Lost In Translation: Menus Of China

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While travelling around China and now living here for the past 5 months, we’ve seen some strange things on the menu. Sometimes they make us laugh, sometimes they make us worry, but they’re always entertaining. If a Chinese restaurant owner decides to try to create an English menu, it makes for a very funny read.

I’m sure when we try to order our food in Chinese, we’ve said some things that sound funny to our waiter, but could they possibly be this funny? Sometimes when we’re reading over these menus we wonder how they even came to put these words together and write them down to describe food. We all know that the Chinese serve up some strange dishes, but if they really served these items then we probably wouldn’t like the food so much!

Be sure to read the captions below the photos!

If a tiger came to this restaurant, he'd be stoked.
If a tiger came to this restaurant, he’d be stoked.
Vegetarians and meat lovers should both be weary when ordering this one.
Vegetarians and meat lovers should both be weary when ordering this one.
Um... please specify.
Um… please specify.
If this is misspelled then it simply states that wood isn't waterproof. If it's spelled correctly then these leeks taste like musty wood.
If this is misspelled then it simply states that wood isn’t waterproof. If it’s spelled correctly then these leeks taste like musty wood.
How does that describe any food? It describes an escape, which is what many probably do when they see this menu.
How does that describe any food? It describes an escape, which is what many probably do when they see this menu.
From where exactly did you sneak this meat section?
From where exactly did you sneak this meat section?
The Mushrooms Sound Alright, It's The Accompaniment that concerns me. Let's keep this meal consensual.
The Mushrooms Sound Alright, It’s The Accompaniment that concerns me. Let’s keep this meal consensual.
Mmmm, flying squirrel?
Mmmm, flying squirrel?
These two dishes are very vague.
These two dishes are very vague.
Is this an age defying elixer or something?
Is this an age defying elixir or something?
Again, please specify.
Again, please specify.
hahahah... WHAT?!
hahahah… WHAT?!
That would be a painful way to go for that sheep.
That would be a painful way to go for that sheep.
So is it sheep or fish? Or maybe it's a surf'n'turf dish!
So is it sheep or fish? Or maybe it’s a surf’n’turf dish!
This is how Puff Daddy would order his harvest grilled elbow
This is how Puff Daddy would order his harvest grilled elbow
Even if a baby ordered this... would they want it white hot?
Even if a baby ordered this… would they want it white-hot?
This doesn't sound like a good sauce.
This doesn’t sound like a good sauce.
I don't even know what to say about this one.
I don’t even know what to say about this one.
Well which is it, a pot or a bag of meat?
Well which is it, a pot or a bag of meat?
I hope this isn't found in the restaurant!
I hope this isn’t found in the restaurant!
Well, you may not know what they are... but at least they're fresh!
Well, you may not know what they are… but at least they’re fresh!
Much better than rough green beans.
Much better than rough green beans.
Just what everyone wants to order... chicken spit.
Just what everyone wants to order… chicken spit.
Straight from the Eggplant family tree.
Straight from the Eggplant family tree.
If I have to wikipedia my food, I prefer to order something else.
If I have to Wikipedia my food, I prefer to order something else.

Every time we go out to a restaurant in China we are rewarded with the surprises that we see on the menu. Wherever a Chinese person has translated a menu, there are laughs to be had. Sometimes I think they speak English very well and just write these ludicrous descriptions so they can see foreigners laugh before their meal. Either way, we are in China for another 7 months so I’m sure that this post is the first of many.

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Lost In Translation: Menus Of China

Nick Wharton Author Bio Picture

Written by

Nick Wharton

Nick is the co-founder, editor and author of Goats On The Road. He contributes to numerous other media sites regularly and shares his expert knowledge of travel, online entrepreneurship and blogging with the world whenever he can. He has been travelling and working abroad since 2008 and has more than 10 years of experience in online business, finance, travel and entrepreneurship.

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10 thoughts on “Lost In Translation: Menus Of China”

  1. Glad you enjoyed them! We get to laugh like this almost every time we go to a restaurant here in China.haha. Cheers.

  2. OMG… I put the kids to sleep and woke them up again I was laughing so hard….. thanks for the laughs after a long day.

  3. I know what you mean!…We were laughing so hard we couldn’t breath when we saw these items on the menu. Glad you enjoyed it! Cheers

  4. I’m pretty sure all these mistakes have a logical explanation: confusing words that sound similar, inadvertently using an awkward synonym or a homophonic word instead of the right one…

    I’m Spanish and I see it all the time in translations from my language. An example: in a document describing a pig farm business model, they would use the word “bristles” constantly, and talk about the number of “bristles” the farm could house. Now that doesn’t make any sense, does it? The explanation: the word “cerda” in Spanish can mean “sow” (as in “female pig”), but also “bristle” (“las cerdas de un cepillo” litterally means “the bristles of a brush”). Now the sentence “This farm has a capacity for XXX sows” makes sense.

    This post also reminded me of this photo: https://boingboing.net/2008/07/15/chinese-restaurant-c.html :D. It may explain why some of these translations sound as they do…

    I just hope I didn’t make any funny mistake myself, when writing this response 🙂

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