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Chicken Without Sexual Life and other funny Chinese dishes

vikas.kumar's picture

Beijing is set to host the Olympics in August. As the Chinese capital readies for an influx of visitors, it has offered restaurants an official English translation of local dishes whose exotic names and alarming translations can leave foreign visitors puzzled and sometimes, even startled! Translators (2 dozens of them) conducted a study of Chinese restaurants in English speaking countries before the govt. officials published a book, Chinese Menu in English Version. It lists 170 pages of Chinese and Western dishes, and beverages. As a result, English-speaking visitors will now be able to order "beef and ox tripe in chili sauce," an appetizer, rather than "husband and wife's lung slice."

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 Gong" (a Beijing-style dessert), is translated into "rolling donkey", "Ma Po Dou Fu" (one of the most famous Sichuan dishes) is translated into "beancurd made by a pockmarked woman" and “Kung Pao Chicken” is “government abused chicken.”

There is also a "tiger dish", which is actually 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 flavour. The translation of "Tong Zi Ji" (broiler) is perhaps the funniest of all, as it is translated into "chicken without sexual life"!

The names of Chinese dishes have 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). That explains their unique, rhyming names. 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.

The Chinese restaurants in a lot of countries 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, many translators in Beijing, insist on translating the names of Chinese dishes word for word, in order to keep their unique cultural and artistic flavour.

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khau.khan's picture
that is funny.
vandana's picture
That's a nice funny article Vikas, really enjoyed reading it.
shantihhh's picture
Loved this article. Having traveled about China many times do laugh about translations. In Hong Kong you literally see t-shirts with English words-such as the ingredients of something, and other nonsense, but hey it is English words strung together. Reading directions on boxes coming from China can bring a chuckle on the translations just like menu items. Loved reading this, especially "Tong Zi Ji" -still laughing about that one! Shanti/Mary-Anne
vikas.kumar's picture
Four glad meatballs! Forgot to add this one in the blog.
Chicken Without Sexual Life And Other Funny Chinese Dishes