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October 9, 2015 / 26 Tishri, 5776
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How Do You Say Horseradish In Cantonese?


My husband puts me on hold while he goes to ask his secretary for help.

He gets back on the phone and says, “Got it. She even wrote it out, I am sending you a photo of the paper.”

“It doesn’t say spicy root, does it?” I ask.

“Yes. Spicy root, why?” he asks.

“That one doesn’t work,” I try to explain but have to run and return to my quest.

I launched a linguistics debate in my husband’s office among the Cantonese speakers that would last for the remainder of the afternoon. I have now stumped a bilingual English/Cantonese speaker.

I try two more stalls with a band of curious fellow shoppers now in tow.

I glance at my watch.  That is it. Fourteen stalls and I am out of time.

I sigh.

“Must have your spicy root?” One of the women says to me.

“I guess not tonight.” I respond dejectedly.

“Maybe you try another recipe.”

I nod in agreement as this is not the time to begin to start to explain Pesach, Ashkenazi tradition, Judaism or retell stories of my Hungarian grandmother’s ability at a Seder to effortlessly consume handfuls of marror that would make a grown man weep.

As I head back up the hill towards home, I see one shop slightly off the main road and decide I will give it one last try, though I clearly have no expectations of success.

I dejectedly show the screen with the characters for “spicy root” and say laaht gan.

She looks at me and simply says, “Oh, you need the horseradish.” And she points to two remaining pieces on a shelf.

I pay and run home carrying it like one would with the Olympic torch.

I burst through the door and triumphantly place my spicy root on the counter.

“I did it! Victory!” I shout.

My housekeeper looks at me seemingly unimpressed and asks, “You bought it from the shop off the main road with the Nepalese girls working inside?”

Amazing, I think to myself.

“How did you know?” I ask as I begin to grate it.

“It’s the only shop that sells horseradish on Graham Street,” she responds matter of factly.

L’shanah haba’ah b’Yerushalayim!” is all I can say in response.

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4 Responses to “How Do You Say Horseradish In Cantonese?”

  1. Guy Peters says:

    Boo jing taÕ (?)

  2. Me too. Vegetarian, kosher, and love the book.

  3. Pam Wong says:

    That’s awesome. I speak cantonese and I sympathize how difficult to translate that world in cantonese and have local people know what one is looking for! :) Glad she got it. Now she knows it for next year!! :)

  4. What a rush. I would have been lazy, asking for wasabi instead. Then again, I only eat horse-radish with beef and turkey, and I can't imagine a vegie dish with it. Charlotte's Web is a good book too…I loved that bit.

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