in Life at CSOFT

Look into any household today and you will surely find kitchenware from across the globe. Have you ever wondered about the stories behind these things and the meanings behind common kitchenware translations, though?

Kitchens play a significant part of our holiday traditions and are usually a place of warmth and delicious smells. Around the world, people gather in kitchens to carefully prepare holiday dishes and share food with their loved ones. While many of us may not be gathering in the usual fashion this year, people across the globe are planning alternative ways to share their meals around the table safely.

In a similar way, this time of the year is very special to CSOFT, as we send out our traditional well wishes along with our specially prepared gifts. However, due to the pandemic, we have also had to adapt our annual traditions. Recently, CSOFT has reflected on how people will find new ways to hold onto some traditions. In doing so, we have put together a creative alternative to sharing our best wishes, as well as keeping our seasonal traditions strong.

For many years, CSOFT has put together numerous cookbooks featuring recipes from around the world. CSOFT appreciates how food, in all flavors and sizes, brings family and friends together in many ways (including virtually), particularly in times of hardship. Additionally, kitchens, no matter the size, are vessels of holiday traditions and often where you will find items of cultural value and meaning. This year, CSOFT has created a fun-filled video showcasing our CSOFTers from around the world and their culturally unique kitchenware.

In addition to our video, CSOFT has selected an assorted array of kitchenware to highlight the important diverse cultures found in kitchens globally. The following are some traditional kitchenware translations from around the world with explanations of how they used to create delicious dishes you might recognize:

Chinese Bamboo Steamer (蒸笼 zhēnglóng)

Bamboo Steamers are commonly used in Chinese cuisine, dating back almost 5000 years. The bamboo basket-like vessels are used for steaming and can be stacked on top of one another, with each vessel steaming various foods. Produced from bamboo soaked in water, these baskets are shaped into a circle and are held together with nails. As the baskets sit above boiling water, the vessel allows for the steam to enter through the basket to gently cook the food, helping retain its color, texture, and shape.

Rolling Pin (擀面杖 gǎnmiàn zhàng)

The Chinese rolling pin is a uniquely wooden cylindrical shaped tool used to roll out dough for dumpling skins, wontons, and cakes on flat surfaces.  In addition to differing from its Western counterpart, the Chinese rolling pin differs slightly across China: some pins are long and thin, while others are short and thick. In general, the longer ones are used for making noodles, while the shorter pins are used for rolling dough for dumplings.

Moroccan Tagine ( طجين ṭažin)

The Moroccan tagine, or tajine, is a Berber dish named after the earthenware pot in which it is cooked. The name tažin means ‘shallow earthen pot’ in Moroccan Arabic. The dish itself is very ancient, first appearing in early writings in the ninth century. Today, the dish is served primarily in the Middle East and North Africa. The pot is sometimes intricately painted or glazed and has a circular base that is flat with low sides as well as a large cone-or dome-shaped cover that sits on top of the base while cooking over hot charcoal or in an oven. The cover is designed to direct all condensation to the bottom of the pot.

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Japanese Bento (弁当 bentō)

A traditional Japanese bento is a single portion take out or home-packed meal, and contains rice or noodles, along with fish or meat and vegetables. Bento can range from plastic disposable containers to traditional hand-crafted lacquerware containers that feature specific indented box-like sections for food placement. While bento was initially intended for packed lunches at school or work, it has become an integral and symbolic part of Japanese culture. Ekiben (駅弁) bento is a specific type of bento sold on trains or at train stations that comes with disposable chopsticks and spoons. Ekiben containers are made from wood or ceramic and often showcase regional specialties and cuisines, encouraging culinary tourism in Japan. Kyaraben (キャラ弁) bento is a style of bento that is elaborately arranged, and often features food decorated to look like people, animals, and plants, as well as represent different seasons.

 

Korean Sujeo Set (수저 Sujeo/Sujŏ)

Kitchenware translations often become their most interesting when capturing the unique ways different countries interpret common regional traditions. The Korean sujeo set consists of a pair of oval-shaped or rectangular shaped medium-length metallic (often stainless steel) chopsticks and a matching long handled shallow spoon. The word sujeo is a portmanteau of the words sutgarak (숟가락, “spoon”) and jeotgarak (젓가락, “chopsticks”). The length of the sutgarak and the jeotgarak set are well balanced and are often used together. The sutgarak has a slightly concaved, yet firm handle at the end for graceful usage. The sujeo set can be used for eating traditional Korean food and for everyday usage.

 

Italian Wooden Pizza Peel (Pala/paletta per pizza)

Pizza making is a unique aspect of Italian culture. An Italian pizza paddle, or peel, is a shovel-like tool used by bakers to safely slide loaves of bread, pizzas, and pastries into ovens. The peels are typically made of wood with a flat surface attached to an extended arm and handle (similar to a shovel’s blade). Variations can be made from sheet metal attached to a wooden handle. The paddle allows for bakers in restaurants or in the home to place baked goods deeper into extremely hot ovens and wood burning ovens. Before using the paddle, bakers will delicately sprinkle flour over the spade so that baked goods do not stick to the paddle. Paddles come in a range of sizes often to meet the depth of one’s oven or the size of the foods being placed in the oven.

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Danish Æbleskiver Pans

Here’s an interesting piece of kitchenware (and one of the more unique kitchenware translations in the mix)! Æbleskiver (aebleskiver or ebleskiver) are a type of Danish pancake cooked on the stove stop in a special cast-iron pan with spherical molds. Traditional designs of the pan date back over 300 years, and often have hammered cooper plating. The name of the dessert means apple slices in Danish, although modern variations do not often use apple in the ingredients. The inside texture of Æbleskivers is soft, light and fluffy and the crust is crisp and browned. Usually served in the home as an afternoon snack with a coffee, Æbleskivers are traditionally served in sets of three with powdered sugar sprinkled on top and the insides filled with berry jams. This snack is often seen as a symbol of comfort and hospitality and is very popular during community events.

Mexican Mortar and Pestle (molcajete y tejolote)

Sometimes literal kitchenware translations just feel natural. The Mexican mortar and pestle are stone tools used for crushing and grinding traditional spices for authentic guacamoles or salsas. The use of the molcajete dates back several thousand years to the Aztec and Mayan peoples. Traditionally carved out of vesicular basalt (volcanic rock), the tool is usually circular in shape and supported by three stump-like legs. Traditional molcajetes are also decorated using various colors and designs. The matching handheld grinder is made from basalt as well, creating an ideal grinding surface. Much like cast-iron skillets, molcajetes can develop a line of ‘seasoning’, carrying flavors from past preparations.

Greek Coffee Maker (Briki μπρίκι)

Briki is a pot used to make the Greek version of espresso or Turkish coffee. The small post has a long handle and a pouring lip. Typically, the pot is made from brass or copper, but it can also be of silver or gold. As a unique custom, when one is finished drinking their coffee, they can turn the cup over and let the grounds drip down to reveal one’s fortune.

 

Needless to say, the stories behind these names show just how much there is to appreciate in the words for things translated from other cultures. When it comes to communicating meaningful things across cultures like cooking, celebration, and even just for kitchenware translations in general, is it better to try to adapt the original sound, or work with the meaning in the target language? Which will feel more familiar to people experiencing these things from afar is always a case-by-case question – and never a boring one!

A meal is never complete until we give our thanks. So, from our table to yours, we wish you a happy and safe holiday around the world. We hope that you still enjoy a holiday meal and create new memories in the kitchen, even though they may be different this year.  Join CSOFT in celebrating the holiday season together virtually here. Be sure to also check out our holiday wishes board to leave your season’s greetings.