Chinese Corner

Trump(et) King Mushrooms3 min read

Move over French fries, for Trump little crisp strips – Victor Mair

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes to us from Victor Mair, professor of Chinese at the University of Pennsylvania, via Language Log, the long-running linguistics blog run out of the same institution. Mair often picks apart weird language finds sent to him by his many avid readers, such as in his analysis below of an odd menu item. (Full disclosure: he has also written about a few curiosities I have sent his way.) You’ll notice two different Mandarin transliterations for the surname of the sitting US president: Chuānpǔ 川普 and Tèlǎngpǔ 特朗普. Both are in regular circulation. – Anne Henochowicz

Yuanfei Wang, who sent in this photograph of a menu from a Chinese restaurant called Chef Jon’s in East Hanover, New Jersey, refers to it as a rèdiǎn 热点 (“hot spot”):

Chef Jon seems to be very fond of king trumpet mushrooms. They occur as an ingredient in three of his dishes on this menu. As might be expected, in the Chinese names of two of these three dishes, the word 菇 (mushroom) appears, but in the third it does not. Instead, in the latter, it is called simply Chuānpǔ 川普 (Trump), with nary a mention of an equivalent for “-et” nor for “mushroom.”

The name of this dish in Mandarin is Chuānpǔ xiǎo cuìtiáo 川普小脆條, which Chef Jon calls “Crispy King Trumpet Mushroom” in English, but which may more literally be translated as “Trump little crisp strips.” These “Trump little crisp strips” are like French fries, but made of king trumpet mushrooms cut lengthwise rather than from potatoes. This is one of the signature dishes of Chef Jon’s restaurant, and (in a telephone call) he told us that he gave it the unique name to signal that it’s not a traditional Chinese dish, but rather what we may think of as “Chinese fusion.” Maybe if it catches on and becomes really popular, people will start referring to these delicious little strips as “Chinese fries,” but I suspect that the supply of available king trumpet mushrooms will have a hard time keeping up with the growing demand, should this delicacy make the jump beyond Chef Jon’s hot spot.

In the past, it was common to use the names of famous Chinese personalities for particular dishes, e.g., Dongpo pork, named after the Song Dynasty poet and essayist, Su Dongpo (also known as Su Shi), and Cao Cao chicken, named after the Three Kingdoms general, Cao Cao. For a while, there was a Hunanese restaurant that featured “Chairman Mao’s braised pork” (Máo zhǔxí hóngshāo ròu 毛主席红烧肉), but in 2007 the Chinese government punished this restaurant and issued a stern regulation forbidding the use of the names and images of Chinese leaders to promote products and dishes.

But it’s still permissible to capitalize on the names of foreign leaders, such as with the above “candied floss Trump” (básī Tèlǎngpǔ 拔丝特朗普), which is made of melted sugar drawn out in fine strands and draped over potatoes. ∎

This post first appeared at Language Log and is republished here with the permission of the author. Mandarin terms are transliterated in pinyin. Header image via Wikimedia Commons.