Global Lingo Blog

No more ‘chicken without sex life’ in Beijing

On my travels I visited China, where along with bewilderment at the sheer amount of people requesting photos with our blonde companion, the mistranslation of various dishes were a constant source of amusement and delight for me and my friends.

Chinese to English food translations

Hambangers and prinkles

Peculiar translations were not uncommon – hamburgers were ‘hambangers’ and Pringle crisps were ‘prinkles’, amongst many others we observed along our journey.

In the Terracotta Warrior museum near Xian, every fire extinguisher had a different translation of extinguisher into English, all of them unique and all incorrect. And when visiting the Great Wall of China, ‘drunkard and people who are insane’ were not permitted to get in the cable car as well as instructions telling us to ‘do not putting head and arms out of window’.

Book of English translations of Chinese dishes

However, this article on India Today highlights how the Chinese government has come up with a plan to help bring an end to these lost translations, for dining at least.

The municipal office of foreign affairs has kindly translated 3,000 traditional food items into English in an attempt to stop miscommunication at meal times.

The book of English translations hopes to guide and help restaurants steer clear of incorrect and often bizarre translations, bridging the culture gap with foreign travellers by helping them to choose dishes.

What has proved difficult for the translators are Chinese dishes that have no English-language equivalent available to describe them. In these cases, after studying Chinese restaurants in English speaking countries, they have used ingredients, cooking methods, taste, history and culture as some of the tools to create a translation into English.

This method allows some of the culture of the dish to be passed into the translation and could also act as an education in Chinese cuisine. The translations will not be compulsory but restaurants will be encouraged to use them.

No more embarrassed or terrified foreigners

The New York Times also discusses some of the translations issued for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and how literal translations can often be unusual.

So the next time you’re in China and feeling peckish; a ‘chicken without sex life’ is actually a young tender chicken or ‘spring chicken’ in the book, and ‘red burned lion head’ is just braised pork balls in brown sauce.

A little less perplexing and a lot more appetising when translated correctly!

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