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Italian Menus in the U.S. - Why Not Just Use English?

Last year I was in Italy. I hit a lot of really great restaurants. And I do mean a lot. Funny thing I noticed is that even if I found a place that was bit more “Americanized”, they still wrote out the menu in Italian. The dishes weren’t titled in English with a translation below. Could you imagine a menu that said:

HAMBURGER: uno rinforza il tortino con due parti di pane. Sottaceti e cipolla.

Italians would probably shake their heads and walk out.

I have a friend that recently went to a nice Italian restaurant in Denmark and, same thing, it was all titled in Danish and described in the same language.

Does anyone else find it odd that Italian restaurants find it necessary to “school” their patrons, translating what the dish would be called if they were in Italy?

I was viewing the menu through the glass of a small Italian restaurant in Port Chester (NY) and noticed that the titles (written in big bold Italian) were sometimes as long as the descriptions written in English (smaller text and harder to read italic). Is it that we won’t believe it’s an Italian dish unless it’s first written in Italian?

There have been a number of great Italian restaurants breaking away from this tactic. I spent a few hours at Del Posto in New York City recently and was delighted to see their menu was, for the most part, straight forward English.

http://www.delposto.com/menu.cfm?rest...

And I’d like to make sure everyone understands that I draw no correlation regarding the amount of Italian verbiage vs. the quality of the food. Just look at a menu entry from Roberto’s, the highest Zagat rated Italian restaurant in the Tri State area:

Orecchiette con salsiccia e broccoli di rapa $21
Orecchiette with Italian sausage and broccoli rabe sautéed in garlic and oil

Can anyone name other countries that mimic this practice?

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  1. BP you never cease to crack me up. I laugh out loud at some of the menus I see in Italian restaurants. I always assume it's an attempt on the owner's part to not be lumped into the "red sauce" genre of Italian restaurants,as if that's uniformly something to be ashamed of (NOT!). But all too often, they come across as pretentious or worse yet, really poor speakers of Italian!

    1. So what do I do if I dont know what orrechiette is/are. Or like last night-guanciale. etc etc

      1 Reply
      1. re: chaz

        I would ask the waiter/waitress to explain.

      2. I don't really understand why this is a problem for you - I think it's kind of fun and educational. I doubt Italians would walk out of a restaurant which described something in Italian. People in Europe aren't fazed by multiple languages being used. Don't you appreciate knowing what kung pao chicken is in a chinese restaurant. No, they don't say "gong bao ji" but what's the big deal with having multiple languages used as long as one is in English - if you're in the States. It does, however, drive me nuts when an Italian or French restaurant here in the U.S. doesn't use English - that's just silly.

        3 Replies
        1. re: suse

          Suse-

          I just read my own post twice and can't seem to find where I said I had a "problem" with this. I simply wanted to see if anyone knew of other countries that thought it necessary to give diners a translating lesson.

          "Barrette impanate del pollo fritte nel grasso bollente in olio" (chicken fingers)

          1. re: billyparsons

            You have to admit that the tone of your letter has a kind of "what the hell" tone about it. "Italians would shake their head and walk out." I guess I just don't get why you find it so odd. I would imagine that an American restaurant in Italy would actually have to translate "chicken fingers" in some way. Let's just hope they're not serving chicken fingers over there.

        2. Ah! You've touched a topic near and dear to my heart . . . It's one thing if the sauce is one of the classics, say "cacio e pepe" or "alla Norma". It is, after all, the name of the dish per se. So, I don't have a problem with the menu listing the Italian name and an English equivalent. What drives me crazy is the horrific spellings given in Italian! I've often fantasized that I could make a living correcting the spelling on the menus in Italian restaurants.

          5 Replies
          1. re: bropaul

            I've seen "diavolo" misspelled countless times as diablo.

            Another topic, not worthy of creating a second thread, is that of the misuse of the word bruschetta. Somewhere along the line, this preparation of simply toasted bread with a fresh garlic rub became a tomato, basil and garlic topping.

            Walk into any supermarket now a days and you'll see a tomato mixture labeled simply as "bruschetta". It's amazing how we just put our own spin on things. Maybe that's why they force the translations on us. So we can't screw it up.

            1. re: billyparsons

              I usually find that the Italian menus appear in "Ristorantes" rather than in Restaurants. Ristorantes usually command an additional $5 on the entree.

              I went to a Ristorante in Westbury, NY which was featuring a wine called Vendange for $8/glass which was advertised in the paper that day at $4.50 for a magnum bottle.

              1. re: billyparsons

                That second thread regarding the misuse (and mispronunciation) of the word bruschetta is already up and running and pre-dates this one. I have a similar problem with the term sushi being misued to refer to raw fish/seafood.

                1. re: billyparsons

                  I notice the Diavolo / Diablo confusion all the time. I think it is that people don't realize that they are different dishes.

              2. Two points:

                1. The US is a country of immigrants. Esp in big coastal cities there are a lot of recent immigrants who have strong ties to the home countries.

                2. Using a foreign language lends a sense of class.

                1. jfood likes the idea of many languages on menus. it's the homogenizing of cultures that cause people to loose their roots.

                  when jfood reads menus he absolutely loves to read the dish in it's native tongue. Arrabiata sounds so much more sensual than spicey tomato sauce. How about ordering Sauce of Whores versus Puttanesca. Why does everyone want A Mig Mac menu?

                  To your other question, jfood has seen various combinations. Eating in an Italian restoin Germany, the menu was in German with Italian sub-titles. Jfood speaks neither fluently but muddled his way through the menu and enjoyed a great meal.

                  13 Replies
                  1. re: jfood

                    Japanese restaurants tend to use the romanization of Japanese words in their menus as well- sushi, tempura, ramen, soba, udon, yakitori, okonomiyaki, teppanyaki, etc. I've also seen it in Indian restaurants, German restaurants, and other types of restaurants. Some things just don't sound as good in English and it makes more sense to call it "soba" than "thin buckwheat noodles."

                    1. re: jfood

                      jfood...

                      With all due respect to my fellow chowhounder, are you jfood or jfood's writer? You always seem to refer to jfood as a third party. Very trendy but, also a bit odd, but anyway. I thank you for your information regarding Germany though. So now that’s, well, two countries that follow the practice. Yea!

                      With regard to Puttanesca, I agree. But, at least call chicken, uh, chicken. Not pollo no? Does pollo make you want to run and order chicken that much faster? I actually like the word chicken.

                      Matter of fact, I’m gonna’ make myself a few thighs right now. Or, wait a sec, shall I say “billyparsons think that he will cook some chicken!”

                      It's all good. Great comment though....

                      1. re: billyparsons

                        jfood likes pollo better than chicken, just feels better. quail sounds better than pidgeon, sweetbreads sound better than you know what, venizon sounds better than deer, see even within the same language class, there are better words to evoke culinary upside.

                        then you have the confused group, hot dogs, franfurters, red hots, coneys, wieners, knockwurst, and the wedge/sub/hoagie/hero/grinder controversy. can someone please decide what to call them and let's move on.

                        1. re: jfood

                          Know what jfood, I must say, good, no great, response. Don't even get me started with tripe, foie gras and rocky mountain oysters. Ouch...

                          1. re: billyparsons

                            Depends on so many things- what city you're in, the clientele, the style of the food. In limited amounts, a little Italian on the menu can give a sense of authenticity-if the food matches and it's not overdone and overblown. Kind of helps my learning culinary Italian as well. Kind of ironic-I've been in so many Italian restaurants where so much of the staff-front and back of the house is Latino, Croatian, Russian, etc. Hard pressed to find a real Italian sometimes. Like everything-where appropriate, in moderation, without pretension and accurate (regardless of the language)- it may add to the experience. If not, why bother?

                          2. re: jfood

                            Quail and pigeon (pidgeon?!) are two different birds. Squab and pigeon, you mean. Venizon is the proper term for deer meat, as beef is the proper term for cattle meat.

                            1. re: PeterL

                              oops, squab and pidgeon. but the others are good for jfood's point.

                              1. re: PeterL

                                If you want to only use proper terms, it's veniSon. No "Z."

                                1. re: PeterL

                                  Venison is deer meat, if we're getting picky. Venizon is deer with a wireless connection :-D

                                2. re: jfood

                                  ...and sweetbreads are not (as you seem to think by virtue of your delicate evasion) testicles, but the thymus and pancreas of a calf or lamb - unless you find the words "thymus" and "pancreas" indelicate.

                                  1. re: hungry_pangolin

                                    Sorry HP, jfood never said or thought that sweetbreads are testicles but there are two types, The first is as you descibed near the pancreas. The second are glands like the "barbell" ends of a tube that connect these two glands, one in the throat and the other near the heart. Even these two ends are slightly different.

                                    Last jfood checked the testicles were a little further down the food chain and jfood has no aversion to throat, heart, pancreas or testicles. Some people get squeemish with the word thymus. Thought you'd like the slight correction on the second one after reading your posts this morning that unfortunately got deleted, but jfood enjoyed very much reading them over his cup of coffee.

                                  2. re: jfood

                                    umm, excuse me, but quail and pidgeon aren't even close to the same. Not trying to nitpik, just sayin'.

                                    1. re: nvcook

                                      oops, delete quail, insert squab

                              2. Italian dishes have Italian names. French dishes have French names. American dishes have English names. For those who do not speak the language correlating to whichever cuisine they are currently enjoying, titles in the original language followed by a description in their own language is a culturally respectful, accurate, and helpful way to understand what they are eating.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: vvvindaloo

                                  Let me ask you this. Is the following menu line item a "name" of a dish, or a description?:

                                  "Orecchiette con salsiccia e broccoli di rapa"

                                  1. re: billyparsons

                                    Clearly, this is a description of a classic Italian dish. Just because Italian cuisine does not provide a proper name for all of their dishes does not mean that restaurants should not use an Italian title. My point, and my opinion, is that the diner benefits from this culturally educational inclusion. Odds are, the average Italian-restaurant-frequenting-NYer would not know what salsiccia was if he or she did not learn it from a menu. Being a person who cares about food rather intensely, I pride myself on learning the names of dishes (or just how to order them) in their language of origin. Rather than ordering "chicken marinated in yogurt, spices and onion, then cooked in the tandoor", I order "chicken tandoori". I think it is a sign of respect for the food you are eating. Conversely, I would expect that a restaurant in Italy serving "buffalo chicken tenders" would use the English title and include a description below the name that went something like this: "filettini di pollo fritto con una salsa piccante". I don't really see the issue with either of these scenarios.

                                    1. re: vvvindaloo

                                      I think I'd rather have respect for the chef that had the respect for the food they prepared.

                                      Not sure if I'm privy with the need to have "respect for the meal I'm eating" concept. Almost seems a little "Sopranos" to me. Sort of like "Ay Tony says we gotta' show respect for the linguine and the meat-a-balls”. Kind of stirs up visions of kissing a piece of spaghetti before I eat it, like the guys kiss Tony’s pinky ring.

                                      When I read a menu, I'll pass on the Italian lesson. Just give me a menu without any fluff or fillers.

                                      In Italy they provide the translation because of tourism. In America they do it to prove some point, maybe that it’s “genuine Italian”. Some of the really great restaurants in New York stopped it (like Del Posto). Think they’re food’s any less Italian?

                                      When I read a menu, I'll pass on the Italian lesson. Just give me a menu without any fluff or fillers.

                                      1. re: billyparsons

                                        Since you seem to be asking (and challenging) our opinions on the practice, rather than our contributions regarding countries where it is utilized, I will clarify my position, as stated above: what I consider "respect for the meal I am eating" translates to respect for both the establishment that cares enough to provide such information, and the chef, who presumably (and hopefully) also cares about the cultural origin of the dish, the history of the cuisine, the authenticity of his or her preparation of it, and the diner's appreciation of all three.
                                        This is the same reason why I order "pad kee mao" rather than "rice noodle stir fry with basil", or I say "coq au vin" and not "roasted chicken with wine".
                                        And I hardly see the relevance of your reference to some supposed hierarchical organized crime ritual. I am sure you did not intend any sort of defamatory anti-Italian prejudice, right?

                                        1. re: vvvindaloo

                                          "pad kee mao" & "coq au vin" are fine. It's when the entire "description" is written out in a language the diner can not understand. That's what has me so perplexed.

                                          With regard to your last comment though, what crime ritual? Tony Soprano was a regular hard working guy from Jersey. I'm a little offended that you would assume criminality simply because they're Italian. :)

                                2. Phood , as a native and literate English speaker, is always bemused when, in non-English speaking countries, he sees bad translations into English. Especially in poorer areas, he smiles and respects the effort and the attempt made to make the place and the product accessable to the (dominant?) English speaking culture. "Rice and Bince" in Costa Rica remains a favorite.

                                   
                                  1. Okay, I have to admit to being a bit of a language freak, so I love multi-language menus. I shouldn't have to ask a server what something means on the menu. The whole beef/cattle, pork/pig thing in English has a lot to do with the influence of French on the English language after the Norman invasion. The aristocracy was speaking French and they were calling swine "porc", and cow "boeuf" (or however you spell it) and we ended up with different names for the animal and the meat. In German pork is still "Schweinefleisch" (cognate with the ever lovely sounding swine flesh). English is such a hodgepodge anyway - just look at the craziness of its spelling - that we can add a "pollo" here and there, dontcha think?

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: suse

                                      How about the tendency to call goats' milk cheese "chevre". Do we call cows' milk cheese "vache"?

                                      But all this reminds me of the humourist Stephen Leacock, who wrote that the words on a store "Ristorante Italiano" led him to conclude that it was an Italian restaurant.

                                    2. Perhaps it's because I grew up in a very multilingual community, but I'm not fazed by orechiette con whatever, murgh something, etc. If there's something on the menu I don't understand, I'm pretty quick to ask the server to explain. There's no reason to be afraid to ask, as it's my money, and their income, so it's in everyone's interest that the diner know what is what. To my mind, food is not just a question of ingesting nutrition, it is a complete experience: a social event, an ecological event, an anthropological event, an economic event, perhaps a religious event, an event in history. Sure, I'm hungry after a long day in the salt mines, and damn, that linguine is tasty, but it's unnecessarily reductive to ignore willfully any of those aspects. If I get to learn a new word in Italian, Urdu, or Cantonese, it's a bonus, not a trial to be avoided.

                                      1. How did I miss this thread? I love when ethnic restaurants use their ethnic names and then subscript the translation below in italics or similar. I also adore when they have a part of their menu where they explain ingredients or techniques, even simple ones like "agneau" or "al cartoccio". Frankly, I find the Anglocization(SP?) of European languages quite annoying; isn't that why we go to Europe to get away from the Americas for goodness sake? I have only noticed this language practice traditionally in Italian Restos and French Bistros but I think they should all have it; it may be tricky with languages that do not use the conventional alphabet (but give me the phonetic pronunication in parenthesis then). I have seen it more and more in Spanish, Portugues and finer Greek restos. I love cultures and all languages and "bring it on" is what I think; makes for a more well rounded dining experience; even for take out!

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: itryalot

                                          Hear, hear. It's a total experience, not a fast-food drive-through. Whether in the natve language alone, or with "subtitles", it doesn't much matter. But, if I can't name it in the native language, how will I get it again? I describe a pork dish to a Filipina... might be adobo, might not. If I know the name, well, then, I'm good to go.

                                        2. Every country in the world that has non-native, ethnic restaurants that cater primarily to native language speakers.

                                          1. Italian food should be in Italian. The US is an immigrant country in New York and other East coast cities Italians are a major ethnic group. Why shouldn't Italian be on the menu. "Simple English". I don't like that. Many Italian food words are now part of English and are widely understood. I am not US-American, I am not Italian but I am deeply disturbed by the way the US-American chain-store massacre culture dumbs down and debases the great cuisines of the world both in terms of the food and what appears on the menu. "Parmagiana" becomes "parmesan" as in "eggplant parmesan" - who would wish to order something that sounds so in-elegant. The worst crime besides putting pineapple on pizzas, is the practice of mis-using or changing the name of traditional sauces for pasta. "Marinara" in the rest of the world is a tomato-based sauce containing seafood but US-Americans persist with calling regular tomato sauce "marinara". This sauce has a variety of names depending on the ingredients and cooking time and the region of Italy- Napolitana, il sugo, pomadoro basilico. What you call Alfredo has nothing to do with the original Roman fetuccini dish made only with triple butter and parmagiana from the centre of the wheel. Don't complain about Italian on Italian menus but check that it is the correct Italian. The problem is you are a melting pot country and some of your Italians may have Americanized things a bit too much for the Wasps and the Irish. The word "Pizza" should be protected from the abominations of pretenders just as the French word "champagne" is now protected. US fast food culture presents something to the world called Pizza - when I see people flocking to eat American fast food pizza without ever trying the real thing it makes me weep. I am tired of the crass commercialism and the debasement of traditional cuisines and the mis-use of language, and the spread of this bland and sloppy US-American cuisine and language around the globe.

                                            40 Replies
                                            1. re: StopUS CulinaryGenocide

                                              Wow you sure can make an entrance on your first post. But welcome to CH, it is normally a pretty friendly sorta place. Jfood only wishes that Billy Parsons was here to respond but alas he has been missing for over one year. It would have been a interesting tete a tete.

                                              But to one of you points on Marinara. Here is some information that you may find useful in your next diatribe w/rt the history of the word:

                                              "Marinara sauce originated with sailors in Naples in the 16th century, after the Spaniards introduced the tomato to their neighboring countries. The word marinara is derived from marinaro, which is Italian for “of the sea.” Because of this, many people mistakenly believe marinara sauce includes some type of fish or seafood. However, marinara sauce loosely translates as “the sauce of the sailors,” because it was a meatless sauce extensively used on sailing ships before modern refrigeration techniques were invented. The lack of meat and the sheer simplicity of making tasty marinara sauce were particularly appealing to the cooks on board sailing ships, because the high acid content of the tomatoes and the absence of any type of meat fat resulted in a sauce which would not easily spoil." from www.wisegeek.com

                                              Ciao

                                              1. re: jfood

                                                Nice J! I had completely forgotten that fact about marinara. I miss Billy, too.

                                                1. re: jfood

                                                  jfood

                                                  Thanks for the link - and wisegeek.com's opinion on this. However as the earlier poster indicates, in many parts of the world (mine included), "marinara" sauce with pasta will be a seafood sauce, and not even necessarily one containing tomato. It was a great sense of disappointment on ordering this on my first visit to your country to find I was just getting tomato sauce to eat.

                                                  Buon appetito.

                                                  1. re: Harters

                                                    On the positive side, when jfood comes to your country he has a big old smile when he orders bacon. Likewise pineapple r Thai pizza...blech. Heck someone actually posted that Wolfgang Puck invented pizza...:-))

                                                    1. re: jfood

                                                      Yep. Whoever it was first thought it a good idea to put pineapple anywhere near pizza should be taken outside, pinned against the nearest wall and beaten mercilessly with limp celery until they wimper contritely for forgiveness. They should then be forced to eat the damn thing. See how they like it!

                                                      1. re: Harters

                                                        If someone wants Pineapple on their Pizza, why not. You guys seem to forget that Pizza basically was invented as a way to get rid of leftovers without throwing them to the trash. So everything you like goes. What we know today as real Italian Pizza is just what evolved over many years. And also keep in mind that the first types of Pizzas were already eaten 4000 years back by the Egyptians!

                                                        And having lead a Restaurant that also has Pizza made after real Italian recipes here in Austria for 12 years, I can tell you that I appreciate a New York Pizza from a street-seller, as it is so much different from the Italian deal. Personally, I even prefer the more US-style Pizza with the thick bottom to the Italian extra-thin and sometimes hard as stone type.

                                                        1. re: NilesCable

                                                          Throwing leftovers in the trash is a modern American phenomenon.

                                                          1. re: NilesCable

                                                            "You guys seem to forget that Pizza basically was invented as a way to get rid of leftovers without throwing them to the trash."

                                                            That's interesting. I didnt know that.

                                                            I'd always assumed that pizza came about from poor people cooking something using cheap local ingredients. You learn something every day.

                                                            1. re: Harters

                                                              Pizza was developed by poor people in Naples. They had no leftovers to throw away, and wouldn't throw away bread dough or flour any more than poor Asian people would throw away rice. Obviously it is a relative of all the other Mediterranean flatbreads, including those in Egypt and the Levantine countries, and more directly Greece; Naples was part of Magna Grecia for a long time.

                                                              If pizza, whether from Italy, the US, Argentina or anywhere else is hard as stone, it is simply bad pizza.

                                                              1. re: lagatta

                                                                If pizza, whether from Italy, the US, Argentina or anywhere else is hard as stone, it is simply bad pizza.

                                                                Tell that to 90% of the Restaurants in Italy I ate Pizza at.

                                                                And what you mean is that one of the kinds of Pizza used today came from Naples, but for most strict people in Naples there only exist Pizza Marinara and Pizza Margerita. What the rest of the world considers as Pizza, most strict Pizza joints in Naples wouldnt put on the table.

                                                                I think there is no place in the earth that can truly say they invented the Pizza, as in my eyes it was a joint effort over many years in many different places. But this is something no real Italian will ever agree to. :)

                                                                1. re: lagatta

                                                                  Don't forget the cocas of eastern Spain. Valencians claim that Iberian tribes in the area invented the pizza thousands of years ago, and that it was spread from there to the rest of the Mediterranean by their Greek, Carthaginian, and Roman conquerors.

                                                              2. re: NilesCable

                                                                Thanks NC, do you happen to have any referencepoints jfood can google on the trash to pizza perspective. He would love to read about that. TIA.

                                                                1. re: jfood

                                                                  I dont have any real reference points, as I learned these facts quite some time before there was an I-Net when I visited gastronomical courses in Italy.

                                                                  Basically, what we know as todays Pizza was more or less an invention by Italian emmigrants that went into the new world and had not much to eat. So they made cheap flat breads and used everything they could get their hands on to put on top. This meant leftovers they had themselves and leftovers from other people. When quite an amount of immigrants retourned to Italy because they had no perspective in the new world and wanted to get back home, they brought with them the basic recipes and it was refined in Italy. This dates back more than 100 years already and as far as I know, there is not so much "paperwork" about the exact details.

                                                                    1. re: jfood

                                                                      I have to add that there was a basic kind of Pizza before that stemming from Napoli in Italy, but that was just with tomato and garlic.

                                                                      The topping version was then brought back from the new world to Italy.

                                                                      Also, the Greek had something resembling the basic tomato/garlic-Pizza centuries back. The idea itself seems to have come up again and again over time, as it is not so far fetched to make a thin dough and put something on top.

                                                                    2. re: NilesCable

                                                                      Wow, that's amazing information.

                                                                      I would never imagined that pizza was invented in the new world and then imported back to Italy. This must have been really early on in history - even before tomato was actually brought to Europe. Perhaps that's the reason the travellers brought it back to the Naples area - so they could continue to make the pizza they'd invented in the Americas.

                                                                      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_...

                                                                      1. re: Harters

                                                                        As I have written, the development of the Pizza, as is also evident from your link, is one that has taken centuries and has traveled around the globe until it reached what it is today. Because of this rich history for this meal I also think it is not right that some people outright condem using Pineapple on a Pizza for example.

                                                                  1. re: NilesCable

                                                                    I don't really think that pizza was "basically invented as a way to get rid of leftovers" - I'm guessing stuff was put on flatbread to make it more flavorful. I suspect, initially the flatbread was used as an edible plate to put stuff on and then someone said, "hey, why don't we put some stuff on it and THEN bake it." In any case, I'm sure leftovers came in handy. Nothing was thrown in the trash back then anyway - if the people didn't eat it, the animals did.

                                                                    1. re: suse

                                                                      In Europe most countries has quite some recipes very well liked today that started off as "leftover-usage".

                                                                      1. re: NilesCable

                                                                        Even "leftovers' is quite an American development. People everywhere have and have had food that they consume over the course of a few days. It is all conceived simply as "food". Throwing away food is fairly recent and largely confined to the US and northern Europe.

                                                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                          In the grand scheme of things, even the idea of meals is, in and of itself, a fairly recent thing. Even modern hunter gatherers just eat when they're hungry - or, as is all too often the case, in groups lacking an adequate food source, as soon as they find something to eat. One of the original defining factors used by the US in determining whether particular American Indian groups should be classified as civilized (thus having rights to their traditional lands) or savage (thus having no rights) was whether they ate regular meals at fixed times of day. Until Andrew Jackson came along and said, to hell with that, browner than me equals savage. And now we all carry pictures of him in our wallets.

                                                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                            Indeed, Sam. When I was young, I don't think there was a concept of "leftovers" after, say, a Sunday roast beef lunch. It was food - and it'd be planned to appear again on Monday night. The beef minced into rissoles. The potato and cabbage becoming "bubble & squeak". Of course, I'm talking about the 1950s when we had not long since come out of post-war food rationing here. The skills of frugal cooking hadnt generally been forgotten.

                                                                            And now, a chicken is too big for just the two of us for one meal. There will be some for another day - a salad, sandwich, curry, whatever. And the carcass foir stock for soup. It's just food.

                                                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                              the term leftover may be a newer invention, but what it refers to (food left from one meal) has been there in the past. And in the past this "leftover" food has been used the next day/s for other food like hot pots.

                                                                    2. re: jfood

                                                                      Mrs H loves the crispy strip bacon you have in America. But then Mrs H usually prefers crispy in most things.

                                                                  2. re: jfood

                                                                    Jfood - I love your response. So informative. And it's amazing how countries everywhere modify other countries' cuisines - it' s not just the good U.S. of A.

                                                                    1. re: jfood

                                                                      Yes, this is the explanation I received from my grandfather --- who came to the United States on a fishing ship. Meat was hard to come by on board, so it was a non-meat sauce, i.e., basic tomato with a garlic/basil seasoning. Tomato sauce with seafood is another category, as far as he was concerned.

                                                                    2. re: StopUS CulinaryGenocide

                                                                      as the Brits say there is more than one way to skin a cat.

                                                                      1. re: StopUS CulinaryGenocide

                                                                        The notion of an "Italian" language is a recent fiction. That schoolchildren in Sicily have lessons taught Tuscan has less historical basis than "eggplant parmesan."

                                                                        And BTW, "champagne" is not a protected word. Look at a bottle of Korbel.

                                                                        1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                          "And BTW, "champagne" is not a protected word"

                                                                          Regretably correct. The word is only protected within the European Union where we take our regional designations seriously. Many countries are hapy to accept the designation and the EU has recently signed agreements with a number of wine producing countries that they will not use the word except to describe wines produced in Champagne. Perhaps needless to say, the USA is not amongst them. But I suspect most consumers know there's difference between Champagne and American Champagne.

                                                                          1. re: Harters

                                                                            That is sad, Harters. US producers of quality sparkling wines should be proud of their own regions.

                                                                            Alan Barnes, Italian unification goes back well over 100 years, and there has been a written Italian language for longer than that. Often modern Italian (as in the media) is referred to as "la lingua toscana in bocca romana". I have Sicilian friends who speak exquisite standard Italian (with a Sicilian accent of course) as well as their own regional language.

                                                                            1. re: lagatta

                                                                              AFAIK good American sparkling wine is never labeled "champagne." And there is almost always a reference to region (eg Domaine Carneros). But that doesn't mean the dreck doesn't get stuck with a false French appellation. That was my only point.

                                                                              As to standard Italian, I consider a century to fairly recent in terms of linguistic history. I'm sure "eggplant parmesan" has been served in this country at least that long.

                                                                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                Precisely. Any American sparkling wine that calls itself "champagne" is effectively warning you not to buy it. The good ones know what they are and don't lie about it.

                                                                                Incidentally, as a kid growing up in ethnic NYC, it was always eggplant or chicken or veal parmigiana - never "parmesan". AFAIK, that's pretty recent and sounds like typical Olive Gardenese.

                                                                                1. re: Striver

                                                                                  "Parmesan" predates the Olive Garden by a fair bit. Kraft has been sticking the word on green cans since 1945, and Merriam-Webster dates its use back at least as far as 1538.

                                                                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                    ...sigh...

                                                                                    Striver was clearly citing the incorrect use of "veal parmesan" to describe veal parmigiana; nobody's claiming that the word "parmesan" was invented by Olive Garden (or Kraft, for that matter).

                                                                                    1. re: brandywiner

                                                                                      Correct. "Parmesan" as used for a generic powdered cheese that invokes but does not come anywhere near to reggiano does indeed go back - but "parmesan" as used in Veal Parmesan is recent, and is a corruption of parmigiano in a totally incorrect context.

                                                                                      If Veal Parmesan (or eggplant, etc.) was a boneles piece of meat coated with generic powdered cheese, it might make some sense - at least it would be consistent. But Veal Parmigiana is not that nor ever was.

                                                                                      1. re: Striver

                                                                                        "Parmesan" is a Middle French word that means "from Parma," and it was absorbed into the English language long before the legal designation of the Parmigiano-Reggiano DOC was written, never mind when Kraft started putting sawdust in green cans. For example, the recipe for cheese straws in "The White House Cookbook" (1887) calls for "parmesan."

                                                                                        And the notion that "veal parmesan" is a recent invention is just silly. With a few seconds of searching I was able to find a 60-year-old receipe for "Veal Cutlets Parmesan." (Ada Boni, "The Talisman Italian Cook Book," Crown Publishers 1950.) And I have no doubt there's older stuff out there.

                                                                                        "Parmesan" is a perfectly good English word and has been for centuries. Same with "eggplant." If you insist on "parmigiana," you're being inconsistent if you don't demand "melanzane," too.

                                                                                        1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                          Thank you, alanbarnes! I knew I had "veal parmesan" at a red-sauce Italian joint back in the 70s. Why all the fuss, ya'll? The whole getting bent out of shape over linguistic variations thing is just silly. Language changes - especially when it crosses borders. It's sorta goofy, for example, that English speakers say "Munich" for "München" and "Milan" for "Milano", but hey.... that's how we roll. Germans say "Kalifornien" for California and I'm sure the Italians have some sort of variation on a bunch of words of English origin. It's how language works.

                                                                                          1. re: suse

                                                                                            Oh, fussiness is part of the pleasure of a thread like this one - else, why bother at all? Conceded that "parmesan" (yes, alan is correct - it's of French origination) is used to characterize the grana cheese of that region.

                                                                                            As for the "Veal Parmesan", I'll even agree that it originated sometime around the 1950's - which does not contradict my youthful memories (I suppose I'm just older than appears obvious :)). My guess is that outriders, hearing people ordering a "veal parm" or "eggplant parm" hero (no problem with melanzane, btw - it's a nice, mellifluous word) decided it was short for "parmesan" (being familiar with that word), not recognizing that it was a nickname for "parmigiana". Just a surmise, mind you - I'm not that fussy. :)

                                                                                            1. re: Striver

                                                                                              I seriously doubt there was much usage of the spelling "Parmigiana" in the earliest Italian restaurants in the US. Very few of the 19th century immigrants to America were literate. The early Italian restauranteurs of the US simply wouldn't have known how this cheese was spelled back home.
                                                                                              Aside from that like any of the immigrant cultures of the time, the early Italian Americans were trying to integrate into mainstream American culture, which includes the use of English. The English translation of "melanzane Parmigiana" is "eggplant parmesan".
                                                                                              The later, post-WWII wave of Italian immigrants to the US was largely literate, and in Standard Italian. It seems likely that this wave of immigrants brought the use of "Parmigiano" to the US. I can't find a single pre-WWII use of the spelling "Parmigiano" in English.
                                                                                              Also, for what it's worth, "Parmigiano" is the correct term in Standard Italian, not in Emiliano-Romagnolo (the pre-Mussolini language of Parma). As a Gallo-Italic language, Emiliano-Romagnolo has more in common with French, particularly Occitan, and the East Iberian languages than it does with Standard Italian. While "Parmigiano" is consistent throughout Italy currently, the old Emiliano-Romagnolo spelling was "Parmesano" - still used in some Gallo-Iberian languages such as Catalan - from which the French got "Parmesan".

                                                                                              1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                                                                There are some few uses of "parmigiana" (with an 'a' ending, not an 'o') prior to 1946, but I suppose my confusion stems from growing up in a post-war Italian neighborhood just at the time that "parmigiana/o" comes romping into view - hence my memories are accurate even if my menu history is not.

                                                                                                So pace, Olive Garden: your "chicken parmesan" bears an authentic transliterated name if nothing else.

                                                                                                As for me, I'll just stick to asking for "veal parm", and let the server figure out the ending. :)

                                                                      2. This is something I am fascinated with. When I travel to Italy and other countries I LOVE it when the menu is in the local language/dialect. If the menus are posted in English my husband and I will usually head off in the opposite direction to find fabulous restaurants that do not have one single word of English on them - often rural places. We take our phrasebooks along and the smattering of the language we know and have had some of the best experiences ever that way. Plus when I learned Italian, French, Spanish, etc. cooking I learned that particular country's authentic spelling, names of foods/ingredients, preparation methods (i.e. whether it is roasted, grilled, hot or cold - whatever) and so on in that language. How the dish sounds and looks as well as the description of it is truly important to me as part of the experience. As I teach cooking classes I am likely a bit pickier, too. I take pride in learning as much as I can and make a point to do so. It helps that I have an enormous culinary library from which to learn! :-)

                                                                        Languages fascinate me as well as the history behind the root words. As does food, of course. And I love to learn about different cultures. We own a house in Europe so I may be a bit biased. It is helpful to learn as many words as possible to converse more easily and I find it helps a lot with food/eating/restaurants/markets. The Italian, French, Spanish, German, Croatian words and phrases I know are largely because of food and frequent trips to Europe and really getting off the beaten path.

                                                                        As a very passionate and serious cook it sort of almost irks me when in North America's "Italian" restaurants contain translation or other errors on their menus - sometimes they try too hard and fail miserably. That is no reflection on the food necessarily - I just appreciate it when a restaurant does its research. Some try to be what they are not - North America or otherwise. One menu locally makes me smile - it is truly a Canadian restaurant in that it borrows from any other culture. The food is all heavily processed, pre-made and pre-formed elsewhere to be heated up on the premises. The menu lists a staggering array of Italian, Greek, Turkish, Spanish, German, Polish and Russian items and attempts using both the English version and ethnic versions and does not even come close! Nor does the "food"...

                                                                        Sorry - I did not intend to travelize this thread. I am just so passionate about this issue!

                                                                        8 Replies
                                                                        1. re: chefathome

                                                                          There's much in what you say. Visit, say, France or Spain and be presented with a menu in English and you know you're in a tourist restaurant.

                                                                          But what pisses me off is when I'm in a country where English is the first language and the restaurant will throw in the odd word of a foreign language for reasons best known to themselves. As in an "assiette of cheese". Or, recently, in a restaurant near home, a listed ingredient was "navet". I had to ask what it was. Why didnt they just bloody well say "turnip". Turnips are lovely veg , why hide that you're cooking with them. Rant ends........

                                                                          1. re: Harters

                                                                            How do you guys feel about an Italian restaurant in Frankfurt that has the menu in Italian and the underscore is German? Then the next night in a bar wioth beer from the basement and a nice Schweinehasen (sic)

                                                                            1. re: jfood

                                                                              That's how most Italian restos in Germany do it. Now if they all would hire me to translate their menus into English, I'd be one happy camper...

                                                                              1. re: jfood

                                                                                I'm OK with that - although I really do think such things border on the pretentious. Much prefer to see a menu just in the language of the country (except where a food word is udnerstood internationally).

                                                                                I'm reasonably fluent in menu-speak in the French, Spanish and Italian versions. I can do sufficient German to have a very vague idea what is going to be on the plate. Dutch is all but impossible - luckily almost everyone speaks English but on the odd occasion when they don't, I fall back on knowing that "kip" is chicken and take it from there.

                                                                                1. re: jfood

                                                                                  Isn't that the same question the OP was asking, only transferring the country and language from US to Germany? That is, menu at an Italian restaurant outside Italy with the menu items in Italian, followed by translation in the local language. I have to admit I don't mind this at Italian, French, Mexican, etc. restaurants at all, for one reason: it has very much expanded my food vocabulary in foreign languages, which is all to the good.

                                                                                  1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                                                                    jfood is all for it, the more languages the merrier and does not find it pretentious at all. He loves the various languages on the menu, he tries to add an accent as he describes the dish to mrs jfood. Just as he knows what he is ordering, all a learning experience.

                                                                                    1. re: jfood

                                                                                      Exactly, I both know what I'm ordering and am learning how to say it (or at least how it is written) in a second language, which is a plus purely for the knowledge and for the advantage it gives me if I'm able to travel to the country of the cuisine and language in question. So long as the menu doesn't become unreasonably long or wordy as a result, it doesn't bother me.

                                                                                  2. re: jfood

                                                                                    I was very happy, as my Italian is much stronger than my German. So I could confidently order in Italian, though the owner was probably Turkish...

                                                                                    English, well, depends on demand.

                                                                              2. My goodness, can anyone imagine a Mexican, Japanese, or Chinese restaurant in the US - for example - doing anything BUT naming the item in Spanish, Japanese, or Chinese and following with an English description? What would you call a tamale or misoshiru using only English and not have it look and sound rediculous?

                                                                                13 Replies
                                                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                  Is there any need for words such as "tamale" to be further described. It appears to be a word in common usage and I would have thought that folk entering a restaurant selling them would know what they are. Now, I have to say that, whilst I know the word, I have no idea what they are - but then I'm unlikely to be going into a restaurant selling them (and, if I did, I'd probably order out of curiousity). Similarly, and keeping this on the mainline topic, there's no need for, say, "spaghetti" to be, erm, translated into English.

                                                                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                    The major problem with translations is that they aren't always standard - in my experience with Chinese food in the US and UK, the same dish could have several different names in different places after translation, which can be very confusing. I usually stick to reading the Chinese names, just so I know what I'm getting.

                                                                                    It also complicates sharing information on sites such as CH, especially for many hounds who want to compare the same dish across multiple restaurants to find their favourite. I've noticed that some posters have resorted to foreign characters in addition to translations or descriptions, just so that we can all be on the same page.

                                                                                    1. re: limster

                                                                                      That is exactly why in the US I prefer to have the Chinese name at the top (tells me what it is generically) followed by a brief English description (tells me the specific version).

                                                                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                        Funny, the opposite is usually true for me. The Chinese names tend to be pretty specific rather than generic, especially with classical dishes, while the English ones vary tremendously and can be vague sometimes (probably because their translation isn't that great).

                                                                                        1. re: limster

                                                                                          So we continue to agree although you continue to disagree that we agree, even though you changed your mind about the specificity of the Chinese names.

                                                                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                            Woops, sound like I'm not clear and I'm not understanding you (and/or vice versa).

                                                                                            Rebooting:

                                                                                            1. On US and UK menus, Chinese names are specific (to me) - there's usually one name, not many names, for a given dish. This is a comparison between restaurants, and most restaurants use the same Chinese name, while the English names vary from place to place. Don't think I've changed my mind about that or anything about it so far. Am I missing something?

                                                                                            2. You say that the Chinese names are generic, while the English descriptions are specific. That runs counter to my experience, since the English descriptions vary from place to place (not specific), while the Chinese names are fairly consistent (not generic).

                                                                                            1. re: limster

                                                                                              When I was at the Chinese Academy of Tropcal Agricultural Sciences and read menus, I would understand from the name of the dish what I would get. In the US and at different restaurants, I might see the same name, but can end up getting different variations of the dish. In which case, the following description - in whatever language - is helpful.

                                                                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                                Not disputing your experience, but my experience has been different, where many times I wasn't able to figure what a dish was until I read the Chinese text. I remember a particularly common one where "chicken with chilli" could have referred to one of many different Sichuan dishes.

                                                                                                1. re: limster

                                                                                                  I have to agree, Chinese names are no less specific (think Buddha Jumps over the wall, or Ma Po Do Fu, or even Baked Portuguese Chicken Rice) than an Italian counterpart (such as Spaghetti alla Puttanesca), though each household/restaurant or region may make it slightly differently... that's pretty much expected though.

                                                                                    2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                      I agree. I'm glad we use the original language, at least to some extent.
                                                                                      But, yes, I can imagine doing otherwise. I've been to a few non-Spanish restaurants in Barcelona and Madrid, and the only languages in use on the menu were Iberian. Every word on the menu of the Japanese restaurant I went to in Paris was in French. I'm not sure if that's standard, but it seems to happen frequently with foreign cuisines in places lacking a substantial immigrant population from the ethnicity in question.

                                                                                      1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                                                        "I've been to a few non-Spanish restaurants in Barcelona ......... and the only languages in use on the menu were Iberian."

                                                                                        I'm just pleased to see it written in Castilian as well as Catalan - otherwise it would be pure guesswork for most dishes.

                                                                                        1. re: danieljdwyer

                                                                                          France is a very special case. They French are very "snotty" about their language and in many restaurants in Paris, even if the wait staff speaks English, they will expect you to speak French. Also on the street, most people will just ignore you if you ask something in a different language, even if they understand you.

                                                                                      2. "Polenta" just sounds classier than "Italian-style grits".

                                                                                        6 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: weem

                                                                                          Polenta and classic Southern US grits aren't identical. Grits, like masa, undergoes a process that makes the nutrients more available. (There are no doubt many threads on this on chowhound).

                                                                                          For Italian-speakers, polenta is a staple, not necessarily "classy" at all. I interviewed an old fellow from the Friuli region who had been in the Resistance and done many other things, and he said he was utterly sick of polenta and was surprised to see people eating it in fancy restaurants (in Northeastern Italy as well). For him, it was poverty food. But lots of such staples return with a "classy" and "authentic" image.

                                                                                          1. re: lagatta

                                                                                            >>"Grits, like masa, undergoes a process that makes the nutrients more available"<<

                                                                                            Sorry, grits and polenta are exactly the same thing. **Hominy** grits are made from nixtamalized corn.

                                                                                            1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                              But depending on where you go in the South (of the US, of course), grits do refer specifically to hominy grits - the other kind is, well, the *other* kind. :)

                                                                                              I prefer yellow corn grits myself and have taken to only keeping that on hand, but I still generally think of grits as being hominy grits (and I'm not even from the South proper!!).

                                                                                              1. re: Ali

                                                                                                And then there are places where people call hominy grits "hominy" and regular hominy "big hominy." Keeps things interesting.

                                                                                          2. re: weem

                                                                                            And "zuppa di clams" sounds sexier than "clam soup".

                                                                                            1. re: huckfinn

                                                                                              That would be zuppa di vongole or cozze.

                                                                                          3. In Germany I went to a lot of Italian restaurants that had the Italian and then description in Germany...it's pretty common I think.

                                                                                            1. Funny how this thread was revived again after such a long time. Here's the thing: some things NEED translating while others generally don't. Yeah, ya don't need to translate spaghetti, but other Italian terms like "vongole" probably need translating in an English-speaking country. So why put "vongole" in the first place? Why not? Language is fun - have fun with it. I guess I'm just not getting what all the fuss is about.

                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: suse

                                                                                                Me neither. I like seeing the original words with english translation, although with some languages I can't read it. I learnt a lot of Italian from reading menus over the years, helped immensely when traveling in Italy.

                                                                                                1. re: suse

                                                                                                  Ditto, although in looking at this, I find it's interesting that it's 'pretentious' if European cuisine, but 'authentic' if otherwise.

                                                                                                2. I don't have a problem if there are a few English words next to it. But I do have an issue if it's only the Italian. It smacks of elitism to me.

                                                                                                  I will make an exception for restaurants that don't cater to Americans. They may not have the resources to translate their menu into English -- that, or they don't care to serve meals outside of their community. Personally, I find it annoying because those are the places that sound interesting to me and I have to rely on pointing or having some Chowhounders translate the menus for us.

                                                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                                                    How about the Chinese places that offer a menu that prominently features Sweet & Sour Pork to their gweilo customers, but have an untranslated banquet menu? Speaking of which, I've asked for translation help here if anybody is willing to provide an assist...

                                                                                                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/687538

                                                                                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                                      Yeah, that's a bummer. Last week I ate at a Chinese restaurant that had both an English and Chinese menu. The table next to me got this awesome-looking hot pot fish dish. Well, it wasn't on the English menu so I'm deducting that it was on the Chinese one.

                                                                                                      If you don't get any responses on the General Board, my suggestion would be to post a pointer on the Outer Boroughs Board to your original post. There are a lot of people reading that board that would be able to translate it for you.

                                                                                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                                        THAT makes me super crazy. I can read some Chinese, but there is a notion among Chinese restauranteurs that "foreigners" - and yes, that's what they call us, even in America because I've caught them several times - just won't eat authentic Chinese food. Luckily,whenever we discover a local place here in our area of NC that does this, someone manages to get in there and translate it for them. Of course, unlike in NYC, there are only a few so it's not such a big deal. We recently had a Chowhound dinner at one such place which serves a wretched buffet for the "foreigners" and has a great Szechuan menu. It was great.