Can I Eat It? Language Oddities in the Food World, Part 1

As much as I love eating food, I also like to learn where things in the culinary world come from, and even the etymology of ingredients.

Of course, there are a number of edibles in every language that stand out, and I’m not referring to their taste or health benefits.  I’m talking about the food’s name, and how similar it can be to a subject completely unrelated to the food world.

You know, the homophones – words sounding alike, homographs – words written alike – and homonyms, which encompass the two.

Other languages will follow in a later post, but for today, I will focus on a few standouts from English.


Here’s a good time to ask “what’s in a name?”

To make apple cider vinegar, yeast is added to apple juice, which begets the breakdown of sugars, turning them into alcohol.  Thereafter, certain bacteria are added, to convert the alcohol into acetic acid, eventually becoming vinegar (acetum is Latin for “vinegar.”)

Some believe that it is the bacteria – which causes the vinegar to be fermented – to be reason the term mother was adopted.  Others say that the mother is the cloudy sediment in unpasteurized vinegar which wasn’t fully fermented.  That latter story is backed up by the Middle Dutch word modder, referring to “dregs and lees.”

No matter which – ehem – old wives’ tale you believe, the mother is purportedly the healthiest part of vinegar, containing a greater concentration of probiotics to promote a healthier digestive tract.


Rye Field (Photo by Andrea Stöckel)

How do you go from rye, a cereal grass popular in delis across the US, to wry, an expression of disgust or disappointment?

Simple: when they’re out of pastrami.


In Turkish, ekmekistan means “land of bread”

Exercise equipment can be expensive.  To all of those in the anti-carbs bloc, would your opinion change if you had a lot of dough?  How about a lot of bread?

Consider that decades ago, there weren’t nearly as many choices for eats are there are now.  Bread was more of a necessity for survival.  Thus, having bread meant having money.

Pea/Pea Coat (and no, not that other similar-sound word)


Peas, the oft-derided legume of many a Western childhoods, haven’t gotten a break even in many folks’ adulthood.  (Pea ice cream, pea protein powder, pea…salmon?)  I’m a fan of peas – particularly those from Nando’s – but admittedly I look askance when they try to invade my frozen desserts.

Still, why did the pea coat borrow that word?  Another easy one.  The Dutch invented the pea coat in the 1800s, when they had one of the world’s strongest navies.  The Dutch word, pije (the “j” sounds like the “y” in yes), refers to a coat made of coarse wool fabric.

Ham Radio

Radio (Photo by Wellford Tiller)

An amateur radio operator is called a ham.  Why?  I’ve got a tricky – and perhaps disingenuous – answer for you.

According to this ham radio fanpage, it stems from a group of three radiophiles – whose last initials spelled out HAM -at Harvard in 1908.  More likely, it comes from clumsy telephone operators being called “ham-handed” in the late 1800s, soon after the telephone was invented.  Still another possibility was the British English pronunciation of amateur, which sounded more like “hamateur” to US English speakers.

How Do You Like Them Apples?

Did you know that apples originate from present-day Kazakhstan? (Photo taken in Almaty, Kazakhstan)

This phrase doesn’t include a homonym; rather, it’s more of a euphemism.

Though reports of the phrase “how do you like them apples?” date back to at least 1895 – in that case, the reporter was gloating that one particular cotton vendor outsold every other – the phrase was popularized during World War I used mockingly to demonstrate levity. German troops fashioned grenades and mortar shells out of apple and plum tin cans, which led to US and British soldiers calling those improvised devices “toffee apples” and “plum pudding.”

There are certainly many more examples , but these were the first ones that came to mind.


Calamari Hot Dog at Casa Kun, Mexico City

Mexico City is thus far, one of my favorite cities in the world.  It has some precious architecture, both classical and modern, the temperatures are great, and the food.

Oh, the food.

Today’s pick comes to us from the Renacimiento neighborhood of the Mexican capital, close to the city’s main boulevard, Paseo de la Reforma.  After a mostly filling lunch of quesadillas, I was still hankering for a botana, or snack.

Randomly, I had passed by a restaurant called Casa Kun; on its menu was a dish of octopus prepared in peanut sauce.  I was not peckish enough for that, but given that the menu sounded delicious, I did a search online for meal recommendations.

That’s when I found out about the squid hot dog, or hot dog/jocho de calamar.

I’ve had my share of mystery meat hot dogs, and even an eel dog in Tokyo, so there was no way I could turn this one down.

Calamari Hot Dog, Casa Kun, Mexico City, Mexico

If you’re sensitive to “fishy” tastes, then the calamari hot dog would not offend you.  You are able to enjoy the flavor of the squid, the house-made mayonnaise, and the surprisingly tasty bun without any one flavor overpowering the others.  It was served with fried baby octopus, roasted potatoes with scallions, and chile de árbol salsa.

Want to watch me try the calamari hot dog for the first time?  Check out my YouTube.

Río Amazonas 73, Col. Renacimiento,
Renacimiento, Cuauhtémoc, 06500
Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico

The 26th Annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival Starts This July

From July 15th until November 20th, 2021, if you’re raring to travel abroad but your desired countries are still closed due to COVID-19, perhaps you will want to check out The 26th Annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.  To attend, you will need to have both admission to Epcot, as well as reserve a place in the Disney Park Pass system.

Marketplaces such as Greece, Germany, Hawaii, and Islands of the Caribbean will be present, showing off food and drink commonly found in those parts of the world.  Wine and beer aficionados will also have their shops at which to indulge in buying souvenirs.

Due to the pandemic, the Festival will be taking place in a somewhat modified format.  For instance, due to frequent overcrowding at the Eat to the Beat Concert Series, in order to properly maintain social distancing among Festival attendees, Epcot will instead host local musical acts spread throughout the day.  Also, the number of global marketplaces will only be twenty, as opposed to thirty before the pandemic.

Epcot is known for its futuristic attractions as well as its permanent country pavilions, with Morocco, Japan, and the United Kingdom among the more popularly visited ones.

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