Monday, August 11, 2008

Gastronomy Frog WBAGNFARB*

I've linked before to some hilarious posts involving badly-translated menu items in Chinese restaurants (meaning, in this case, restaurants actually in China). The phenomenon, often known as Engrish, is evidently widespread throughout that country, and, in light of the Olympic games going on over there, Chinese officials have been making a concerted effort to rid restaurant menus and other signage of these mangled translations.

A few months ago, CNN posted a story about the changes suggested by Chinese officials:
Local dishes like "Husband and wife's lung slice" or "Chicken without sexual life" conjure lots of furrowed eyebrows on famished foreigners.

So, with the Olympics a few short weeks away, China is giving its cuisine a linguistic makeover.

It is proposing that restaurants change the names of exotic, but bizarrely named, delicacies to make them more delectable for the estimated 50,000 visitors arriving in August for the Summer Games.

The appetizer "Husband and wife's lung slice" is taking on the more appetizing "Beef and ox tripe in chili sauce."

The government has put down more than 2,000 proposed names in a 170-page book that it has offered to Beijing hotels, according to state media.
And we finally learn the reason for the odd names; it's not always just a bad translation:
The Chinese say the names of their dishes focus more on appearance than taste or smell. But Westerners are more accustomed to names that describe the ingredients and how they are cooked -- such as pot roast.

The government realizes local names are a matter of taste, but don't want them to get lost in translation.
OK, that makes sense. So while it will be easier to decide whether or not to order "Bean curd made by a pock-marked woman" now that it's been renamed "Mapo tofu," but it won't be nearly as much fun.

But the government didn't get them all. Dave Barry is over in China at the moment (not just as a humorist, but because his sportswriter wife has official credentials), and he's found all kinds of funny stuff:
  • Gastronomy frog

  • Highest-ranking imperial concubine's milk bread

  • Soup eel soup

  • Wish beans

  • Fried-centipede/Fried-starfish

  • Mafia salad
Go to the August archives of Dave's blog and just keep scrolling; not only does he have pictures of the signs in question, but he also shows some of the delectable (?) local food. Scorpion on a stick, anyone?

And not everyone in China is wild about the government's effort. As one Chinese columnist quoted in the CNN story said, "it turns a menu into the equivalent of plain rice, which has the necessary nutrients but is devoid of flavor."

*As Dave Barry fans already know, WBAGNFARB stands for "would be a good name for a rock band."

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