Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Cookie, Cracker or Biscuit - 饼干, 饼干 or 饼干

My dislike of (American) cookies roots in the misrepresentation of the word.  When I was a kid, I liked certain 饼干 (pronounced as: bǐng gān), which I learned that in (British) English it is called a biscuits.  In high school, we suddenly switched from British English to American English and I learned that a piece of 饼干 is now a cookie.

However, once I landed in the US and had my chances to taste cookies, they turned out to be of utterly different species.  They were too huge, too soft, too rich, and too strongly flavored.  They were nothing like of my 饼干 childhood and I was often offended by their audaciousness of masquerading as cookies.

Therefore, I started to look for biscuits, properly named by the proper English speakers, I naïvely thought.

Then the biscuits I encountered in the US were even more outrageously false.  First, I thought it highly strange to be on restaurant menu.  Encouraged by my friends, I ordered this biscuits, and again, they were not those 饼干 I thought to be.  They were even cooked and warm!  They were fluffy, easy to crumple, rich and flavorful and even come with some rich sauce, typically called gravy.  Alas, US didn't have real cookies.

Then, later, I encountered something when I started to go to galleries - cheese and crackers.  Those small, thin, and crisp crackers turned out to be the 饼干 I'd been searching for all those years!

Whey wouldn't Americans call them what they were - cookies!

This is very confusing and it had ruined my appetite for American cookies forever.

Below is the screen shot of a Google automatic translation, from English to Chinese, of biscuit, cookie and cracker, and you can understand why these three things confuse a native Chinese speaker so much:

Biscuit, Cookie and Cracker

So, how on earth can one differentiate one from another of these three similar but utterly different items?  I resorted to Wikipedia.  It told me that:
A biscuit is a baked, edible, and commonly flour-based product. The term is used to apply to two distinctly different products in North America and the Commonwealth Nations.
  • In the United States it is a small, soft, leavened bread, somewhat similar to a scone. A Southern regional variation on the term, beaten biscuit, is closer to the British form.
  • In Commonwealth English, it is a small and hard, often sweet, baked product that would be called either a cookie or a cracker in the United States, and either a biscuit or a cookie in Canada. Biscuits in the British Isles may be savoury (savoury biscuits are often referred to as "crackers") or sweet, such as chocolate biscuits, ginger nuts, custard creams or the Nice biscuit.

American biscuit (left) and British biscuits (right)
Lou Sander

In the United States and Canada, a cookie is a small, flat, baked treat, usually containing fat, flour, eggs and sugar. In most English-speaking countries outside North America, the most common word for this is biscuit; in many regions both terms are used, while in others the two words have different meanings. A cookie is a plain bun in Scotland, while in the United States a biscuit is a kind of quick bread similar to a scone. In the United Kingdom, a cookie is referred to as a biscuit, although some types of cookies maintain this name, such as the American-inspired Maryland Cookies, which are also sold there. In South Africa they are called biscuits, and the word cookie refers to cupcakes.
A British supermarket-brand Nice biscuit
Public Domain (PD)
Assorted cookies
Public Domain (PD)
American cookies

A cracker is a baked good typically made from grain flour dough and usually manufactured in large quantities. Crackers (equivalent to savory biscuits in the United Kingdom) are usually flat, crisp, small in size (usually 3 inches or less in diameter) and are made in various shapes, though are commonly round or square.

Crackers with herring and garlic sauce.
Giovanni JL from Singapore

Well, snack time.  Biscuits? Crackers? Cookies? Anyone?

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