Something out of the Matrix here.

Things are rarely what they seem, especially when government gets involved.

I’ve copied a story by Robert Carmack who, along with Morrison Polkinghorne, has an ezine which I highly recommend called The Globetrotting Gourmet.

A world first in standardizing Asian vegetable names has come from Australian bureaucrats.

It’s about time for some common sense here, where one country’s Chinese broccoli is another’s pak choy or choi sum.

Unfortunately, this attempt ignores emerging consensus of names already established throughout the English speaking world, especially those used in international cookbooks. Bok choy, for example, is arbitrarily renamed Bukchoy, and Chinese or Napa cabbage now wombok. Various long green melons and loofah are chi qua, senq qua and sin qua.

It will take a native Cantonese speaker to master this list! Amaranth leaf is now en choy—but didn’t anybody bother to check that this vegetable is South American, and well known in European cooking?

Water spinach—which we must admit is confusingly called morning glory in some Asian-origin English language books—is now Kang Kong. (Film director Peter Jackson should be happy!) Nor is there any mention that there are two common varieties: thick stemmed and thin.

Conversely, Japanese daikon—a name long established in English—is simply renamed white radish. No mention that this is a “giant” white radish (there’s also a green and white variety, overlooked here), nor that round white radishes, similar to common red radishes, exist both in Japan and Europe. (“1 white radish,” called for in a recipe, can be rendered inedible by using the wrong variety because of the difference in size—which, presumably, was the whole purpose behind standardizing names.)

In Australia the mass migration of the past 30 years has been largely from Southeast Asia, not China. But Chinese names were preferred, we’ve been told, because Sydney’s original market- or truck- farmers were Chinese.

Only problem here is the Chinese dialect. These names are Cantonese, not standardized Mandarin. So we suspect this attempt will fail—not only from consumer resistance requiring them to master another tongue, but also from non-Cantonese Asian migrants.

Copyright 1999 – 2005, Robert Carmack / The Globetrotting Gourmet®

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