Public explosion chicken!

This is the best mistranslation on a Chinese menu that I’ve seen in a long time, Gong Bao chicken rendered as ‘Public explosion chicken!’ Whoever came up with this translation confused the first character with another that sounds the same, and substituted another homonym for the second character. Gong Bao chicken is originally 宫保鸡丁 – which literally means ‘Palace Protector chicken cubes’, because it’s named after a former ‘Palace Protector’, or governor-general, of Sichuan Province, Ding Baozhen. Here, they’ve confused one gong (宫 palace) for another gong (公 public), and substituted the bao that means either 1) ‘fast-fry over a high heat’ or 2) explode for the bao that means ‘protect’ (this latter mistake is a common one). It’s from a menu in southern Yunnan.

Anyway, it’s such a great name for a dish that I’m seriously tempted to use it from now on! (although perhaps it would be better suited for the explosively hot ‘chicken with chillies’ (la zi ji 辣子鸡 )

12 Responses to “Public explosion chicken!”

  1. mk

    palace protector chicken cubes sounds pretty funny in it’s own right

  2. Lan

    Hi Fuchsia, are you heading to 元阳? if you are, do not forget try local beef jerky, as we Yunnanese would call “牛干巴” :) have fun in Yunnan!

    p.s. NO.1 I am currently reading your marvelous memoir and can not wait to read your upcoming
    p.s. No.2 and…I am from Yunnan :D

  3. Lan

    hi again,

    p.s. NO.1 I am currently reading your marvelous memoir “shark’s fin and Sichuan pepper”and can not wait to read your upcoming “every grain of rice”

    the system omitted the angle brackets and the book titles ;)

  4. Pragmatic Epicurean

    When I was in China I noticed “explosion” appearing with some frequency on translated menus eg. “Explosive Kidneys”. This seems to be one of the most common mistranslations.

  5. Fuchsia

    Hi Lan
    Thanks so much for your kind words about my book! And yes, I was in 元阳 last week and ate some delicious beef jerky! As well as breakfast noodles, and a really interesting rhubarb-like fruit – people peeled the stems, dipped them in ground chillies and salt, and then ate them. No one seemed entirely sure what the Chinese characters for it are – someone said 酸汤果,someone else 马蹄酸杆. Do you know if they are correct?

    Pragmatic epicurian – yes, ‘explosive’ and ‘exploded’ do often appear on restaurant menus, but this it itself is not entirely inaccurate, because the character they translate, bao 爆, does mean both ‘explosion’ and ‘to fry very fast at very high heat’. I like to preserve both meanings, so for example in my Sichuan book I gave ‘fire-exploded kidney flowers’!

  6. Lan

    hi Fuchsia, the rhubarb-like fruit you are referring to is “酸汤杆儿”or“酸汤梗”in local dialect, its 学名 is “虎杖” Japanese knotweed,and of course there are plenty of 别名 for it, including: 花斑竹、酸筒杆、酸桶笋、川筋龙、斑庄、斑杖根、大叶蛇总管、黄地榆 (thx google!) plus, it can be used as chinese medicine :)

    where else are you going to ‘explore’ during your stay in Yunnan? If possible, paying a visit to my hometown 西双版纳 would be lovely. I am talking about local ethnic cuisine here: barbecue at night market,rice jelly salad for afternoon snack, steamed glutinous rice and tomato chutney as breakfast…oh,i want to book a flight and go home now :P

  7. Fuchsia

    Thanks Lan! That’s extremely helpful and will save me some time when I get home. I did spend a couple of days in Jinghong, and drove out to the far west as well. beautiful scenery, lovely weather, very interesting food. But not enough time!

  8. James

    Reminds me of my years in St. Andrews, cooking while a student. (Imagine how it was finding reasonably authentic ingredients in Scotland, 1983!) Anyway for a dinner party I was preparing Kung Pao in a poorly ventilated student apartment. When the vinegar based sauce hit the sizzling chilis, one of my friends took too deep a breath over the wok, and it was similar to inhaling tear gas. Public explosion, indeed, as she went running out for air.

    But when served, she loved it as did all my other guests! ;-) Not sure my housemates liked using the kitchen for the next week…

  9. Qin Xie

    Public explosion chicken sounds a lot more fun than the alternative though… Did you point the mistake out to them? Or indeed, ask for a portion of said explosion?

  10. Charles McNett

    Question — in Sichuan you say that the chili paste for fish fragance is not available, but in Hunan you give a recipe for pickled chopped peppers that seems the same. OK to substitute???

  11. Fuchsia

    Qin Xie – no, I didn’t point it out! Actually the whole menu was riddled with amazing mistakes.

    Charles: no, the Hunan duo la jiao is not suitable, as it’s coarser and usually hotter, because you can’t get easily the same chillies outside Sichuan. As a substitute, sambal oelek can work quite well, or a younger, redder chilli bean paste. Or look out for other bright scarlet chilli pastes that have a wonderful colour and are not too hot.

  12. Andreas

    He he, I was making it on a ski trip with some people from work once. And since I like mine hot and think they should bloody well adapt, I put in not just a few dried chilis but more like two fistfuls (and I have big fists). I also like to give those a bit of a searing first, that slightly smoky flavour just gets even better. And of course you can imagine what happens when an arseload of dried chilis hit a hot pan.

    Since we were two (cooking for lots of people), I remembered at the last moment to say to my vice-chef something like “you should probably duck now”. Of course that just caught his attention and he was maced enough for him to run out in the snow for relief. The rest just ran away from the kitchen area. Public explosion, indeed.

    Maybe I overdid it, though, the favourite of that evening turned out to be the hong shao rou. (Of which I’d made far too little, since I wasn’t at all sure they’d appreciate the mouth feel of that…)

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