Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Zi - A Little One

Zi (pronounced kind of like "dze") means child, or seed, or the wee-hours of the morning. You'll see it all over the place on menus, and it just seems to be there as an affectionate diminutive. Like "-ino" in Italian, or "-ette" in French.

I find it the first thing I recognize for some items -- eggplant and some dumplings for instance -- but it often appears with poultry, which is why I have it here. If you see it next to chicken or duck (or quail) it doesn't mean "egg" nor is it a baby duck or chick. It may mean "young", or it may mean small pieces, or it may be just part of the dish name.

One famous Sichuan dish is La Zi Ji 辣子雞 (Sometimes called Chonqing Spicy Chicken). It's hard to tell what the zi refers to in that. It comes after the peppers, so does it refer to the peppers? (It comes after the word it modifies in other dishes.) If so, many versions of this dish involve big poblano-like peppers, so.... is it sarcastic, as in calling a big guy "Little John" or is it more cutesy? Like maybe it means the equivalent of "Hottie Chicken." We'll learn more about this dish when we get to spices and Sichuan in a couple of weeks.

The Pinyin spelling is zǐ, or zi3 (third tone).

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