Thursday, December 29, 2005

Found in translation.

The Portuguese left their mark all over East Asia, influencing what we think of as indigenous cultures:

The Japanese, who had no indigenous word for "thank you," adopted the Portuguese obrigado, rendering it as arigato. The Javanese and Malays picked up hundreds of Portuguese terms and made them their own: armada for "fleet," roda for "wheel," tempo for "time," bola for "ball."

The two-story, balconied shops that lined Asian main streets from the mouth of the Yangtze to the Indonesian Archipelago were of a recognizably Portuguese design. In the Straits Settlements of Penang, Malacca, and Singapore, Chinese merchants covered the facades of their houses with Portuguese colored tiles and protected their roofs with red terra-cotta in the fashion of Portuguese Algarve.

The Portuguese carried the chili pepper from Brazil to Thailand and Sichuan. They taught the Tamils to mix the chilies with vinegar and garlic in vindaloo, which is based on the Portuguese expression vinho e alho, "wine and garlic." They introduced deep-fat frying to Japan, where it took on a Portuguese name, tempero, used for a dish that now passes as the most characteristically Japanese item in Japanese cooking.

Frank Viviano, "The Bones of Saint Francis" in James O'Reilly, Larry Habegger & Sean O'Reilly, eds., Travelers' Tales: Hong Kong 87 (San Francisco, 1998).

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