A SPRING CHICKEN & THE PER­ILS OF MENU TRANS­LA­TION

As the one munch­ing down said meat­balls, you don’t ex­actly want to be the killjoy who ru­ins the hap­pi­ness on the plate.

That's China - - 城市漫步 - Text by / Gemma Piali

To what ex­tent can a name in­flu­ence the way we feel about eat­ing a cer­tain dish? Chi­nese food cul­ture is vast and com­plex so trans­lat­ing the names of Chi­nese dishes can re­ally chal­lenge one’s lan­guage abil­i­ties. De­spite ex­pend­ing a great deal of ef­fort on their English menus, many restau­rants have al­lowed some real howlers to slip through. A mis­trans­la­tion does not change the taste or smell of a dish, but af­ter read­ing “Smell of urine” un­der­neath a pho­to­graph of a bowl of noo­dles, it does not ex­actly make one’s stom­ach rum­ble in an­tic­i­pa­tion, but does re­sult in an out­burst of laugh­ter from the un­ex­pected din­ner-time sur­prise.Who knows, it could have been the best choice on the menu, but then again 羊血饸饹 means sheep’s blood noo­dles so it is per­haps an ac­quired taste for those who are not used to drink­ing blood. An­other slightly off-putting trans­la­tion, which of­ten pops up, is when mush­rooms are la­beled as “bac­te­ria” or “germs”. On one menu, the dish 深山野菌 be­came “Deep moun­tains bac­te­ria”, and al­though a mush­room is the fleshy, spore-bear­ing fruit­ing body of a fun­gus, the word bac­te­ria is not at all mouth-wa­ter­ing es­pe­cially with the thought of it be­ing found deep within the moun­tains. Or there is the tra­di­tion­ally very aus­pi­cious dish “sixi wanzi 四

喜丸子 ” which be­came “Four Glad Meat­balls” - im­ply­ing that the meat­balls them­selves were ca­pa­ble of hu­man emo­tion. As the one munch­ing down said meat­balls, you don’t ex­actly want to be the killjoy who ru­ins the hap­pi­ness on the plate. Per­haps most hi­lar­i­ous is the trans­la­tion of the dish “tongzi ji”, mean­ing young chicken, which in English be­came “Vir­gin

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet?

Chicken” - as if the cus­tomers of the restau­rant were picky as to the sex­ual pu­rity of the chicken in ques­tion. There are also some un­for­tu­nate trans­la­tions, where English swear words have some­how found their way into the la­bel­ing of an or­di­nary meat dish, but we won’t go into the de­tails of those. You’ll just have to search for them your­selves. In the lead up to the Bei­jing Olympics in 2007, there was an ef­fort to unify the English trans­la­tions of many thou­sands of dif­fer­ent dishes and drinks across the city. Sounds like a great idea, right? While for­eign­ers can start to gain some clar­ity about what they are ac­tu­ally eat­ing, at the same time po­etic trans­la­tions (or just out­right hi­lar­i­ous mis­takes) are be­com­ing a thing of the past. Say goodbye to “White Clouds Sur­round the Vol­cano” (hu­oshan baiyun 火山白云 - ac­tu­ally just sliced tomato with sugar). But don’t fret too much, China is vast and there is still an abun­dance of restau­rants with di­rect or awk­ward trans­la­tions. For the sake of a lit­tle gig­gle, next time you are out and about you can have a search for “Hus­band and Wife’s Sliced Lungs” (fuqi feip­ian 夫妻肺片 ), a pop­u­lar Sichuan cold dish made of thinly sliced beef and beef of­fal, or “Lion's Head” (shizi tou 狮子头 ), a large meat­ball usu­ally deep fried and then braised with veg­eta­bles.

A sec­tu­ally chicken? in­ac­tive Hmm...

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