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Christa

Chinese vegetable names that don't vary too much by region

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Christa    4
Christa

Some of you will be familiar with my previous thread trying to work out what to call Pak Choi / Bok Choy in different parts of China. The answer seems to have been: a lot of different things.

 

I was wondering - for those of us who do like to eat our greens when travelling across China, Taiwan and Singapore - are there any vegetables that experience little or no variation in the names they are called across the Chinese speaking world?

 

From my own experience, it would seem that 大白菜 / dà báicài seems to be the name used for the same vegetable (known as Chinese cabbage, napa cabbage and Chinese leaf in English) more or less everywhere. Does everyone here agree that's the case?

 

If so, do you know of any other vegetables which also have fairly universal names in Chinese?

 

Any help is much appreciated!

 

 

Christina

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abcdefg    2,375
abcdefg
23 minutes ago, Christa said:

If so, do you know of any other vegetables which also have fairly universal names in Chinese?

 

Just off the top of my head, I'd say eggplant 茄子 qualifies.

 

There are, however, several different kinds of eggplant and those types get slightly different names. There are the long skinny ones, the fat Mediterranean ones, and small round ones the size of a large baseball (softball.) Most are dark purple, sometimes reddish, and occasionally pale, almost white.

 

But if you order a restaurant dish made with 茄子 in Harbin or Guangzhou or Xi'an, you will get the same basic taste.

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Christa    4
Christa

Awesome! That's two! I also know it as that and my Taiwanese friend agrees that they use it too.

 

So, so far, we hopefully have:

 

Napa Cabbage / Chinese Cabbage/ Chinese Leaf = 大白菜 / dà báicài

Egg Plant / Aubergine = 茄子 / qiézi

 

Anyone have any others? What about Chinese Water Spinach as 空心菜 / kōng xīn cài?

 

 

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abcdefg    2,375
abcdefg
10 minutes ago, Christa said:

What about Chinese Water Spinach as 空心菜 / kōng xīn cài?

 

That one has several names, 蕹菜 being the main alternative one. But in all fairness, I think 空心菜 would be understood even if it wasn't the most common name where you ordered it.

 

What I've found when traveling to other Chinese-speaking places outside the mainland, such as Taiwan and Hong Kong, is that most of the time you will be understood if you just order a vegetable by one of its main names. It's not a huge obstacle.

 

 

 

 

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Christa    4
Christa

Mmmhh, it seems the leafier they are, the more problematic they become.

 

Choy sum doesn't work, I don't think. I know at least two names for that.

 

Same for brocolli.

 

What about Chinese broccoli - 芥藍 / jiè lán - I only ever heard this name for it. How about you?

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Publius    483
Publius
2 hours ago, Christa said:

Chinese broccoli - 芥藍 / jiè lán

It's called 西蘭花 where I live. EDIT: sorry, that's broccoli, not Chinese broccoli. 芥藍 isn't what we see often in the north. I think I've seen it called 蓋菜 in restaurants.

 

芹菜 (celery) seems a pretty universal name.

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abcdefg    2,375
abcdefg

黄瓜 (cucumber) is found by that name in every part of China that I've visited. Can't swear that it's the word used in Taiwan and Hong Kong, however. Just cannot remember. In particular 拍黄瓜 (smashed cucumber salad) is a dish (凉拌) that I've often enjoyed wherever in China that I've traveled.

 

 

 

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Publius    483
Publius

黃瓜 is also called 胡瓜. A famous Taiwanese host goes by that name, so I presume that's what cucumber is known there?

Both names have a long history. And it's reflected in the Japanese language: while 胡瓜 is the more common kanji choice, the pronunciation 'kyuri' comes from ki 'yellow' + uri 'melon, gourd', essentially the kun or Japanese reading of 黄瓜.

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abcdefg    2,375
abcdefg

Yes, looks like I was wrong. Just checked Baidu and they give several alternate names.

 

59b533f87f1cd_Capturehuanggua.JPG.ebafa7035dddb643bae08457716fca32.JPG

 

 

 

 

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Christa    4
Christa

So, I think that means that, so far, we have vegetables that fall into the following categories:

 

One name = good / blue.

One name that can probably work everywhere, although there may be other names in use as well = okay / green.

More than one name = evil / red.

 

Napa Cabbage / Chinese Cabbage/ Chinese Leaf = 大白菜 / dà báicài
Eggplant / Aubergine = 茄子 / qiézi

 

空心菜 / kōng xīn cài can probably be understood in most places for Chinese Water Spinach, as the name's so descriptive.

 

Western Broccoli seems to be called 西蘭花 / xī lán huā in most places but also qīng huā cài / 青花菜 in others.
Pak choy / bok choy is simply evil.

Cucumber has multiple.

 

芥藍 / jiè lán, I'm still not sure where to put this one...

 

                         

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abcdefg    2,375
abcdefg

@Christa -- This project has been lots of laughs, but I'm going to have to abandon the team and leave you to it at this point. (Going traveling for a few days and might not have much time. Heading to Hong Kong and Macau.)

 

In point of fact, when I visit a new restaurant anywhere in the Chinese-speaking world, I just ask the waitress: "你们有什么青菜?“ (What green vegetables do you have?") She tells me, and I order something that I recognize. That's all it takes. Better yet is just looking at today's produce in the display case. As mentioned before, this is an extremely common setup here on the China Mainland.

 

 

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imron    3,680
imron
13 hours ago, Christa said:

Cucumber has multiple.

I would rate cucumber a blue or at worst green. 黄瓜 is readily understood almost everywhere. 

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Christa    4
Christa
8 hours ago, imron said:

Cucumber has multiple.

Thank you!

 

Napa Cabbage / Chinese Cabbage/ Chinese Leaf = 大白菜 / dà báicài
Eggplant / Aubergine = 茄子 / qiézi

Cucumber = 黄瓜 / huáng guā
 
空心菜 / kōng xīn cài can probably be understood in most places for Chinese Water Spinach, as the name's so descriptive.
 

Western Broccoli seems to be called 西蘭花 / xī lán huā in most places but also qīng huā cài / 青花菜 in others.
Pak choy / bok choy is simply evil.

 

 

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Christa    4
Christa
6 hours ago, abcdefg said:

This project has been lots of laughs, but I'm going to have to abandon the team and leave you to it at this point. (Going traveling for a few days and might not have much time. Heading to Hong Kong and Macau.)

 

In point of fact, when I visit a new restaurant anywhere in the Chinese-speaking world, I just ask the waitress: "你们有什么青菜?“ (What green vegetables do you have?") She tells me, and I order something that I recognize. That's all it takes. Better yet is just looking at today's produce in the display case. As mentioned before, this is an extremely common setup here on the China Mainland.

 

Thanks for all the guidance you've given abcdefg.

 

Your suggestion is, of course, very sensible.

 

Having said that, making this list gives me a strange sense of fulfilment...

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Christa    4
Christa

How about 番茄 for tomato? Can that go in the green list, as a term that can be used more or less anywhere, even though there are other words for it?

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dwq    148
dwq
9 hours ago, imron said:

I would rate cucumber a blue or at worst green. 黄瓜 is readily understood almost everywhere. 

You'd think so right?  But it is almost always called 青瓜 in Hong Kong. 黄瓜 is not immediately recognizable to me (can't speak for other HKers though).

Eggplant is also called 矮瓜 here, though 茄子 is common too.

 

And for 大白菜 family, from Hong Kong's viewpoint:

http://hk.apple.nextmedia.com/etw/飲食男女/article/20170309/3_56328100/紹菜-旺菜-津白-黃芽白-娃娃菜有咩分別-其實全部都係大白菜-

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Zeppa    38
Zeppa

Just digressing - these threads reminded me that I used to follow a blog - now dead but still online - called The Polyglot Vegetarian. It has a lot of links to sources too. I doubt it will help here, but maybe people are interested (the blogger lives in Boston, not the UK):

 

http://polyglotveg.blogspot.co.uk/

 

And there is also the Multilingual Multiscript Plant Name Database, which I don't know:

 

http://www.plantnames.unimelb.edu.au/

 

I've also got a book, very heavy on botany, called Food Plants of China, by Shiu-ying Hu. It strikes me that searching for different names in different parts of China is putting the cart before the horse. First of all, you need to disentangle the various types. Here is some of what this book says about 白菜, for instance:

 

'(White Vegetable). Leaves with fleshy white petioles, dark green blades; a cultivar selected in South China. ...cultivated as a leaf-crop in South China, 30-50 cm high a harvesting time...developed in tropical China about the 7th c. in the Tang Dynasty. It has followed theCantonese emigrants to SE Asia and to the New World...in Guangzhou 15 known cultivars have been recorded, 9 of which have very long history. Formerly, it was a crop for autumn and winter. Now, there are several cultivars that can be sown in January-March ...Consequently, pakchoi in Guangzhou and Hong Kong is available throughout the year.'

 

Maybe some confusion is related to various cultivars.

 

 

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Christa    4
Christa
19 minutes ago, Zeppa said:

Maybe some confusion is related to various cultivars.

 

Thanks, Zeppa. I couldn't agree with you more.

 

I think there's a basic issue affecting some vegetables in that English is conflating several Chinese vegetables into one English one. This seems most obvious in the case of pak choi / bok choy.

 

At the very least, English considers both the white stemmed variety you just described, as well as the green stemmed variety that is common in central and northern China and in Taiwan, to each be pak choi / bok choy.

 

So I think that in order to find an effective translation, one needs to at least divide them into different varieties. So green stemmed pack choi is then left with perhaps 3 names that cover much of the Chinese speaking world. White stemmed pak choi, on the other hand, seems harder to deal with, as it seems that it's not that common outside of Guangdong, so people from other regions often don't seem sure what to call it.

 

Anyway, these are the conclusions I've reached based on what I've been told by 1. people on this forum and 2. people from the mainland and Taiwan.

 

As for other vegetables, I really do welcome everyone's help in expanding the blue, green and red list. Please do feel free to contribute to it!

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Christa    4
Christa

And an update on the list as it currently stands:

 

Vegetable with one clearly recognisable name = blue.
Vegetable with more than one name but where at least one of these names can be used more or less everywhere = green.
Name of the vegetable varies depending on where you are, causing communication difficulties = red.

 

Napa Cabbage / Chinese Cabbage/ Chinese Leaf = 大白菜 / dà báicài
Eggplant / Aubergine = 茄子 / qiézi

Cucumber = 黄瓜 / huáng guā
 
空心菜 / kōng xīn cài can probably be understood in most places for Chinese Water Spinach, as the name's so descriptive.

番茄 / fān qié can probably work in most places for tomato.                                                                                               

 
Western Broccoli seems to be called 西蘭花 / xī lán huā in most places but also qīng huā cài / 青花菜 in others.
Pak choy / bok choy (green stemmed) seems to be called 上海白菜 / shànghǎi bái cài  in the south, 油菜 /  yóu cài in the north and 青江菜 / qīng jiāng cài in Taiwan.

Pak choy / bok choy (white stemmed) seems to be called 白菜 / bái cài in the south. People from other parts of the Chinese speaking world are often unsure what to call it.

 

 

If anyone else has anything to contribute, or disagrees with any of this, please do add your own input.

 

By the way, does anyone have any thoughts regarding which category 番薯 / fān shǔ for sweet potato should go into? Should it be green / blue?

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imron    3,680
imron
2 hours ago, Christa said:

sweet potato should go into? Should it be green / blue?

Red.

 

地瓜、番薯、红薯、白薯 and so on (I know the last two are different varieties).  This is definitely a vegetable name that has a large amount of regional variation.

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