Last week I gave a talk at the Free Word Centre in London about the challenges of translating into English the language of Chinese food and cookery (it was part of a series organised by the two translators-in-residence, Nicky Harman and Rosalind Harvey). I gave a few examples of atrocious translations of dish names on Chinese restaurant menus, and then looked at some of the issues confronting translators, including the vast number of specialised culinary terms with no English equivalent, the culturally-specifice gastronomic concepts, and the wit and poetry of Chinese dish names. It all felt particularly relevant at the moment, since I’ve been grappling with the question of how to translate 豆腐 into English in my next book. In my previous books, I’ve translated it as ‘beancurd’, but my current editor favours ‘bean curd’, which to me looks a little awkward. Another option would be to use the standard pinyin transliteration from Chinese: dou fu. Meanwhile, the vast majority of writing in English uses the Japanese-derived term tofu.
I’ll talking at the Abergavenny Food Festival on 20th September. Tom Parker-Bowles will be interviewing me. I’m guessing this means that he has forgiven me for what I inflicted on him when we last met… He was interviewing me on the TV programme Market Kitchen, and I took along a jar of one of my favourite breakfast and midnight-feast staples, fermented beancurd. I forgot to warn Tom that fermented beancurd is best appreciated in very small quantities, so, while we were being filmed, he picked up a whole cube of the stuff in his chopsticks, put it into his mouth – and, horrified, immediately spat it out across the room! I was extremely apologetic afterwards, naturally. I just hope I didn’t put him off fermented beancurd for life.