, in a non-sweet dish, are wholly unpredictable. I've seen "eight delights" in soups and in noodle dishes, and at no time did the menu give me a clue what they were. However, on the sweet side, "Eight-treasure pudding" is always something specific: It's a molded rice pudding with candied and preserved fruits.

Sometimes there's a delight like a "seafood delight," and usually these end in the "associate" or "meet" character (see Golden Palace), meaning that a lot of good things "meet" in the pot. The standard "delight of three" may not use a "delight" character either; it may actually list beef, chicken, and shrimp in the characters. Other times, what shows up as "delight" in English is TREASURE. Here's a TREASURE, a HAPPINESS, and a PRECIOUS - two of which you've seen before - which should equip you for all such delights in the future.








Sometimes what lists as a number of "delights" (etc) actually turns out to contain the character shown here. This means STYLE or fashion, and is really meant for dishes like "Shrimp Three Ways," where the shrimp is prepared in three different styles. You get the idea.


I have also, in one or two places, seen the "three delights" as the "three lusts," using the character which means "lust" but primarily means COLOR. Just in case - and for sheer weirdness value - here it is.

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"Bang bang" or "bon bon" or "dun dun" or "dan dan" - each of which may be written with a different repeated phoneme, and the literal meanings are not germane - all mean the same thing: Food in a spicy Sichuan sesame sauce, often served cold. There doesn't seem to be any point in giving the characters, since they vary so widely.

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"Sweet and sour" dishes are either written as "sugar vinegar," as we have already encountered, or more literally as "sweet sour." SWEET is the only new character of the four. All four are useful.


tian2b SWEET suan1 SOUR

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"Strange flavor" or "mysterious flavor" dishes were mentioned in passing two pages ago.

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"Moo goo gai pan" is one that always seems to be shown phonetically in the English listings, by tradition I suppose. I'd love to know how that tradition got started, because unlike "kung pao" or some other phrases which might be a little trickier to explain in English, "moo goo gai pan" is very straightforward: MUSHROOM MUSHROOM CHICKEN SLICE, or "sliced chicken with fresh mushrooms." (In putonghua: mo gu ji pian.)

It has no characters you haven't already seen several times.

mo2 gu1c ji1a pian4

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People who are familiar with traditional Chinese delicacies are probably wondering where the shark's fins and bird's nests are. I should have listed shark's fin under the soups, but it grows less and less common in all but the most traditional Chinese restaurants in this country. I think the younger generations are abandoning it. It is considered lucky, and is a ceremonial food for certain occasions ... but it also has very little taste of its own (to my mind) and is horrendously expensive - although not as expensive as bird's nest soup, the raw material for which is the gluey saliva of a certain kind of swallow which nests only in near-inaccessible caves in Malaysia.



Anyway, I don't see much point in giving you the "fin" character so you can spot shark's fin. What I have given you - and I give it to you again here - is the WING radical, which will not only help you spot "fin" when you see it but also chicken wings. This radical appears in various parts of the various characters, but is always recognizable as a pair of wings - and that should be all you need.


I'll also give you the NEST character, because not only is it in bird's nest soup, but also - as already mentioned - is sometimes used as a cue for "a full-meal dish of noodles and other things in soup" - "wo mein" or "nest noodles" as a substitute for "guo mein" or "pot noodles." (See the 'uo' sound cue in there?)

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rong2 dan4
"Foo yung" (in putonghua, "fu rong") is interesting. Both of those are sounds for "hibiscus," among other things, but the usual way to write it is HIBISCUS EGG, above. (EGG doesn't sound like "fu" or "rong," just to muddy the water. It's "dan" in both Cantonese and putonghua.)

Foo yung is any combination of small chopped ingredients mixed into an egg batter, then poured onto a griddle or into a wok by dipperfuls and cooked, like pancakes. Maybe the phonemes were important once, or maybe this is a poetic way of describing the shapes of the cakes (they don't look much like hibiscus flowers to me, but I lack poetry).

"Chicken velvet," a mixture of minced chicken and egg, is generally written using the "rong" or HIBISCUS character, probably because the idea is the same - minced ingredients in an eggy liquid.

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If someone wants to argue differently, I'll listen, but I've been up and down a dozen menus and another dozen cookbooks, and as far as I can tell, "moo shi" and "moo shu" are the same thing. In putonghua it's "mu xu." What you get when you order mu xu is a minced-pork-and-vegetable mixture which you wrap up in thin steamed pancakes at the table and eat with your fingers. (And, just like when you order fajitas at most Mexican restaurants, they never bring you enough wrappers.)

Some of the vegetables are pretty ritual, and Old Hands will tell you that it isn't right unless they're present: wood ear/cloud ear mushrooms are pretty important (seeing as how they're what gives mu xu its name - "tree fungus"), and purists will want tigerlily buds (golden needles), but a lot of restaurants don't mention putting those in. Bamboo shoots and cabbage and egg all turn up regularly.


I'm not going to give you the characters for mu xu, because it will always be left untranslated in English anyway, but here's "tree," because it is also the WOOD radical. If you want to see the "tree fungus" chars together, try the logo at the top of the page.

(Warning: Outside of a fungus context, that second character means "hair.")


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