Meatballs or fishballs?

鱼园汤 (yú yuán tāng) Fishball Soup

Last week we mentioned disc-shaped food products. What would you call ball-shaped foods in Chinese? Following are a few options:

(yuán) means round. This word is used in naming a few food items, such as 肉圆 (ròuyuán meatballs), 鱼圆 (yúyuán fishballs), 汤圆 (tāngyuán), a round dumpling made of glutinous rice flour, and 桂圆 (guìyuán longan), which is a small fruit with a tough inedible covering, juicy white flesh and a large black stone.

(wán) is a small ball, pill or pellet. Some people refer to meatballs and fishballs as 肉丸 (ròuwán) and 鱼丸 (yúwán), respectively. In medicine, 药丸 (yàowán) are pills, and 药片 (yàopiàn) are tablets.

(qiú) is a general term for balls. 乒乓球 (pīngpāngqiú) are table tennis balls. 虾球 (xiā qiú) are deep-fried shrimp balls. In astronomy, 地球 (dìqiú) is the earth, or the globe, and 月球 (yuèqiú) is the moon.

Some people like soft, tender meatballs while others like them bouncy. The 新竹 (Xīnzhú) City in Taiwan is famous for originating the bouncy meatballs made from pounded fresh pork. These delicious meatballs are called 贡丸 (gòngwán) because the “gòng” sound in the Taiwanese dialect refers to hammering. Nowadays, of course, you can save on elbow grease and let your food processor do most of the work. Here is a nice writeup on the process of making bouncy meatballs. Scroll down on that page to watch the included video. The same procedure can be applied to pork and chicken as well.

    A word of caution:

Like hot dogs, bouncy meatballs and fishballs are potential choking hazards for young children (and grown-ups if they tend not to chew well). As a safety precaution, cut the balls into small pieces before serving.

While it’s safe to assume that everyone is familiar with meatballs, some of you may have never seen or tasted a fishball. Fishballs are a little trickier to make at home, and people often rely on raw egg whites and potato starch as binders. As with meatballs, the end product could be made soft, (ruǎn), or bouncy, 有弹性 (yǒu tánxìng) , per one’s preference, and you could deep-fry it, brais it or add it to a soup.

What would go well with a bowl of meatball soup or fishball soup? 葱油饼 (cōngyóubǐng) quickly comes to mind. Don’t have the time to make it from scratch? Then let’s do a mock version that’s similar to a Mexian quesadilla sans the cheese. You will need one large non-stick pan plus the following ingredients for 2 servings:

1 – 2 tablespoonfuls vegetable oil
2 large flour tortillas (not corn tortillas); use the kind that doesn’t contain too much salt or baking powder.
1 egg
2 stalks green onion, cleaned and finely chopped
1 dash salt (to taste)
1 dash pepper (to taste)
Optionally, 1/4 cup finely chopped cooked ham or cooked bacon
(if used, add to the beaten egg along with the green onions)

简易葱油饼 (Jiǎnyì Cōngyóubǐng)
Easy Pan-fried Green Onion Bread

用中火将油烧热.
Yòng zhōng huǒ jiāng yó shāou rè.
Heat the oil in the pan on medium heat.

把蛋打匀.
Bǎ dàn dǎ yún.
Beat the egg well.

加入葱, 盐, 胡椒; 拌匀.
Jiārù cōng, yán,hújiāo; bàn yún.
Add the green onions, salt and pepper, and mix evenly.

把一张饼放入锅中.
Bǎ yī zhāng bǐng fàng rù guō zhōng.
Add one flour tortilla to the pan.

把蛋液均匀倒在饼上.
Bǎ dàn yè jūnyún dào zài bǐng shàng.
Pour the egg mixture evenly onto the tortilla.

把第二张饼放入锅中.
Bǎ dìèr zhāng bǐng fàng rù guō zhōng.
Add the second flour tortilla into the pan.

盖锅, 煎三分钟.
Gài guō, jiān sān fēnzhōng.
Cover the pan and pan-fry three minutes.

翻面.
Fān miàn.
Flip over.

开锅, 煎兩三分钟.
Kāi guō, jiān liǎng sān fēnzhōng.
Uncover and pan-fry two or three minutes.

装盘; 切成六块.
Zhuāng pán; qiè chéng liù kuài.
Transfer to a plate and cut into six wedges.

The pan-fried bread is done when both sides are crisp and golden brown and the inside is completely cooked. Flip again and cook a couple more minutes if this is what it will take to get the desired result. As you know your stove and pan the best, it’s up to you to make sure the egg between the tortillas is fully cooked but the tortillas are not burnt.

As an exercise for those of you who have the “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes” book, try using the food and cooking terms in Chapters 20 and 21 to write up a simple recipe in Chinese.

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