10 September 2011

Wordcatcher Tales: Menbei, Yuzusco, Hakugei

While we were shopping for light, comestible omiyage (souvenirs) to bring back from Japan this summer, we came across three products of linguistic as well as gustatory interest.

mentai + senbei = menbeiMenbei < mentai senbei – Korea is the source of one well-known item of Hakata (Fukuoka) cuisine, 辛子明太子 karashi mentaiko 'spicy cod/pollock roe'. The name mentai apparently derives from Korean 명태 myeongtae 'Alaskan pollock'. Its genus (Theragra) is different from that of the Atlantic pollock (Pollachius), but both fall within the highly prolific family Gadidae (< Gadus 'cod') 'cod, haddock, pollock, whiting'. We bought a few boxes of spicy mentai-flavored rice crackers to share with our colleagues at work. Their pungent aroma caused some comment. As soon as you opened the little plastic wrapper that enclosed each cracker, you could smell it halfway across the room.

Yuzusco & ShogascoYuzusco < yuzu 'citrus' + (taba)sco – The fresh taste of yuzu (柚子) is very popular in Japanese cuisine and is used to flavor many different things: from savory chawanmushi to sweet honey, bitter tea, vinegar, wine, and even bath oil. We brought back some tiny jars of yuzu pepper paste and two hot sauces marketed as under the brand names Yuzusco and Shogasco (< shouga 'ginger' + -sco). I'm not sure if the makers of Tabasco have licensed just the last three letters of their registered trademark, but they apparently encourage co-branding. Nor am I sure where these products rank on the Scoville scale of spicyness.

Sampler of five types of shochu
Hakugei 'White Whale' – At a duty-free shop at Fukuoka Airport, we got a sampler of five small bottles of shochu, a longtime Satsuma (Kagoshima) specialty. (The cashier unboxed them and put them in little transparent baggies so we could take them through security!) They included 麦わら帽子 Mugiwara Boushi 'barley-straw hat', made from barley; two types of Satsuma 白波 Shiranami 'white wave' made from sweet potato (my favorite) with dark and light molds; 白鯨 Hakugei 'white whale', made from white rice; and 蕎麦蔵 Sobagura 'buckwheat granary', made from buckwheat. Shiranami is perhaps the most famous brand name of Satsuma shochu, but the other brand names were well chosen to reflect their ingredients. As one might expect, Hakugei tasted the most like sake. I prefer sweet potato shochu myself.

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