Mar. 16th, 2011

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

鮮 (xiān) is one of the characters I mentioned on Monday as having a fairly regular simplified form (鲜). Its radical is 魚 (yú/fish), and its other component, 羊 (yáng/lamb), is also often found on menus. The dictionaries I've consulted say that its main meaning is "fresh", though in her Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, Fuchsia Dunlop glosses it as "delicious and savoury, the Chinese equivalent of umami", and a post by blogger Red Cook backs this up.

鮮 appears on menus in a number of contexts. It's often used in connection with 蝦 (xiā/prawn), as 鮮蝦, perhaps to emphasize that the prawns are fresh rather than dried (though dried prawns are usually explicitly listed, as 蝦米/xiā mǐ). I've also seen it used in this way in connection with 魷魚 (yóu yú/squid) and 帶子 (dài zi/scallops).

It also forms part of the word for seafood: 海鮮 (hǎi xiān), literally "ocean [海] fresh"). In reference to this meaning, the term 三鮮 (sān xiān), or "three fresh things", is often used to mean "mixed seafood" (e.g. prawns, squid, and scallops). Note however that this should not be confused with the dish 地三鮮 (dì sān xiān), literally "three fresh things from the earth", which consists of deep-fried potato, aubergine, and green peppers in a savoury sauce.

Here are some dishes with 鮮 in the name:

鮮蝦韭菜餃xiān xiā jiǔ cài jiǎofresh prawn and Chinese chive dumplings
酥炸鮮魷魚sū zhà xiān yóu yúcrispy deep-fried squid
鮮帶子腸粉xiān dài zi cháng fěnfresh scallop cheung fun
海鮮酸辣湯hǎi xiān suān là tānghot and sour seafood soup
三鮮炒拉麵sān xiān chǎo lā miànhand-pulled noodles with mixed seafood

鮮: xiān radical 195 (魚) 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 See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.


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