Monday, July 9, 2012

Chinese subtlety: 另外一把

Recently I was assisting a native Chinese speaking chef prepare some food. She was using kitchen scissors to snip a handful of garlic scapes (which are long and thin, similar to scallions) into small pieces, and she asked me to grab 另外一把 (lìngwài yī bǎ) of garlic scapes from the open bag, and do the same with another pair of kitchen scissors. I looked into the bag and saw quite a bit more garlic scapes than could be cut in one go, and was puzzled.

I had apparently been hit with a double whammy in the translation department.

另外 (lìngwài) can be translated as "the other". If you were talking about two keys and someone were trying to use the wrong one for a particular door, you might tell them to "用另外一個" (Yòng lìngwài yī gè); "Use the other one"). "The other" is the meaning I had in mind. If there had been 3 or more keys, the same Chinese sentence could be translated as "Use a different one" or "Use another one."

一 (yī) means "one" (although that was not the source of any confusion).

把 (bǎ) is a measure word commonly used in a food market for a (typically tied) bundle of long, thin items such as garlic scapes. That is the meaning I was expecting. However (and the following was new(s) to me), 把 is also used generally to mean a handful of such items, and that is the meaning that the chef had in mind.

So when looking into the bag, I had been mistakenly expecting "the other tied bundle" (or a quantity matching the same amount as was already in the chef's hands, if the remaining bundle therein had already been untied), instead of the intended "another handful". Either situation could have been correct, but at the time I was unaware of the second as a possible meaning for 另外一把.

In any case, on pizza, snipped garlic scapes do not have as strong a flavor as sliced garlic, so I recommend the latter!

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