Pop Cantonese: 呷醋 – Eat Vinegar

What’s the craziest thing you would do for love? Walk on hot coals? Get your lover’s name tattooed across your chest – or maybe drink a vial of poison for them? If that last one sounds a little extreme, how about drinking vinegar instead?

Many of us have come across the expression “eat vinegar” (haap3 cou3 呷醋), which is used to describe a person who is jealous of someone else, especially in the context of their significant other. For example, if a man is jealous that his girlfriend is spending more time with others, you could say that he is “eating vinegar,” or vice versa. Sour, sweet, and delightfully pungent, we normally use vinegar as a condiment for cold dishes, braised meats and of course, freshly steamed dumplings, but it’s rarely eaten or drunk on its own. So how did this term “eat vinegar” come about? 

The expression actually originated in the Tang Dynasty (618–907), when there was a prime minister, Fang Xuanling, who was known for being henpecked by his wife. As one of the most favoured prime ministers of his time, the emperor decided to send him a beautiful, young concubine as a gift, which of course, made Fang’s wife extremely jealous.

Even though polygamy was the norm back then, Fang’s wife refused to bow to the emperor’s wishes and threatened to kill herself rather than see her man with someone else. Calling her bluff, the emperor sent over a vial of poison and dared her to drink it, which she did without any hesitation. Only then did she realise that the vial had been filled with vinegar instead of poison. Her act of love and courage impressed the emperor, and since then, the term “eat vinegar” has become synonymous with being jealous of someone who’s come between you and your lover. 

Now, we’re not saying that you should be clinking glasses of vinegar instead of champagne for Valentine’s Day, But who knows – perhaps a little jealousy is healthy in relationships as it shows that you actually care for one another. But, just like vinegar itself, it’s probably best to only “eat” it in small amounts!

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