Friday, September 12, 2008

Ay, Pottage!

Remember that ginisang munggo dish our moms made, usually during Lenten Fridays? That green, beany, savoury, soupy dish that's the perfect side for plain rice and fried anything? What do you call it in English? Soup? Stew? Porridge? dr.sbdink and I were discussing this recently and, well, we were stumped.

After some research, I can confidently say the answer is pottage, which is basically a vegetable soup or stew and is the root of the word porridge. The granddaddy of this word is the Latin porrum which means leek-- a common ingredient in soups and stews. From there it became the Old French potage meaning soup and then the current English pottage. Pottage and porridge were originally interchangeable terms, both basically meaning boiled vegetables or cereals. In the 17th century, however, the terms started to have the distinct meanings we have today, with pottage keeping its original association with vegetable soups and porridge referring to cereals (primarily oatmeal but also encompassing rice, corn, barley, etc.) boiled in water or milk.

Pottage is actually mentioned in the Bible, in Genesis XXV 27-34 where Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of lentil pottage and some bread. The Hebrew says וּנְזִיד עֲדָשִׁים (naziyd 'adash), which literally means boiled lentils, and is translated as pottage of lentils in the King James Version. Esau eventually regrets the trade with Jacob and this becomes the nucleus of their (and their descendants') endless conflict. Jacob, after wrestling with a mysterious man, later thought to be God himself, eventually became known as Israel (literally he who wrestled with God). Thus, Jacob's lentil pottage set the stage for the Arab-Israeli troubles we see today. But I digress.

Therefore, since our munggo dish is thickened by legumes rather than cereals, the precise English term would be mung bean pottage. Hopefully our mung bean pottage won't start any wars.

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