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Jul 24, 2013 08:48 AM

Lost in translation: food items.

I've certainly seen plenty of bad translations on all sorts of things while traveling, but the food items and menu mistakes really crack me up. There are a lot of websites showing these when I need a good laugh.
What are some food descriptions or menus with head scratching translation you've seen?

Here's a favorite of mine:

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  1. They crack me up as well. I don't know why they bother trying to translate into English. I mean, if we bother to visit a country surely we should manage in their language - just the same as how English speaking nations treat foreign visitors.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Harters

      I disagree. It's nice when people have a nodding acquaintance of the food in places they go, but not everybody can be expected to know every language, and English (to our great good fortune) is our era's lingua franca.

      What amazes me is bad translations in restaurants that have spent a fortune on every detail but have entrusted the menu translations to incompetents or amateurs. Or Google.

      1. re: Harters

        It's a bit tricky with non-alphabetic languages like Chinese, though. If you don't actually speak the language, a dictionary is completely useless, because you can't look up words unless you either know the pronunciation already (and you can't get that from looking at it), or you have an in depth knowledge of the writing, and can identify both the radical and the number of strokes.

        I have actually ordered meals while travelling by pointing at a random item on the menu - I couldn't even make out the letters, and no-one around could speak any language I have a passing acquaintance with.

        1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

          A friend memorized the characters for beef, fish, chicken and lamb before embarking on a trip to China with a group. Then they would simply point to one dish from each protein group and hope for the best. Mostly it worked and led to the amusing refrain of "I didn't order that" when a scary-to-North-American-palates item would turn up. Helps if you are travelling in a country where the food is inexpensive -- you can afford to kiss (perhaps literally) a few frogs.

        1. re: jujuthomas

          A hot dog with the bun encrusted in something.
          I think stuff like this is hilarious, but do agree with mbfant, that it's sad that translations are often done by hacks. And I'm also with Harters, that we need to manage in their language or at least by appearance of the food when we travel. At the very least, phrase books are cheap and easily available. If you can't say it, you can just point out what you're trying to say.

          1. re: alliegator

            A hot dog, topped with fish floss and mayonnaise, by the look and the text.

            Interestingly, 松腸 does translate as "loose bowel" via Google translate, but the character 腸, which means intestines is also used for sausages. That, or maybe the fish floss has gone off.

            1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

              thanks - I learned something new today. I hadn't heard of fish floss. interestingly, when I googled fish floss, I also got instructions for flossing around braces.

              1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                墨魚 "ink fish" is cuttlefish. Can you make floss from cuttlefish? It looks more like pork floss in the photo, but then I don't see where else they could have slipped in the cuttlefish…

                And "Mexico" is 墨西哥, using the same character 墨 "ink". For some reason a lot of automatic translators think that everything is short for a country name, so 德 always gets translated as "Germany" and 法 always gets translated as "French", even though these are rarely the intended meanings.

                1. re: DeppityDawg

                  i've seen squid cut as thin as linguine and sold frozen.

                  1. re: DeppityDawg

                    Unless what is being translated is a menu? Lots of times, 式, or "style" would follow 意 "Italy", 法 or 西 "West" for instance, so in those cases it would be correct.

                    Otherwise, not likely.

            2. That is a primo example indeed! I like to collect these as well. I'm particularly keen on product names that take liberties with English. Current fave is the Lonely God line of (wait for it) potato chips out of Shanghai.

              2 Replies
              1. re: grayelf

                I've had Lonely God chips. I also like the intriguingly named "Pocari Sweat" out of Japan (a sports drink sort of like Gatorade).

                1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                  Actually, the Pocari Sweat name is not so mysterious. The drink aims to replace minerals lost through sweat. I know it sounds weird, though. Japan may be the only place where you might hear "Gimme a bottle of Sweat and a corn and squid pizza!"

              2. Ate at a hotel restaurant in Beijing where one of the menu items was "lurk" - we were too afraid to order it.

                My sister taught English in Japan several decades ago, and the Japanese were having a love affair with English words. For Christmas, she collected up some and mailed them as gifts. I got coffee creamer proudly named Creep.

                6 Replies
                1. re: 512window

                  Haha, love the Creep!
                  I spent a year living in Thailand a while back and one of the most common mistakes was "crap" instead of crab. Crap fried rice, crap noodle salad, and signs proudly announcing "Fresh Crap Today". I eventually tired of taking pictures of it all.

                  1. re: 512window

                    So wish you had ordered the lurk, if only to solve the mystery : -).

                    1. re: 512window

                      I recall seeing D'asse cookies in Japan. Between that country and China, one is bound to have a good chuckle.


                      1. re: 512window

                        The product Creep in Japan is a coined word from the words "creamy" and "powder" and is actually dried and powdered cream, the opposite of non-fat powdered milk. It's actually quite handy to have for making quick cream sauces.

                        1. re: Tripeler

                          Good to know. Too bad I threw it out last winter. It was at least 15 years old.

                          1. re: 512window

                            Certainly had gone rancid by that point.

                      2. It's especially interesting when the words not only have to be translated, but changed into a different wrtiting system / alphabet. How is a person raised with chinese idiograms supposed to recognize the difference between b, p, d, and q. Its the same letter just turned a different direction.

                        Just imagine what would happen to sales if that Fresh Crap mentioned above were transliterated to Fresh Craq.