Olympic menu

03Apr08

chinglishThere have been very hilarious moments when I discovered the bulk of photos tagged Chinglish in Flickr. The Chinese, as well as the Japanese, have the most wonderful translations when it comes to English. Menus are notorious for their strange translations. And it hits the customers hardest when they sit down nervously in a non-English-speaking environment, and are handed out a piece of smudgy paper inside a plastic sheet, with (relief!) a Roman alphabet instead of these Chinese scribbles.

Until you start reading. It doesn’t make sense at all! And perhaps you haven’t even stopped laughing after ordering the first round of beers! Just have a look here for some fine examples.

The Chinese have become aware of the bad impression their linguistically challenged countrymen are making on tourists. Or, even worse, the impression their poorly translated menus might make on future tourists, who are all traveling to Beijing for the Olympics.

So, the City of Beijing decided to make a list of standard menu items, plus an official translation into English. This list covers the translations of 2753 dishes and drinks, and is supposed to be issued to all restaurants in Beijing before August. It was all in the news last January, which made me search the web extensively, but while I found many appearances of the fact that there existed such a list, the real list didn’t show up that quickly.

Finally, I found it last weekend in a (final?) draft from the Beijing Tourism Bureau (click here for zip file). All dishes are neatly numbered, like in a Chinese restaurant. They sure had a lot of work on this menu, and, it must be said, it looks quite OK. Translating menus is surely no easy job, and it is funny even to screen the list for what is served in restaurants. I mean, would you expect Pan-Fried Chicken Wings in Coca-Cola Sauce [449] ?

Some accepted translations have dissappeared: the century eggs (1000-year old eggs) are called preserved eggs, and chaxiu (charsiu) buns are now just BBQ pork buns on the menu [1706]. Other Chinese spellings are introduced on the menu, because they are intranslatable, like jiaozi (Chinese dumplings); shaomai (small dimsums filled with pork), and guotie (fried Chinese dumplings, gyoza in Japanese). There are many snacks , starting from number 1686.

No one escapes the Chinese snack translation trap, because bun is used to either mean a filled or non-filled dough-like food, and the word dumpling coveres a great variety of snacks. I found one typo in the list (Red-Cooked Chicken with Tea Falvor [527]) , but that is nothing compared to the old menus!
Ordering “shredded pork sauteed with spicy garlic sauce” sounds much more mouth-watering than “fragrant shredded meat in fish” or “fuck the fragrant chicken cartilage” don’t you think?

Still, I will miss those menus badly. They make eating out a delight, and then we haven’t talked about the food yet ! We can always escape and go somewhere outside Beijing, where I am sure there will be Chinglish menus for many years to come.



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