Jew’s Ear, and other awkward travel moments

A much better photo of Ti Top beach than I managed to take, courtesy of halongcruises.cc

After an adventurous morning at Hang Sung Sot, we arrived at Dao Ti Top, otherwise known as Ti Top Island. This island includes a tiny little beach area, with chairs available for rent at the price of 40,000 Dong ($2USD).  The other option was kayaking for $15, which seemed a little steep, so Jenn and I when with the beach option. Unfortunately, it started to drizzle a bit towards the end of our stay at Ti Top, but luckily it wasn’t enough to spoil the excursion.

After getting back onboard our ship, and getting cleaned up for dinner, we all met on the top deck of the boat for a cooking demo.  It was actually one of the most fun activities on the ship as it was good chance for everyone to get to know each other and talk. Especially when we received the following handout:

Think they sell that at Whole Foods? Photo courtesy of Jenn

Take notice of  the 7th ingredient.  It was one of those awkward travel moments when you think that something must be lost in translation.  I immediately looked back at my friend Jenn to see if she had noticed it, and judging from her stifled laughter, and that of others in the crowd, it seemed that everyone else had noticed too. None of us had ever heard of such a thing before, prompting  Jenn to joke that, being Jewish, she was going to wear earmuffs for the duration of the cruise! Based on the demo, it appeared to be a mushroom of some sort. Being the science nerd that I am, I had to research its nomenclature once I got back to land. It appears that “Jew’s Ear” is the colloquial name for Auricularia auricula-judae, an edible fungus with a distinctive look, reminiscent of an ear. Its common name was derived from religious folklore surrounding Judas Iscariot hanging himself from an elder tree, and the belief that the “ears” growing on the dead wood were his returned spirit. What were originally known as “Judas’s Ears” became shortened to “Jew’s Ears” over time.   It is a common ingredient in East Asian cooking, but less frequently used in other parts of the world. Of note, the Auricularia auricula-judae has been scientifically shown to have  anti-tumor, hypoglycemic, anticoagulant and cholesterol-lowering properties. To be fair, I highly doubt that anyone working on the ship was remotely aware of the cultural insensitivity behind that term. And learning about the origin of the name made it seem slightly less offensive. But it’s probably time for a different name, wouldn’t you say? I think the International Mushroom Naming Committee should make this an action item!

In any case, the spring rolls were incredibly delicious; somehow everything tastes so much better after a long day of activity!  Afterwords, the chef asked for volunteers, and since I love to cook, I was happy to give it a try. Think I could have my own show on the Food Network??

Welcome to an episode of Cooking with Kavi! Photo courtesy of Jenn

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3 Comments on “Jew’s Ear, and other awkward travel moments

  1. Hi Kavi! I’m just having a discussion over the phone with my American friend ans stumbled upon your blog post: I am still not entirely at the core of how the name “Jew’s ear” is offensive or culturally insensitive. You write that learning about the name’s origin made it “slightly less offensive”. I am not sure I follow (I’m not a native English speaker). Is it because the word “Jew” has been often used in a derogatory manner in the past two millennia, ergo using another ethnic group’s name (French, Muslim, Irish, Gipsy,…) would not have a similar effect? I am genuinely curious and don’t quite understand: I don’t intend for my question to be jerkish in any way. Hope you’ll get to read this comment = ) Vlad

    • Hi Vlad, thanks for checking out my blog! My initial reaction to seeing the term “Jew’s ear” was surprise, because I’ve never heard anyone use that term or name for a mushroom before. I find the term derogatory both for using the word Jew itself (in speaking with Jewish friends, I learned that the shortened form is considered “harsh”) and for naming a vegetable after a group of people! As you alluded, I think it would be equally ridiculous to have vegetables called American’s nose or SriLankan’s elbow 😉 As I mentioned in the post, other travelers in the tour group had the same reaction I did, but I honestly don’t think the employees on the boat had any idea that it was an offensive name. I chose to write about this because I think it highlights some of the interesting lost-in-translation type of travel moments, and it’s something we can all learn from.

      Hope that answers your question! I don’t think you’re “jerkish” at all, and I appreciate the conversation 🙂

      • Hi Kavi! Thanks for taking the time to respond . ) I did some researching among friends and concluded that the reason the name could be perceived as offensive is the usage of the word “Jew”, which can be used as an insult (“hey you, Jew!”). And as you write, it could be further misunderstood as named after a group of people (instead of one particular Jew – Judas) when taken for its face value.

        I took a semester of linguistics in the States a couple of years ago and I still find fascinating how language speaks to people (well that was corny . ] Ok, take care!

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