The language of instant noodles

Chicken ramen

Top Ramen. Oodles of Noodles. Stroke in a bowl. Whatever you call instant noodles, you have one man to thank: Momofuku Ando, born on this day in 1910.

Originally from Taiwan, Ando moved to Osaka in his early 20s. After World War II, he witnessed the ravages of war, including food shortages. In response he embarked on a quest to invent noodles that were “tasty, inexpensive and easy to prepare.” In 1958, at the age of 48, he introduced Chicken Ramen, and 13 years later, Cup Noodles, inspired by Americans using Styrofoam cups as makeshift ramen bowls.

Since then the popularity of instant noodles has spread around the world, and with it, its different monikers. Today we slurp up the language of instant ramen.

Kappu men (Japan)

Let’s start where it all began. Instant noodles are often referred to by the genericized brand name, kappu men, what Americans know as Cup Noodles. Kappu is a “Japanification” of the word “cup” while men is the Japanese for “noodles.”

Pao mian (Taiwan)

Pao mian translates literally as “add hot water noodles.” (Pao Mian Ba, which means something like, “Let’s make instant noodles,” is known as the Codecademy of China.) Some Taiwan natives might also call instant noodles sun lih men. a brand introduced in the late 1960s.

Fang bian mian (China)

Those in the mainland turn to fang bian mian for a quick meal. The catchy rhyming phrase translates as “convenient noodles.” However, searching for fang bian mian on Weibo, a popular microblogging site, may turn up no results. The term was blocked back in 2014 because of its circuitous connection with Zhou Yongkang, a retired senior leader convicted for corruption.

Doll noodles (Hong Kong)

Hong Kongers in a rush might grab a bowl of gong je mein or doll noodles. Named for the little guy on the Nissin package, the term now refers to any brand.

Ramyeon (Korea)

Spicy ramyeon or ramyun comes from a brand name too, Shin Ramyun. Want to add some zing to your instant meal? Here are 13 ways of livening up a bowl of ramyeon.

Indomie (Indonesia)

Indomie is a brand that was introduced in Indonesia in the late 1960s, and has “become synonymous with instant noodles.” Warung indomie are small shops that sell cooked instant noodles, regardless of brand.

Maggi (Malaysia)

Maggi is a popular brand that’s become synonymous with instant noodles in general. They’re eaten at home and served in mamak food stalls. Maggi goreng is a kind of stir-fried dish that uses instant noodles. In 2015, Maggi noodles were banned in India for several months over health concerns.

Instant mami (Philippines)

Mami is a kind of noodle soup said to be invented by chef and entrepreneur Ma Mon Luk, who was born in China around 1896 and emigrated to the Philippines in 1918. Mami supposedly comes from a combination of the inventor’s name, Ma, and mi-ki, the Chinese word for egg noodles.

Mama (Thailand)

While Mama instant noodles aren’t the only brand in Thailand, they might be “the byword for for all types of instant noodles” in the country. Mama noodles are often used in other dishes such as phat mama, stir-fried instant noodles, and yum mama, noodle salad that uses instant noodles. Or you might make like Thai-American model Chrissy Teigen and add Mama instant noodles to your mother’s homemade tomyum broth.

Miojo (Brazil)

In Brazil, instant noodles might be called miojo, named for the brand that celebrated the 50th anniversary of its presence in the Brazilian market in 2014.

Maruchan (Mexico)

This brand is so popular in Mexico, one paper dubbed the country Maruchan Nation. Another name for instant noodles might be sopa para flojos, or “lazy people’s soup.”

Two-minute noodles (Australia)

Got two minutes down under? Then you can make a meal of instant noodles.

Pot Noodles (United Kingdom)

A popular brand introduced in the late 1970s, Pot Noodles have been associated with what’s called “lad culture.” The Oxford English Dictionary describes lad culture as “attitudes and behaviour considered to be typical of a ‘lad,’” or:

A young man characterized by his enjoyment of social drinking, sport, and other activities considered to be male-oriented, his engagement in casual sexual relationships, and often by attitudes or behaviour regarded as irresponsible, sexist, or boorish.

A 2013 New Statesman article calls Pot Noodles “Lad Culture in snack form,” complete with “drooling, retrograde sexism,” and a pretty offensive ad campaign. Since then, however, Pot Noodles has attempted to change their tune.

Coffee Talk: Regional Idioms to Describe Coffee

Chuck wagon of the Ole Southwest, plenty of meat, potatoes, frijoles and coffee about to be consumed

You might be aware that we at Wordnik love our coffee. In a classic post we explore caffeinated language from around the world, from the Italian espresso to the French café au lait to the Australian flat white.

Today we’re delving into how we talk about coffee in the U.S., and to help us are the editors at the Dictionary of American Regional English, also known as DARE. In case you didn’t know, DARE is a fantastic resource of language specific to states and other regions. For instance, what you call a frying pan might be called a skillet elsewhere. What you call pancakes might be flapjacks or griddle cakes in other parts of the country.

But we’re here to talk about joe. Pour yourself a mug and drink in these regional terms.

Strong enough to walk

Why call a bold cup of java strong when you can call it blackjack? Blackjack is a term used in Wisconsin and in “lumberjack lingo” in New England and the Great Lakes. Another lumberjack term for strong coffee is Norwegian or Norski in states like Minnesota and Wisconsin, which have long histories of Norwegian settlers. Norwegian coffee also refers to coffee with an egg in it.

Shanty coffee seems to have originated in the New York area and is so-called as it was made by fisherman who lived in shanties, or little cabins or huts. Cowboy coffee is named for, you guessed it, the cowboys who boiled it. Six-shooter coffee is a cowboy term that comes from the idea, says DARE, that “it’s thick enough to float a pistol or because there’s six tablespoons for a four-cup pot.”

Strong enough to walk could refer to any strong-flavored food or drink but especially coffee, and centers in the South and Midland regions of the U.S.

Weak as water

Descriptions for weak coffee percolate across the U.S. as well. In Texas you might hear it called duck coffee, perhaps with the idea of a liquid a duck would swim in, i.e., water. In Pennsylvania it might cambric coffee, after the fine, thin fabric. In scattered regions, it might be dishwashy or dishwater.

In the Southwest, weak coffee might be derided as black water; as coffee-water in Georgia, Kentucky, and Mississippi; and as pond water in the South and South Midland. Also in the South and South Midland is branch water, from the original meaning of the term, water from a stream rather than a well, perhaps due to the light brown color often associated with streams.

In the Inland South and Appalachians there’s stump water, originally rainwater collected from tree stumps and used in folk magic and home remedies for ailments such as skin conditions. Perhaps by extension, stump water also means anything weak, often coffee. In other regions, the term water bewitched is used to describe highly diluted coffee or tea, often in the phrase water bewitched and coffee (or tea) begrudged.

Slumgullion, referring to a weak or disgusting beverage, was perhaps first used primarily in the western United States but now can be found in other regions as well. In his 1915 book, Travels in Alaska, John Muir describes a cup of coffee as “muddy” and “semi-liquid…which the California miners call ‘slickens’ or ‘slumgullion.'”

How do you take your coffee?

If you take your coffee black, you could call it black, or you could call it naked like they do in Mississippi and Texas, or stark naked like in Massachusetts. Or you could make like those in the Middle Atlantic, Central Atlantic, and Ohio Valley regions and call it barefooted.

Conversely, coffee with milk or cream would have its socks on, as they might say in parts of the south, or be seasoned, as they say in Pennsylvania and Kansas. Coffee and might refer to coffee and a donut or roll, or coffee with milk or cream. (Cider-and, by the way, is cider with alcohol or other ingredients, says the Oxford English Dictionary.)

Boston coffee is half cream, half coffee (perhaps named after the Boston cream pie?) in Louisiana, Texas, Illinois — but not in Boston.

What exactly do you mean by ‘regular’?

A regular coffee is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

In Boston and Massachusetts, a regular coffee will get you one with cream or milk. In Rhode Island, it’s cream or milk and sugar. In Chicago it’s black while in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Virginia, regular is caffeinated rather than decaf. Finally, in New York, a regular coffee has milk or cream, and possibly sugar (or two sugars, as Gothamist insists).

Coffee, figuratively

We’ve discussed idioms about a literal cup of coffee, but how about idioms with the word coffee? Coffee coat is another name for a housecoat used in Wisconsin. Grinding coffee is a way of jumping rope in Tennessee and perhaps elsewhere: one jumper stays in place while another jumps around her, like the wheels of an old-fashioned coffee grinder.

Coffee cooler is a military term for an idler or shirker, perhaps with the idea of an untouched hot beverage cooling off, while a coffee-strainer is nickname for a bushy mustache.

Be prepared if someone invites you to a coffee-drink in Louisiana: they’re talking about a wake. If someone in the South Midland or Texas says you don’t know split beans from coffee — in other words, you’re stupid or ignorant — you might consider giving them a drink of black coffee, or a severe reprimand, as they say in Pennsylvania.

How do you talk about your coffee?

A Brief History of Cotton Candy Names

Cotton Candy

While National Cotton Candy Day is celebrated on December 7 in the U.S., the brightly-colored ethereal sweetness is enjoyed any time all over the world, and under many different names. Here we take a brief look at the history of those names.

Before cotton candy, there was spun sugar. According to How Stuff Works, 15th-century Italian pastry chefs were geniuses with the stuff, creating entire scenes from golden syrup drizzled from broom handles.

However, because spinning sugar by hand was such an arduous task, the sweet treat didn’t hit the masses until John C. Wharton, a candy maker, and William J. Morrison, a dentist (you read that right) designed a machine to speed up and automate the task. The inventors dubbed the light and airy result fairy floss, which made its debut at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.

By the mid-1920s, the sugary concoction came to be known in North America by the name we all know, cotton candy, although it’s still referred to as fairy floss in Australia and New Zealand. (In Sydney, you can also get your hands on fairy floss ice cream.)

In British English, the toothsome treat retained the floss portion of fairy floss and took on candy. The earliest citation for candy-floss in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is from 1951, while in South Africa the gossamer goody is known as tooth floss, which sounds like dental floss’s evil twin.

Some other languages follow, like American English, the cotton route. In Spanish the term is algodón de azúcar, “sugar cotton.” The Polish version is wata cukrowa, also “sugar cotton,” while in Italy it’s known as zucchero filato, or “sugar thread.”

In Korean, it’s somsatang, where som means “cotton,” and satang, “candy,” while in Japanese, watakashi  — cotton (wata) candy (kasha) —  is also the surname of a “character” associated with Utau, a Japanese singing synthesizer application, named perhaps for a sweetness so light she almost doesn’t exist.

The Dutch take a different spin on their name for spun sugar. Suikerspin translates as “sugar spider,” where suiker is sugar and spin is spider. The English word spider ultimately comes from the Proto-Germanic spin-thron-, literally “the spinner.”

What else does this delicate delight resemble besides cotton? How about Dad’s bushy facial hair? Or at least that might have been the thought process of whatever French person came up with barbe à papa, or papa’s beard. Barbe à papa is also the inspiration for a series of children’s books called Barbapapa, which is about a pink, amorphous character trying to fit in, as well as perhaps the Japanese cream puff chain, Beard Papa’s.

A Persian sweet similar to cotton candy is pashmak, which translates as “wool-like.” Pashmak is made from sesame oil and sugar and is supposed to resemble sheep’s wool. A Chinese version is dragon’s beard candy, which in addition to spun sugar contains peanuts, dried coconut, sesame seeds, and glutinous rice flour. Why dragon’s beard? In Chinese art, the lucky mythical creature is often depicted with wispy chin hair.

By now, you might be craving a pink puff, and we say have at it. Just be sure to floss afterwards, and not with the sugary kind.

The Language of Taste

Umami Burger in LA, CA

Last week the 2015 nominees for the James Beard awards were announced. Among the nominated are mostly chefs and restaurants, but also included are food writers. Food plus words, what’s not to love?

In celebration, we’re taking a look at the language of taste.

gustatory

“She was if the word gustatory had grown legs and got a dress.”

William Giraldi, “The Style of a Wild Man,” The Wall Street Journal, September 17, 2011

Gustatory means related to the sense of taste. Gustatory receptor cells are chemoreceptors that detect taste, says How Stuff Works, while gustatory hairs are “spindly protrusions” on each receptor cell. The gustatory hairs interact with molecules and saliva to stimulate the sensation of taste.

The word gustatory comes from the Latin gustare, “to taste.”

kokumi

“Food scientists have been studying kokumi compounds in hopes of exploiting their enhancement qualities to create healthier, lower-salt or -sugar versions of foods that still taste good.”

Lisa Bramen, “The Kokumi Sensation,” Smithsonian.com, January 27, 2010

Kokumi translates from Japanese as “heartiness” or “mouthfulness,” says Smithsonian.com. It refers to “compounds in food that don’t have their own flavor, but enhance the flavors with which they’re combined.” Such compounds include calcium, protamine, and glutathione.

palate

“Even Howell admits that his palate is at its sharpest in the morning, when he claims to spend a full 45 minutes pondering his first cup of coffee.”

Corby Kummer, “The Magic Brewing Machine,” The Atlantic, December 1, 2007

Palate refers to both the roof of the mouth and the sense of taste. The Online Etymology Dictionary says the roof of the mouth was “popularly considered [to be] the seat of taste, hence [the] transferred meaning ‘sense of taste.’” Both meanings are from the late 14th century.

papilla

“We like to think of these bumps as our taste buds, but actually, these bumps are known as papillae.”

Amanda Greene, “Making ‘Sense’ of Flavor: How Taste, Smell and Touch Are Involved,” The Huffington Post, September 27, 2013

A papilla is a round or cone-shaped protuberance “on the top of the tongue that contain taste buds.”

The Huffington Post describes four different kinds of papillae. In the center of the tongue are filiform, “small, skinny papillae that almost look fur-like,” and which don’t contain taste buds.

On the front and sides are fungiform, “round dot-like papillae” that typically contain three to five taste buds each. Foliate and circumvallate are in the back, and contain the mother lode of taste buds: more than 100 each.

Papilla comes from the Latin word for “nipple.”

parageusia

“Despite its name (‘parageusia’ is a medical term meaning ‘a bad taste in the mouth’), Zellersfield believes the public will taste sophistication in this beer.”

Amber DeGrace, “Upcoming beer releases worth traveling to try,” Lancaster Online, February 20, 2015

Parageusia is “the abnormal presence of an unpleasant taste in the mouth, sometimes caused by medications.” The word is Greek in origin and comes from para, “against, contrary to,” and geusis, “taste.”

sapor

“While the Italian beans (Italian cut green beans) looked from-a-can, they tasted amazing, benefitting from bacon sapor.”

Matt Wake, “Little Diner’s gargantuan Happy Burger lives up to its rep and Huntsville restaurant’s pot roast is pretty legit too,” AL.com, July 8, 2014

Sapor is a taste or flavor, and comes from the Latin sapere, “to taste.” Sapere also means to be wise and gives us words like savvy, sapient, sage, and savoir faire.

supertaster

“People with lots of papillae usually experience tastes more intensely — they’ve been dubbed ‘supertasters.’”

Allison Aubrey, “Why ‘Supertasters’ Can’t Get Enough Salt,” NPR, June 21, 2010

It could be said that supertasters have hypergeusia, an abnormally heightened sense of taste (to be ageusic means to have no sense of taste).

One might also assume that supertasters need less salt. After all, according to NPR, supertasters “need less fat and sugar to get to the same amount of pleasure than a non-taster does.” But a study actually found that supertasters prefer “high-sodium items” such as chips and cheeses.

Why this is the scientists aren’t sure. One speculation is that “as people perceive smaller differences in things, it becomes more desirable to seek those things out.” Another hypothesis is that supertasters find “bitter flavor notes” unpleasant and salt “knocks down bitterness.”

The term supertaster was coined in the early 1990s, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

tongue map

“Although there are subtle regional differences in sensitivity to different compounds over the lingual surface, the oft-quoted concept of a ‘tongue map’ defining distinct zones for sweet, bitter, salty and sour has largely been discredited.”

Claiborne Ray, “A Map of Taste,” The New York Times, March 19, 2012

The tongue map was developed by German scientist D.P. Hanig in 1901, says How Stuff Works. It was first discredited in 1974, and again most recently in a 2010 paper in The Journal of Cell Biology.

umami

“Chefs including Jean-Georges Vongerichten are offering what they call ‘umami bombs,’ dishes that pile on ingredients naturally rich in umami for an explosive taste.”

Katy McLaughlin, “A New Taste Sensation,” The Wall Street Journal, December 8, 2007

Umami, sometimes called the fifth taste after sweet, salty, bitter, and sour, is Japanese in origin. It’s a rich, savory flavor, often associated “with meats and other high-protein foods.”

In the early 1900s, Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda identified the flavor and coined the word. Because Ikeda wrote in Japanese, umami’s first appearance in English wasn’t until the early 1960s, says the OED.

Now scientists say there might be a sixth taste: fat. Other tastes up for consideration are alkaline, the opposite of sour; metallic; and water-like.

For even more delicious words, check out some of our favorite food terms.

[Photo via Flickr:”Umami Burger in LA, CA,” CC BY 2.0 by G M]

Holiday Food Words: Eggnog, A Riot of a Word

Homemade Eggnog 3

Happy Christmas, fellow Wordniks! Today we wrap up our little series on some of our favorite holiday food words. Our final installment, that holiday grog of champions: eggnog.

The origins of both the drink eggnog and the word are unclear. Some say the beverage originated from the 14th century English posset, although posset, while milky, spicy and spiked, doesn’t contain any actual eggs.

As for the word eggnog, the Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest citation is from 1825: “The egg-nog..had gone about rather freely.” However, both Barry Popik and the Online Etymology Dictionary say eggnog is from at least the 1770s. CNN also states the “late 18th century” is the first recorded instance of the term eggnog and even claims that George Washington himself had a recipe.

ht_ryan_roche_float_lb_141223_16x9_992
This genius was hospitalized after “winning” an eggnog chugging contest.

While the egg part of eggnog comes from, well, egg, the nog part is less straightforward. While it originated in the early 1690s and refers to a strong type of beer brewed in Norfolk, England, so say both the OED and the Online Etymology Dictionary, it’s not clear where the word came from. Nug is a possibility, as is noggin, a small cup or mug. By the way, noggin meaning “head” came about in 1769, says the OED, originating from boxing slang.

Finally, think eggnog isn’t anything to get up in arms about? Think again. The Eggnog Riot of 1826, also known as the Grog Mutiny, occurred at the West Point military academy over the course of two days.

What began as a Christmas Day party escalated into destructive drunkenness as cadets downed whiskey-laden eggnog, broken windows, and fired weapons willy-nilly,  (which just goes to show white people have been rioting over dumb stuff for a long time). One of the rioters was none other than Jefferson Davis, future president of the Confederate States of America.

In case you missed it, check out our posts on clementines, Dundee cake, and panettone.

[Photo via Flickr, “Eggnog,” CC BY 2.0 by Natalie Maynor]

Holiday Food Words: Panettone (Not Bread of Toni)

panettone

Merry Christmas Eve! Welcome to our third and penultimate installment of our mini-series on holiday foods and their origins, linguistic and otherwise.

You’ve already learned about the darling clementine and the Scottish Dundee cake. Today we’re looking at a baked good of the Italian variety: panettone.

You know panettone as those ubiquitous boxes of sweet bread you see piled up pyramid-high in grocery stores. You’ve probably given them and gotten as gifts. But do you know where it comes from?

While Wikipedia says the bread originated in the early 20th century (by “two enterprising Milanese bakers”), the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) cites the Italian panettone, or “fruited loaf,” as coming from Milan in 1831. The earliest recorded usage in English is from 1865: “Biffi Paolo,..Milan.—Panattone (pastry); various kinds of liqueurs.”

It wasn’t until the early 1900s that the bread gained popularity. In 1919, entrepreneur Angelo Motta changed the traditional recipe by “making the dough rise three times,” which gave the bread its now well-known domed shape. A few years later, another baker, Gioacchino Alemagna, adapted the recipe and sold the bread under his own brand. It was the competition between Motta and Alemagna that “led to industrial production of the cake.”

There are a few myths about the origin of the word. One says that panettone derives from the Milanese pan del ton, “cake of luxury.” Another, our favorite, claims it translates as “bread of Toni.”

The Toni in question was a 15th-century Milanese baker with a beautiful daughter. A nobleman was in love with said daughter, and decided to help her by way of her father by posing as a baker and promptly inventing this rich and delicious bread, the bread of Toni. The nobleman married the daughter, and even Leonardo da Vinci was there to give his blessing to the “Pan de Toni.”

The actual origin of the word panettone is far less exciting: it’s an augmentative of the Italian panetto, “small loaf,” which is a diminutive of pane, “bread.” Pane comes from the Latin panis, “bread.” Panem et circuses, also Latin, translates as “bread and circuses” and refers to “offerings, such as benefits or entertainments, intended to placate discontent or distract attention from a policy or situation.”

The Hunger Games’ trilogy takes place in the nation of Panem, where gruesome “games” are held to distract the population from huge class divisions and its totalitarian government. Peeta Mellark, the protagonist’s love interest, is a baker’s son.

[Photo via Flickr, “Homemade Panettone,” CC BY 2.0 by Nicola]

Holiday Food Words: Dundee Cake, Not Just Any Fruitcake

dundeecake

Yesterday we kicked off a mini-series on some of our favorite holiday food words. While we started with the well-known clementine, today we’re examining a lesser known edible tradition, at least to those of us on this side of the Atlantic: the Scottish Dundee cake.

The Dundee cake, a rich cake made with raisins, currants, sultanas, and sliced almonds, is named for Dundee, Scotland, its place of origin. The earliest citation the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has for Dundee cake is 1892 although the BBC says an early version of the recipe can be traced back “a kitchen in Dundee in the 1700s.” It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that the cake began to be mass produced, namely by the company, James Keiller & Son.

Prior to the Dundee cake, James Keiller & Son was famous for its Keiller’s marmalade, named for its supposed creator, Janet Keiller, James’s wife. Legend says that James bought a large shipment of oranges, which after being held up became “less fresh.” Rather than let the oranges go to waste, enterprising Janet turned them into marmalade. (The word marmalade, by the way, is French in origin and ultimately comes from the Greek melimēlon, “honey apple.”)

But the real story, as real stories often are, is less interesting: the Keillers simply “adapted an existing recipe [for marmalade] for manufacture, by adding the characteristic rind suspended in the preserve.”

dundeemarmalade

Keiller’s marmalade is also known as Dundee marmalade, which the company trademarked in 1880, according to the OED.

As for the Dundee cake, Scotland recently launched an official bid to obtain European protected status for the hearty sweet. Food and drink under such a status are protected from “the unfair competition and misleading of consumers by non-genuine products, which may be of inferior quality or of different flavour.” In other words, products that have originated from a particular region — such as Gorgonzola cheese or Champagne  — “can only be labelled as such” if they actually come from that region.

A Scottish baker said that Dundee cake “has become so far removed from its roots that it has almost become a catch all term for any fruit cake with peel and almonds in it.”

Other Scottish foods that already have protected status are the Scotch Beef brand and Stornoway black pudding, which has been called “the best sausage made in the UK.”

[Photo via Flickr, “Dundee cake (icing),” CC BY 2.0 by Lucy Downey]
[Photo via Flickr, “Marmalade Jar,” CC BY 2.0 by Smabs Sputzer]