The New York Times published a funny but spot-on article on how the Chinese are rethinking the ways they translate and present their dishes in English. For example, "ants climbing trees" — for those in the know– is a great noodle dish. But for those who are unfamiliar with Chinese classics, it sounds like a bizarre dish. Jennifer 8. Lee wrote "Chinese Food Translations: Sweet, Sour, and Downright Odd" to highlight how the Beijing Olympics is getting the Chinese to ponder such PR/communication/marketing issues.
I often spend time wondering what to call Vietnamese dishes in English. We have no standards in English, and sometimes a dish goes by several names in Vietnamese. Even something as simple as banh mi — I struggled to figure out the appropriate name for in English that doesn't rob it of its essence but is intriguing/approachable enough to the uninitiated. So for Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, I called it "baguette sandwich" after seeing it as "hoagie sandwich," "submarine sandwich." I looked into what exactly are hoagies and submarine sandwiches in the American culinary repertoire and decided that banh mi didn't fit.
More obscure dishes like ya ba ba got the name of "mock turtle stew of pork and plaintains." In Vietnamese, it's literally "fake turtle."
Translating Asian food terms and dishes is hard because for those of us who've eaten these foods for years, we know them in their original names. Here are ones that got me really laughing recenlty:
- spongy buns = Chinese yeasted bao (stuffed bun)
- cakey balls in syrup = Indian gulab jamun, a classic desserts
Those are sooooo wrong. Have any to add?