Fancy a buckwheat noodle enema?

Posted by Fuchsia on October 10, 2013
Chinese restaurants, Language, Menus

I know it’s something of a cliche to giggle at Chinese menu mistranslations, but the menu I came across at lunchtime today was such a spectacular disaster that I had to share it! Here are some of the linguistic catastrophes on offer in a Shanxi restaurant in Beijing:

荞面灌肠 Buckwheat noodles enema [unfortunately the same Chinese characters are used for an enema and some sausagey-type things]

凉拌莜面 Cold you face [here, the dish is cold oaten noodles, but the character for noodle-type foods (mian) is the same as that for face; and clearly they couldn't find oats in the dictionary so they didn't bother to translate and just gave the pinyin transliteration of the character, 'you']

老醋烧带鱼 Vinegar burning octopus [the character shao can be translated both as 'burn' and as 'braise/cook': the translator clearly got confused here. Mysteriously, the main ingredient isn't octopus at all, but hairtail fish.]

群英香爆天鹅脯 Beat hong explosion swan preserved [this really is apparently made with swan, but they made that old mistake of confusing one of the meanings of bao, 'explode', with another, 'fast-cook at high temperature'. I've no idea where 'beat hong' came from, because I think the first two characters mean 'a group of distinguished heroes']

红面剔尖 Red-faced tick tip [??? this is their name for a kind of pasta made by scraping shreds from a mass of dough with a bamboo implement]

豌豆面抿蝌蚪 Peas face sip tadpoles [They've confused noodle-type foods with 'face' again, and although these little squiggles of pasta dough are known poetically as 'tadpoles', the scrambling of the rest of the sentence makes the name quite incomprehensible.]

At least they’d had the foresight to include photographs of all the dishes on the menu!


6 Comments to Fancy a buckwheat noodle enema?

Lee
10 October 2013

Thanks, raised a smile for a few minutes in my working day.

Naomi (The GastroGnome)
10 October 2013

This is great–I love the explanation behind them, not just laughing at them. My favorite Chinglish sign from Beijing was a restaurant called “Meat Patty Explode the Stomach,” which you explain at least part of here. Thanks!

Harvey
12 October 2013

The confusion between “noodles” and “face” is an artifact of the character “simplifications” after the revolution. The traditional character for noodles, still used in Japan, Taiwan, and (I believe) in Hong Kong and by the Chinese diaspora, is 麺. The right hand part is 面 and indicates the pronunciation, “mian” in Chinese, “men” in Japanese, and the left hand part is the character 麥 which is used in naming many grains. The “simplification” eliminated the left hand part of the character thus creating the confusion. So if someone had a bowl of noodles thrown in his face, he might say something in Chinese which could be translated as “my noodles are covered with noodles” or “my face is covered by face”. The simplifications are inconsistent because there are characters such as 缅, 腼, and 湎 which contain 面 and are pronounced “mian” but which have not been reduced to 面.

Andrew
13 October 2013

Harvey – you’re totally correct on the simplifications, but wouldn’t 臉 be more likely, at least in colloquial speech, to be used for ‘face’ than 面?

The latter strikes me as more literary and terms like 面子 aren’t really used to describe physical faces.

Anne
29 October 2013

Language Log wrote up this post: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=8108.

Star
29 March 2014

“Hong” seems to be the Cantonese romanization of the third character, as in “Hong Kong,” but I don’t know why they’ve used both Pinyin and Cantonese.

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