Korean Food, Lost in Translation

Awkward English translations are exceedingly common in Korea.  So common, in fact, that there is even a word to describe them: Konglish. “Konglish” translations of Korean restaurant menus are often especially heinous.
Kim Seong-kon, a professor of English at Seoul National University, has collected a list of them for the Korea Herald:

Preposterous English food translations include “lacquer poison chicken broth with ginseng (hanbang samgye tang).” Customers will surely be intimidated by this poisoned chicken dish that may threaten their lives. In fact, this dish, which should be translated to “boiled chicken with ginseng” or “chicken stew with ginseng,” is not dangerous at all, but very good for your stamina… Examples of embarrassing translations could seemingly go on forever.

Other highlights:

  • mountain not yet the pebble pot boiled rice with assorted mixtures (sanchae dolsot bibimbab, a vegetable hot pot)
  • mother hand tasty director of a bureau (omma son mat cheong guk jang, a soybean stew)
  • green pea jelly vegetable nothing needle (cheongpo mook yachae moochim, a green pea jelly salad)

Most of these botched translations are the result of attempting to translate word to word from Korean to English. As you can see from the results, it’s not always that simple and for accuracy’s sake it’s important to have someone with a working knowledge of both languages.

In an attempt to make Korean food sound more palatable, South Korea’s national language institute just released its first batch of official translations for restaurants. With verified English translations for 200 common South Korean dishes, officials hope this will make eating out in Korea easier for tourists.

According to the Wall Street Journal, however, the new translations come with problems of their own:

Many of the descriptions appear too brief. Take kal-guksu, a popular wheat-flour pasta soup with fish stock base. The new list calls it noodle soup, but that doesn’t reveal the type of noodle used in the dish. In Korean cuisine, there are many types of noodle dishes, in variable thickness, served chilled or in hot soup with different condiments and spices.

Meat dishes could also use some embellishment beyond listed definitions such as short rib soup, pork backbone stew, beef bone soup, ox bone soup and ox knee soup.

Still, that’s better than leaving tourists wondering if they’re being poisoned, or whether or not government officials taste like chicken!

What’s oddest menu translation you’ve ever seen? Share it in the comments!

Additional

I really don’t know what this video is, it has nothing to do with translation but I found it when I was researching this post. This guy’s laugh is hilarious.

2 replies
  1. Catharine Cellier-Smart
    Catharine Cellier-Smart says:

    I don’t know about the oddest, but one of the funniest menu translations I’ve seen was ‘crottin de chavignol’ (a type of French cheese) translated as ‘dung’.
    When I lived in Korea I also once saw ‘shellfish’ being advertised as ‘hellfish’.

    Reply

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