Brief thoughts on tomatoes and potatoes
Tomato is a fruit (I know anyone who read that just groaned) from the American continent, but one which is widely popular in the old world. It goes by a wide variety of names, some of them more charming than others. My two favourites are:
- Kazakh : “Қызанақ” (qızanaq), from the same root as “қызыл” (qızıl, red) and “қызамық” (qızamıq, “rubella”), which is much nicer in sound than the stupid Italian-based loan the rest of the ex-Soviet world seems to be using.
- Chinese: 番茄 (“barbarian eggplant”), note that the same first character (“barbarian”) is combined with “potato” (薯) to produce “sweet potato”.
There is another Chinese term for “tomato” which, although it is inferior to “番茄”, reflects how the Chinese (unlike every other linguistic group I’ve been able to ask), do not find it odd to refer to tomato as a fruit, rather than a vegetable: “西紅柿” (Western red persimmon).
As long as I’ve already mentioned the potato (also of American origin), I might as well mention one more word that anyone who has eaten any significant amount of South Asian cuisine ought already to know: The Persian “آلو” (ålu) means “plum”, but from what I’ve been told used to be used to refer to potatoes before the language reformists saw fit to assign to that vegetable a calque of the French “pomme de terre” (سیبزمینی). Whether or not that story is true (although it seems to be, since in Afghanistan “کچالو” is still in use), it is certainly in use today in various South Asian varieties (including Hindi-Urdu, where it is spelt as in Persian or in Devanagari as “आलु”):
UPDATE: Look up the Persian word for tomato. It ties in nicely with آلو and 番茄.