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wasabi (わさび, 山葵, 和佐比)

Japanese. ‘Japanese horseradish’. Name of a plant which root is used as a spice. It has an extremely burning hot, though short-lived flavour. It is originally from Japan, where it grows naturally along stream beds in mountain river valleys. The root is either very finely grated and usually made into a paste, before being used. For a better taste, it is best grated from top downward, as the most fresh parts are on top, and in Japan this is traditionally done with a special wooden grater with a piece of shark skin on which the root is scraped. Since its flavour easily evaporates, the paste should remain covered until served. That is why in sushi or sashimi, the wasabi is put in between the rice and the fish. Wasabi is also cultivated in Thailand, e.g. in the northern province of Lamphun, where it is sold in the form of powder which needs to be mixed with an equal amount of water to make it into a paste. Sometimes referred to as green mustard. In Japanese kanji script the characters (山葵) do not correspond to their pronunciation, as they should properly be pronounced san-gi, but spelt in this way they refer to the ‘mountain hollyhock’. In Mandarin Chinese, the same characters read shān-kuí which literally translates as ‘mountain’ and ‘sunflower’, but in combination also means ‘wasabi’. The other kanji spelling (和佐比) literally reads wa-sa-bi and the particular kanji are here used for their phonetic value, rather than for their semantics, as their meaning is totally irrelevant to the Japanese horseradish, as they translate as ‘peaceful’ (和 - wa), ‘assist’ (佐 - sa) and ‘to compare’ (比 -bi). The phonetic usage of kanji script to represent words like this is known as ateji (あてじ) in Japanese.