In my writing class a student wrote that she had been cooking a lot recently and tried to make kara'agé. The sentence looked something like this:
Recently I challenged KARAAGE.
I asked her if she knew how to say kara’agé in English. She thought about if for a while, thought about it some more, gave it some more thought, then shrugged.
“How do you make kara'agé?”
“Meat . . . fry . . .”
“You fry the meat?”
“What kind of meat?”
“What kind of bird? Suzume (sparrow)?”
“No, not suzume! Tori. Bird!”
“You know the restaurant KFC?”
“What does KFC stand for?”
“Kentucky Furiedo Chicken.”
“So . . .?”
“Yes! So, you had better write: ‘I tried—not challenged—I tried to make fried chicken.’”
As she was writing this down, I asked her what the difference between fried chicken and kara’agé was.
“Bones,” she answered.
“You mean, fried chicken has bones and kara’agé doesn't?”
“Well, actually, fried chicken and kara’agé are pretty much the same thing. Sometimes fried chicken has bones, sometimes it doesn’t. What I mean to say is the presence of bones is not a determining factor in fried chicken.”
Moving on, I asked the girl if she knew what the kara (唐) of kara'agé meant.
She replied with a guess: “Karatto (からっと)?”
“No, no, no.”
Karatto means “nice and crisp” or “dry”. Several of the students told me that they had thought the same thing. I turned to one of the students from Kagoshima and asked her how to say sweet potato in her local dialect. She thought about it for a moment and answered:
“No, no, no. ‘Satsumaimo’ (lit. “Satsuma (the former name for Kagoshima) potato”) is standard Japanese. Don’t you have another word for satsumaimo?”
She gave this some thought and then said, “No.”
“How about kara imo?”
Her eyes lit up, and, nodding her head, she said, “That’s right, we do say kara imo?”
“So what does kara mean? It’s written with the same kanji.”
Another student had the answer: China.
“Yep,” I said. “Kara means China. Satsumaimo are called kara imo in Kagoshima because they—the potatoes, that is, not the people—originally came form China.”
Kara (唐) actually refers to the Táng cháo (唐朝), or Tang Dynasty (618-907). “So . . . kara’agé means ‘Chinese-style fried chicken’.”
“Why does he know this?” someone in the back muttered.
“Why don’t you?” I shot back.
. . .
I should add that although the word “kara’age” has been around for quite sometime, it was written 空揚げ or から揚げ until the 40s. I’ll write more about this later.