Apr. 6th, 2011

kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)

心 (xīn) is the Chinese character for heart/mind/centre. In the context of the Chinese menu, it is perhaps most prominent as part of the term "dim sum": 點心. As I've mentioned before, "dim sum" is the Cantonese pronunciation; it would be diǎn xīn in Mandarin pinyin.

心 also appears in the names of various Chinese vegetables, such as 蒜心 (suàn xīn/garlic shoots). Another is 空心菜 (kōng xīn cài), literally "hollow-hearted vegetable", also known as 通菜 (tōng cài), ong choy, water spinach, morning glory, and so on.

Perhaps the most confusing is 菜心 (cài xīn), which I've seen translated not only as "choy sum" and "Chinese flower cabbage", but also as "pak choi" (example). However, "pak choi" is normally used to refer to a different vegetable; it's a Romanisation of the Cantonese pronunciation of 白菜 (bái cài). Wikipedia suggests that the reason for this apparent conflation might be that when 菜心 is used for pak choi, it's the literal meaning, "cabbage heart", that's intended — it signifies that only the tender centre of the vegetable is used in the dish.

心 can also mean a literal heart, as in 豬心 (zhū xīn/pig heart) or 鴨心 (yā xīn/duck heart). I've not seen either of these in the name of a dish, but I have seen them used on menus which give further explication of the ingredients in a dish; for example, Fuzhou restaurant in London Chinatown has a dish called 炒三味 (chǎo sān wèi), literally "stirfried three tastes", and the menu notes in brackets that these three tastes are 肚片 (dǔ piàn/sliced tripe), 豬心 (zhū xīn/pig heart), and 豬舌 (zhū shé/pig tongue).

Here are some dishes with 心 in the name:

XO醬蒜心泡帶子XO jiàng suàn xīn pào dài zigarlic shoots and scallops in XO sauce
腐乳炒空心菜fǔ rǔ chǎo kōng xīn càistirfried water spinach with fermented beancurd
香菇菜心xiāng gū cài xīnchoy sum with shiitake mushrooms

As I mentioned on Monday, 心 in some form also turns up as a radical and a non-radical component in a number of menu-related characters and words. One where 心 is actually the radical is 怪 (guài/strange), which is used in the name of the dish 怪味兔 (guài wèi tù), or "strange-flavour rabbit". (Don't confuse the 忄 form of 心 with the "squashed" radical form of 木, which appears in e.g. 梅/méi/plum/prune.) Some examples using 心 as a non-radical component are 筷子 (kuài zi/chopsticks), 燜 (mèn/stewed), and 蔥 (cōng/spring onion).

心: xiān radical 61 (心/忄/⺗) Cantodict MandarinTools YellowBridge Zhongwen

If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.

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