China Clears Up Confusion

We’ve all been there, stumped with a take out menu in hand, studying the backlit photograph, skeptical of why it’s designated the “Happy Family.”  Or maybe it was the “Husband and Wife Lung Slices” that caught our adventurous attention, which achieved disappointment later, when found that neither spouse had contributed anatomy to the dish.

As New York Times contributor, Jennifer 8. Lee, reported yesterday, clarification is at hand.

With the Summer Olympic Games two months away, the Chinese government has issued an official list of English translations for Chinese dishes set to circumvent possible confusions tourists might encounter when dining.

The list consists of 2,000 menu items, with an emphasis on removing figurative nomenclature for more direct and descriptive summaries.

Items like “ants climbing up a tree” will become “sautéed vermicelli with spicy minced pork” and “chicken without sexual life”, ahem, will be relieved of frustration and referred to as “steamed spring chicken”.  

But as Ed Schoenfeld, a long time Chinese restaurant consultant explained to the Times, transliteration has its downfalls too:

“One of the things that happens is that a lot of dishes got poorly translated into English, and the English names stuck, so yu-shiang sauce became garlic sauce.”  Although, according to Mr. Schoenfeld there’s a lot more ginger than garlic in the sauce.

There’s plenty lost in translation, but the new list should surface more diners willing to try unique dishes. 

To see Ms. Lee’s English breakdown of the list click here.

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