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Chinese Dish Names Puzzle Foreigners
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Many foreigners complain that they are often puzzled and even startled by the menu when they dine in Chinese restaurants, saying the awful translations of the names of the dishes often give them no small culture shock.


The names of many Chinese dishes are translated literally into English, though these English words might not make any sense at all. For example, "Lu Da Gun" (a Beijing-style dessert), is translated into "rolling donkey," and "Ma Po Dou Fu" (one of the most famous

Sichuan dishes) is translated into "beancurd made by a pockmarked woman."


A young Australian said he was really startled by a "tiger dish" on the menu of a restaurant. Actually it is only a cold dish made of tomatoes, green peppers and onions, and of course has nothing to do with tigers at all. The Chinese name of the dish comes from its hot and spicy flavor.


The translation of "Tong Zi Ji" (broiler) is perhaps the funniest of all, as it is translated into "chicken without sexual life" on the menu of some restaurants. "Why don't they just put 'virgin chicks' on the menu?" a customer joked.


The names of Chinese dishes are mostly imbued with some kind of artistic flavor, as they usually describe the appearance of the dishes. In the opinion of the Chinese, "Se" (good appearance) is even more important than "Xiang" (fragrance) and "Wei" (taste). No wonder the Chinese give such beautiful and rhythmic names to their dishes.


However, the names of Western-style dishes are usually simple descriptions of the material and the cooking methods of the dishes, like pot roast. Thus it is natural for Westerners to guess the materials and the cooking methods of the Chinese dishes through their names, which in many cases just do not work.


As a matter of fact, the Chinese restaurants in New York choose a more "practical" way of translation, by describing the dishes briefly in English. For example, "Yu Xiang Rou Si" is "shredded pork in garlic sauce," and "Gu Lao Rou" is "sweet and sour pork/chicken" on their menus.


Nevertheless, Zhou, a translator in Beijing, insists on translating the names of Chinese dishes word for word, in order to "keep their unique cultural and artistic flavor." "It's part of our culture, and perhaps a better part, thus we can't afford losing it via translating them into Western style," said Zhou.


(Chinanews January 8, 2007)

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