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.
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...