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Translating Food

The New York Times has an interesting article up about the surprising number of American chefs who’ve gotten quite famous for cooking up foreign foods. You would think that people would be more likely to flock to restaurants run by people who are from the country where the cuisine in question originated, but apparently that isn’t the case. Examples noted in the article include Andy Ricker, a chef from Portland, Oregon who made his name cooking Thai food; Alex Stupak and Rick Bayless, known for their Mexican dishes; and Ed Schoenfeld, New York’s “Chinese” chef of the moment.

What gives? According to the article, part of the reason it’s easy for all-American chefs to make a name for themselves cooking other cultures’ food has to do with lack of connections and/or simple prejudice, which is unfortunate. But that’s far from the whole story. As it turns out, translating food from one culture to another is not that different from translating words from one language to another.

In fact, Krishnendu Ray, who teaches food studies at New York University, told the New York Times:

“Presenting a cuisine from afar is “fundamentally an act of translation. So you have to be attuned to two cultures. It’s a kind of bilingualism.”

In this sense, immigrant chefs often have the deck stacked against them, because while they may be bilingual in terms of language, they aren’t “bilingual” when it comes to flavors. For example, the article describes the difficulty that Thai-born chef Saipin Chutima faced when her family opened their own restaurant:

“Customers knew pad Thai, she said, but when the offerings veered too far from that, “they’d say, ‘This isn’t Thai!’ ”

The family managed to make the restaurant work by providing a high level of personal service, talking to each diner to learn about their likes and dislikes and to make recommendations.

Americans, on the other hand, have a more instinctive sense of the American palate. Mr. Ricker explained:

“Shrimp paste is delicious, but superpungent, hectic. I just know it will be sent back. But I can do very close versions of specific dishes that don’t require a sense of adventure to try.”

Bad Translations From the Food Industry: 7 Sickening Translation Fails

Bad translations are bad business.  You might think it doesn’t matter that much if a translation is perfect. Google Translate is good enough. Hey, it’s free! They’ll get the idea, right? Wrong. Bad translations not only make your company look stupid, they can also insult, offend or even disgust your potential customers. To prove it, here are 7 food industry translation fails guaranteed to make you sick to your stomach.

*Disclaimer: K International obviously had nothing to do with any of these translations.**

Hope you weren’t eating…

Bad Translations From the Food Industry: Smell of What?!?

smell-of-urine-yellow-croaker

Why would anyone want to order fish that smells like pee? As it turns out, “Quishan smell of urine yellow croaker” is a common but unfortunate translation for “Qíshān sàozi huángyú 岐山臊子黄鱼,” a popular Chinese seafood dish. The picture above is one of several different photos circulating online with the same translation.

There’s got to be an explanation for this, right?

Yes! According to Language Log, the Chinese word “sàozi” can have several different meanings depending on tone. One of those meanings is, in fact, “smell of urine.”

But that’s not the correct meaning in this context, of course. Here’s a better translation, again courtesy of Language Log:

“It turns out that sàozi 臊子 is a type of sauce made from minced pork cooked with vinegar, red pepper, and many other seasonings. So a better translation would be “yellow croaker with minced pork sauce à la Qishan”.

That sounds much more appealing!

Photo: Engrish.com Read more

10 Food packs we DIDN’T translate

Translating food packaging isn’t easy – we should know because we do over a thousand products a week. These guys have got it so wrong its funny but could you imagine your product on shelf saying something stupid in a different language? Nor could we, give us a call and we’ll sort it out for you.

For now… here are the top ten disasters we’ve seen this week. In no particular order… Read more

Food Packaging Translation - A Serious Business

Food Packaging Translation – A Serious Business Indeed

We place a vast amount of trust in the veracity of the information provided on food packaging. For those with food allergies, their lives can depend on the information that the packaging provides. For those who are dieting (whether for personal or medical reasons), ingredients and calorific values both have to be spot on. Then there are the cooking instructions – a mistake in the details of how to cook products such as pork or fish could have fatal consequences. That’s why there are so many rules and regulations around food labelling. It’s also why translating food packaging is such a serious business.

Food labelling – the legal context

Food labelling requirements differ from country to country. In the UK, the law requires that food and drink products must have labels that are permanent, easy to read and understand, easily visible and not misleading. The label has to include the name of the food, a ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ date, quantity information and any necessary warnings.

These warnings include allergen information and a range of specific warnings relating to certain ingredients or preparation methods. For example, foods and drinks with more than 150 mg/l of caffeine must state that they are, “Not suitable for children, pregnant women and persons sensitive to caffeine.” Meanwhile, raw milk must state that “This milk has not been heat-treated and may, therefore, contain organisms harmful to health.”

Where a food product has two or more ingredients, these must be listed on the label, with the main ingredient first and the others following in weight order. Common allergens must be highlighted as part of the list. Read more