Culinary clangers on the menu
A TAKEAWAY in the pit town where I served my journalistic apprenticeship had a puzzling dish on its menu which delighted in the title, “palace of explosive loin”.
It became such a staple, drunken punters would ask for the meal without questioning its content: “Give us a palace of explosive loin, mate.”
I did, however, question the owner. “Not lion,” he snapped, “loin, explosive loin.”
I probed the “explosive” element. “Yes, very hot,” he said.
The linguistic faux pas should’ve been expected from a 1970s establishment that welcomed patrons with the sign: “Let’s talk eat – I’m hungry already.”
Once, an A-board outside the establishment proudly proclaimed: “Today’s special – no lamb.”
My mate was so taken by the trout – “trucha” – dishes at a Spanish waterfront restaurant, he brought home the menu.
Mouthwatering fare included: “Trout to the vapor – or grilled”, “trout’s cracklings”, “trout to the cheese” and “sweater gives trout”. The latter sounds like a Captain Beefheart album.
What I would give to hear a disgruntled customer rail: “Call that trout sweat! Take it back and make it sweat some more.”
I have purchased “Slapper” crisps abroad and enjoyed a meal at Florida’s Dirty Dick’s Crab House: slogan, “Got My Crabs from Dirty Dick’s”.
Such culinary clangers are spawned by overseas restaurateurs, keen to lure English-speaking holidaymakers, simply running their menu through Google translate.
The results are the following, genuine meals: ‘God with vanilla’, ‘steam eggs with wikipedia’, ‘ chicken rude and unreasonable’, ‘I can’t find on google but it’s delicious’.
How establishments get the lingo so wrong is puzzling. I mean, come on – it’s not rocket salad!
Yet there are thousands of examples.
Travel blog Lonely Planet’s list is topped by a restaurant in Chiang Rai, Thailand, which announces proudly above its door: “Our food is guaranteed not to cause pregnancy.”
The catalogue of clangers also includes the Chinese starter “wild speculation” and Shanghai park sign, “loveable but pitiful grass is under your foot”.
Both are eclipsed by the Bejing eatery offering “spicy grandma”.
A little stringy with a lingering aftertaste of lavender, I’d imagine.
Yet Chinese restaurants do redeem themselves with cryptic, precise messages in fortune cookies. Pearls of wisdom inside the pastry parcels are printed to give long-suffering staff the last laugh.
I once took a girlfriend to a swanky London restaurant. After cracking open my cookie, I discovered the ticker tape message: “That wasn’t chicken.
My date’s chillingly stated: “Help - I’m being held hostage in a Chinese bakery.”
And who are we to mock? British businesses would similarly trip over the language barrier if forced to translate their wares into Mandarin or some South American tongue.
They even falter when attempting to converse with the natives.
A sign in my local pub’s gents toilet barks: “Use the ashtray, not the urinal.” And I’m the one serving a life ban. Let’s be honest, UK pub chain “The Slug and Lettuce” hardly conjured up the most enticing title.
English is a complex language, with each punctuation presenting a barrier to understanding.
There’s a difference between “let’s eat, dad” and “let’s eat dad”.
It’s a language that flies in the face of logic. But it’s lost on many, particularly today’s blogging and tweeting generation. Commas have certainly taken a backseat.
This was hammered home when I read the warning on a fast food restaurant’s door: Toilet ONLY for disabled elderly pregnant children.
It was further illustrated by the conservation message: Stop clubbing, baby seals.
Sadly, grammar no longer seems a priority in schools, yet in my day it was paramount.
I can remember my English teacher ranting: “In English, a double negative forms a positive.
“However, in some languages, such as Russian, a double negative remains a negative. But there isn’t a single language, not one, in which a double positive can express a negative.”
“Yeah, right,” I huffed.