kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
Kake ([personal profile] kake) wrote2011-08-15 07:00 pm

Reading Chinese Menus: Characters: 蝦 — xiā — prawn

I've mentioned 蝦 (xiā) in several posts already, so I thought it was time I gave it a character post of its own. 蝦 on its own means "prawn" or "shrimp" — though don't ask me what the difference between a prawn and a shrimp is, since it seems to vary by country.

You may also see 大蝦 (dà xiā), or "big prawns", i.e. king prawns. However, a lack of 大 in the name of a dish doesn't necessarily mean that the prawns are small ones. In addition, 球 (qiú), which means "ball", is sometimes used as a reference to the way prawns tend to curl up into balls: 蝦球 (xiā qiú). 蝦仁 (xiā rén) are peeled prawns; 仁 means "kernel" or "core".

Other prawn-related words include 蝦醬 (xiā jiàng), which is shrimp paste (belachan), and 蝦米 (xiā mǐ), literally "prawn grains", which are dried prawns. Note that another name for dried prawns is 海米/hǎi mǐ, literally "ocean grains".

Finally, although it's not a prawn, the word for lobster also includes 蝦; it's 龍蝦 (lóng xiā), literally "dragon prawn".

Below are some dishes with 蝦 in the name. (I decided to try out a new style for this "table of dishes" — what do you think? See last week's character post for a comparison.)

蝦餃xiā jiǎohar gao
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, "har gao" is simply the Cantonese pronunciation of 蝦餃, adopted into English as the name for these translucent-skinned prawn dumplings.
紙包蝦zhǐ bāo xiāpaper-wrapped prawns
紙 (zhǐ) is paper, and 包 (bāo) means "package" or "to wrap". These are deep-fried prawns wrapped in rice paper skins.
鮮蝦腸粉xiān xiā cháng fěnprawn cheung fun
I discussed cheung fun during last year's dim sum month. 鮮 (xiān) means "fresh", and is used here to make the dish sound more appealing.
芝麻蝦多士zhī má xiā duō shìsesame prawn toast
芝麻 (zhī má) is sesame and 多士 (duō shì) is toast; the latter of these is another of those words which originated as a Cantonese transliteration ("do si") of the English word ("toast"). Note that despite its reputation as an Anglicised Chinese dish, [identity profile] sung assures me that 芝麻蝦多士 is a bona fide Cantonese dish, usually served as a starter or snack.
宮保蝦球gōng bǎo xiā qiúkung po prawns
Note the use of 球 (qiú) as described above.
姜蔥龍蝦jiāng cōng lóng xiālobster with ginger and spring onion
You might also see this with the alternative word for ginger, 薑 (also pinyinised as jiāng).

蝦: xiā radical 142 (虫) Cantodict MandarinTools YellowBridge Zhongwen

Characters mentioned in this post:
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.

[identity profile] eatlovenoodles.blogspot.com 2011-08-15 09:00 pm (UTC)(link)
My comment has little to do with prawns but more about language. I see in my crystal ball that food will be the only area that will withstand the eventual Mandarin-isation of the Chinese language. It was noticeable during my visit to Singapore last year that whereas Mandarin was the Chinese lingua franca, the food terms were in the appropriate language e.g. dishes such as Char Kway Teow.

[identity profile] eatlovenoodles.blogspot.com 2011-08-17 02:11 pm (UTC)(link)
Not sure about the terms used in dim sum, as a tick-sheet is a tick-sheet! But certainly for many Singapore street food dishes, the name of the dish tends to be referred to in Hokkien Chinese rather than Mandarin. I kinda agree with your multilingual theory but that's a product of having a population of mainly southern Chinese in a small city.

In China, it's more likely that local people will use local language/Mandarin for dim sum as language spreads with people. And with the possible exception of Shanghai, there are few cities within China (outside of Guangdong) that the Cantonese migrated to. By contrast, cities like Singapore and Kuala Lumpur have sizeable numbers of Cantonese for their food terms to seep into common usage.

[identity profile] thenaturalstone.blogspot.com 2011-08-16 10:06 am (UTC)(link)
Like the new format. I've taken 蝦球 to mean king prawn before now.