The Language of Food

LOFFrom The Rotarian: Sitting in a pub and ordering a basket of fish and chips may feel so British that you can practically hear “God Save the Queen” playing in the background. Asking for a side of ketchup might feel rebellious, as if you are Americanizing your meal. Yet what you’re really doing is putting a Chinese fish sauce on a favorite delicacy of the Persian kings: Fish and chips is the direct descendant of a dish known as sikbāj, which became ceviche in Spain, aspic in France, and tempura in Japan. Ke-tchup means “preserved-fish sauce” in the southern Chinese language of Hokkien. In his new book, The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu (W.W. Norton & Company, 2014), Dan Jurafsky takes us on a journey tracing culinary words across cultures. This is great fun if you want to win the next round of dinnertime trivia, but there are serious lessons here too. As Jurafsky points out, common wisdom has it that China closed itself off from the world around 1450. But the linguistic evidence of ketchup’s spread shows this wasn’t the case. Read the rest here.

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