Thursday, June 26, 2008

Yes, I'd Like a Large Order of ... Oh, Never Mind...

One of the interesting things about traveling around the world is enjoying all sorts of new foods. Or, at least, being exposed to all sorts of new foods. I'm not really excited about some of the more exotic Asian treats like Spiders on a Stick and other insect delicacies, but in general, I enjoy trying new things. Agnes and I are pretty omnivorous that way.

But almost more fun than actually trying new foods is looking at the English translations of the delicacies that sometimes make their way onto the menus handed to tourists by smiling waiters. One of my favorites was a house specialty at a Balkan restaurant in Berlin many years ago - a delicious shish-kebab in a spicy sauce that appeared on the menu as "Gypsy Spit." Now, I know that someone translating the menu looked in his dictionary for the English word for the metal rod on which the meat was cooked and served (a "skewer," or Spiess in German) and instead found the alternative term "spit," perhaps not realizing the unfortunate connotation of the shorter word. Every time I visited that restaurant (Ujak Tom in the Zehlendorf district, if it's still there), I had a vision of a big, swarthy, mustachioed man hocking onto my plate.

But Chinese menus are the most fun. My daughter sent me a link to this wonderful article from Slate magazine: "What's Up with Chinese Menus? The Stories Behind 'Chicken without a Sexual Life' and 'Bean Curd Made by a Pockmarked Woman'." Speaking with all my weighty authority as a linguist, I found the article fascinating and informative; speaking as a curmudgeon who appreciates the more bizarre things in life, I found it hysterically funny. Take a few minutes to read it and learn that, for instance, Ants Climbing a Tree vividly describes the appearance of the dish: bits of minced pork clinging to bean thread noodles make it look rather like ants trooping along the branches of a tree.

I'd write more, but now I'm hungry. I think I'll enjoy a nice plate of Eggs Beaten Up in the Fashion of the Farmer's Wife.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - letter-writing project update: Andrea has received her letter, Amanda's is en route to Palembang, and I finally started Mike's last night. John and Moose, hang in there...I haven't forgotten you!



The Mistress of the Dark said...

I'm in the process of writing you back and I beg your forgiveness because I have the handwriting of a doctor.

Happy Thursday :)

Amanda said...

LOL! That was a funny article. I've never really come across any weird menus like that but was just talking to a friend today about chinese to english translations.

We were using an idiom about lazy people that are always finding excuses to go to the bathroom. A direct translation from Cantonese to English would be really crude but its something like "Lazy people are full of bodily waste"

This is a really common saying that mothers throw at their kids.

Team Gherkin said...

That's hilarious! Now I have a mental picture of a chef I used to work alongside of doing the same hock-thing while his back is turned, onto an annoying patron's plate! hahahahahaaa. Thanks for the smiles.

Mal :)