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

This week's character may be familiar to regular readers already, as it not only appears in the icon I use for this series, but has already been mentioned in my posts on 擔擔麵/dàn dàn miàn, 粉/fěn, 豆/dòu, and getting in some practice.

菜 is written in pinyin as cài. The initial consonant is a sort of short "ts" sound, and the final vowel rhymes with "eye". It's pronounced with the fourth (falling) tone.

The radical of 菜 is radical 140, 艸/cǎo/grass. According to Wikipedia, this is the most common radical in the Kangxi Dictionary, being used in nearly 2000 characters. As [personal profile] shuripentu points out in a comment on Monday's post, the actual form that a radical takes can vary. However, radical 140 is a fairly simple one — it pretty much always looks like 艹, and appears at the top of the character.

Here are some other characters that have the same radical as 菜:

miáosprout (see for example 豆苗)
qiéaubergine (as 茄子/qié zi)

Usage of 菜 on menus breaks down into two broad categories — it either refers to some kind of vegetable, or it means something like "dish", "course", or "cuisine". There are many, many menu words that include 菜; here are some of them.

韭菜jiǔ càiChinese chives (may possibly mean spring onions or leeks also, but see comments)
白菜bái càiliterally "white vegetable" — Chinese leaf in the north of China, bok choy in the south [see footnote]
菜花cài huācauliflower (literally "vegetable flower")
生菜shēng càilettuce (literally "raw vegetable")
芹菜qín càicelery
菠菜bō càispinach
東北菜Dōngběi càiNortheastern Chinese food
四川菜Sìchuān càiSichuan food
湘菜 or 湖南菜Xiāng cài/Húnán càiHunan food (湘 is the name of a river that runs through Hunan province, and is also used as an abbreviation for the name of the province)
涼菜liáng càicold dishes
熱菜rè càihot dishes

There are more characters than usual in this post, so I won't list all the pronunciations — but if there are any you're particularly interested in, feel free to ask in comments.

Footnote added July 2010: [0] The credit for telling me about the regional split in the meaning of 白菜 goes to Mr Noodles, by the way. My local Chinese restaurant takes the sensible route of differentiating the two vegetables with the terms 小白菜 (xiǎo bái cài/"small white vegetable"/bok choy) and 大白菜 (dà bái cài/"large white vegetable"/Chinese leaf).

菜: cài radical 140 (艸/艹) Cantodict MandarinTools YellowBridge Zhongwen
  Sybaritica: Culinary Chinese 101

If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See here for what these posts are all about.

Date: 2010-06-02 07:33 am (UTC)
pne: A picture of a plush toy, halfway between a duck and a platypus, with a green body and a yellow bill and feet. (Default)
From: [personal profile] pne
白菜 bái cài literally "white vegetable" — Chinese leaf in the north of China, bok choy in the south

And dollars to doughnuts that "bok choy" is simply the reading of those two characters in some southern variety of Chinese (Cantonese? Hokkien?).

Date: 2010-06-02 07:42 pm (UTC)
shuripentu: (Default)
From: [personal profile] shuripentu
I'd approximate the Cantonese as "baak choy", to which "bok choy" is closer than most mangled transliterations. :)

Date: 2010-06-02 07:50 pm (UTC)
shuripentu: (Default)
From: [personal profile] shuripentu
I don't think I've ever come across an English transliteration of a Chinese food item that didn't look as though it were likely to be from Cantonese. Of course, the mangling is frequently sufficiently great that it could well be from another dialect (or, in extreme cases, galaxy).

(I haven't come across Kake's example below, but then I've haven't come across 小籠包 in an anglophone setting.)

Date: 2010-06-02 07:41 pm (UTC)
shuripentu: (Default)
From: [personal profile] shuripentu
Yay! I <3 菜.

I have always got the impression that when 菜 is used to refer to a vegetable, it is almost always some sort of brassica. This may be meaningful, or it may just be because "some sort of brassica" covers a veritable panoply of sins. But I could be wrong.

I find the use of 菜 to mean dishes in general (IME all the stuff that goes with your rice, i.e. the food with flavour :p) interesting, in the same way that 飯 is used to mean a meal in general. It's like Chinese food fundamentally consists of rice and brassicas. ;)

Date: 2010-06-02 07:54 pm (UTC)
shuripentu: (Default)
From: [personal profile] shuripentu
Also, I am having difficulty with the concept of 白菜 being used to describe Chinese cabbage/leaf, since as far as I'm concerned, bak choy is the best vegetable ever (except possibly for that stuff that looks like green bak choy but isn't and has more kick to it) whereas Chinese cabbage is a crime against brassicas and should be exiled to the furthest reaches of the solar system.

I will stop commenting now. :P

Date: 2010-06-02 10:22 pm (UTC)
pulchritude: (1)
From: [personal profile] pulchritude
I have never heard anyone use 韭菜 to refer to anything other than Chinese chives and am curious as to where you've heard it used to refer to spring onions and leeks.


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