Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >
Aug 13, 2007 08:06 AM

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.

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?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  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


          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.