Crazy menu translations

The photographer Ian Cumming was my partner-in-crime on one of my Xinjiang food research trips. It was a hilarious couple of weeks: we were trailed by secret police and asked to leave our ‘weapons, explosives and isobactive materials’ at hotel receptions; Ian was hassled by prostitutes while I was repeatedly mistaken for a prostitute myself (given my scruffy clothes and lack of make-up, I can’t imagine how anyone would have thought I was soliciting for custom!); and I was unable to fasten my trousers for the entire trip because I had badly scalded my midriff with a kettle of boiling water the night before departure, which meant I had to go around with a loose silk cummerbund wrapped around my waist for a month to avoid disturbing the wound. Having said all that, and despite the tense political atmosphere, Xinjiang was fascinating and beautiful, and we met some wonderful people.

Anyway, Ian has just returned from a trip to Italy, where he dined in an apparently very smart restaurant with a menu whose translations rival the very worst Chinglish atrocities (see this link for my Financial Times piece on Chinese restaurant menu translations). This is an excerpt from Ian’s email, reproduced with his permission:

Appetisers included…

Imagination of Lubranese Sea

First dishes included:

Drops of it gleans with clam and rucola

Linguine to escapes him

Spaghetti to the veracious clams

Second dishes included…

Fished to the crazy water

Fish boiled to vapor

And my favourite…

Resentful of calf to the lemon

Then in the section entitled “Chef’s Contours”…

Capricious salad

Peas bridegrooms

Any of you got any favourites?

I have to mention that when I was looking through one of my China notebooks this morning, I found a note about ‘one of best-ever translations!’, found on a Suzhou restaurant menu. It was

‘Boiled the soup with the ovary of toad’

I laughed a lot, because the idea of eating TOAD’s ovaries was so horrible, until I realised that the translation itself actually wasn’t too far off the mark, because it was actually a soup made with FROG ovaries (xue ha), and that while I might not myself find a frog ovary soup revolting, most normal English people probably would…

7 Responses to “Crazy menu translations”

  1. Penny

    A couple of my personal favourites:

    ‘Wanton soup and soup with tree taste’ from the menu of a Chinese restaurant in Rome

    ‘Big Bolus of Mussels and Fish and Ships’ from the menu outside a restaurant in Boulogne, France. Any restaurant that close to the coast of Britain should surely know better!

  2. JC

    ‘Fished to the crazy water’–
    Acqua Pazzo! That’s literal enough, but most of the rest are incomprehensible.
    So funny.

    Just last week I was flipping through a “Szechwan” cookbook I’d forgotten I owned.
    One of the recipes was: ‘Intestine Rings on Green Onion Fingers’.
    I like that.

  3. Joe Hlebica

    Menu of the grand and historic Asahi beer hall in Tokyo’s Ginza district features “liver Japanese method”, a direct translation of wafu lebaa.

  4. Ken Boone

    One local Cambodian restaurant had to use white out to replace all the p’s with b’s every time they had “crab” on their menu.

    My favorite mistranslation comes from a Google translated page titled “Sour Dirty teach you how to do, how to do it delicious hot and sour Dirty” I can’t figure out what got mistranslated as “Our family to eat 100 tire!”

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