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Chinese Menu Malapropisms


eatingwitheddie
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That is the basic difference between a Latin based language---and everything else. I have worked on Native American cross referencing, and it is very aggravating, to say the least. But that doesn't mean that folks can't laugh at the faux pas: Once I asked for a bison shoulder, when I wanted a cold drink, but we all laughed. No Damage. As long as you laugh, you are progressing...

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Not a spelling error, but I have seen 宝宝盘 translated as pupu platter in many restaurants. 宝宝 (bao bao in mandarin) doesn't sound exactly like "pupu" in the three dialects I have glancing familiarity with, so I'm puzzled as to how the unfortunate name, in a food context, originated.

Also, does the name 宝宝盘 exist outside of Chinese restaurants in North America? What is in this dish anyway?

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I’ve seen enough misspellings in the US and Asia to realize that these businesses seem to get along just fine without fixing them. I’m not sure anyone could make a living selling proofreading services to correct these. I think menu printers, rather than menu writers are responsible for many of the misspellings. Life is more amusing if they don’t get corrected anyway.

The ‘cheese steak roll’ is just one incident in a long history of finding a way to incorporate a profitable item into your ethnic menu. Beef negimaki was originally designed as a sushi-like concoction that Americans would go for, it’s not a traditional Japanese food. A lot of the appetizers on a Chinese takeout menu aren’t very Chinese, but they do sell well, because they are knockoffs of things like Buffalo wings or chicken tenders. Most Asian menus have something that is explained as “Chinese Pizza” or “Vietnamese Pizza” or whatever, just because the word ‘pizza’ confers instant acceptability on foreign food. Where I live there are a lot of Spanish-speakers from the Caribbean, and the Chinese takeout menus offer fried sweet plantains and fried green plantains.

The only thing remarkable about this cheese steak knockoff is that it has cheese in it, which would usually bar it from a Chinese menu. After all, you don’t see knockoffs of mozzarella sticks or cheeseburgers on Chinese menus. I don’t think this would be happening anywhere but Philadelphia, where the cheese steak is their local specialty. Perhaps we will soon see a Chinese knockoff of another Philadelphia specialty, the soft pretzel.

Regarding inaccuracies in the blog article, I think it is safe to say that whatever dialect of Chinese you learn first feels like the “real” one, with all others sounding like imitators to you. I’m sure the guy who wrote this knows that Mandarin is the dominant dialect of Chinese in China and Taiwan. Nevertheless the dialect we all heard in Chinatowns in the US when we were little kids was probably Cantonese…that was my experience in San Francisco. Mandarin-speaking Chinese people have been coming to the US in sizable numbers for only about as long as we have seen products with ‘Made in China’ labels on American store shelves. Percentage-wise the Mandarin-speakers are gaining ground, but they have not displaced the once-predominant Cantonese speakers in American Chinatowns. Remember, the restaurant owners who put ‘cheese steak roll’ on the menu are probably Cantonese speakers.

BTW, the 3rd and 4th characters are pronounced “see-dak”, which was as close as they could get to “steak”. If you transpose these two, you get “dak-see,” which sounds a lot closer to the English word it is trying to copy; the two “dak-see” characters are printed on the side of every TAXI in Hong Kong. This is a good illustration of Chinese people’s willingness to form nonsensical strings of characters, merely to synthesize an English pronunciation that they need. In other words, it doesn’t matter what the characters actually mean. They don’t need this just for menus or taxis. In Chinese newspapers they have to do this for non-Chinese names of people in the news. There is no standard way of doing this, each newspaper just makes it up. Even then it doesn’t match up to the English very well. Could you guess who BuLuKa ShwehArDza was? How about MayLee TswayPu? (See below for answer) Sometimes the string that gets chosen also has a meaning that only Chinese people are supposed to get. Krushchev was KaRuShwehFu, whose characters meant “Big Stupid Snowman”. I doubt that was an accident.

Don’t feel bad if you didn’t figure out that the two Chinese-ified names above were Brooke Shields and Meryl Streep.

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The only thing remarkable about this cheese steak knockoff is that it has cheese in it, which would usually bar it from a Chinese menu. 

So many Chinese restaurants in America's heartland have Crab Rangoon on the menu that many people are convinced that it's a Chinese dish, when actually it was invented by "Trader" Vic Bergeron, who also invented the Mai Tai cocktail. Crab Rangoon, for those fortunate enough to be ignorant of its existence, is typically a fried wonton stuffed with cream cheese and imitation crab.

Chinese who migrate to the US, though, usually end up liking pizza and the melted cheese on it, so it's probably only a matter of time until cheese in some form creeps into Chinese cuisine.

A dinner guest whom we invited for an (all-Chinese-food) dinner brought pears and gorgonzola cheese for dessert. My wife like the gorgonzola so much our guest gave her the remainder of the wedge. She later proceeded to stuff toufu with it, and made "mock chou doufu!"

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There is a local chinese buffet type place with a sign above the buffet that reads something along the lines of:

"Children of 11 and below are not permitted on any of the buffet.

Parent of children must accompany children on buffet"

Also, a local latin American joint offers the following menu gems:

Alcapurria - Ball of bannana of beef

Lomo Saltado - Fried beef stew with onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and french fries.

I haven't ordered it yet, but I am tempted to, just to find out if the french fries actually show up in the stew. I'm also not positive if the stew itself is fried, or if it is simply made with beef which has first been fried.

I'm not even going to touch what they might be referencing with their 'bannana of beef' comment.

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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So many Chinese restaurants in America's heartland have Crab Rangoon on the menu that many people are convinced that it's a Chinese dish, when actually it was invented by "Trader" Vic Bergeron, who also invented the Mai Tai cocktail. Crab Rangoon, for those fortunate enough to be ignorant of its existence, is typically a fried wonton stuffed with cream cheese and imitation crab.

I wondered what the hell that thing was when I moved out here. Thanks for saving me from having to try it. (shudder)

I did once buy a box of what was supposed to end up being a tofu cheese. The instructions went something like:"stir directly and let to be immovable". Couldn't figure it out, never got cheese.

Some of the typos are a result of not having the right letters. I am a native arabic speaker & see people run into this problem all the time, mangling middle eastern place names. And um, sometimes you just translate literally some english expression and rather than telling your lovely german hosts that you've had enough food, you manage to inform them that you are, in fact, quite sexually satisfied. :rolleyes:

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When one does translations from Chinese (especially Cantonese) to English, one needs to look at the possibilities of special terms (which are composed of multiple Chinese characters) and cannot just try to translate one Chinese character literally at a time.

In common Cantonese usage, and especially in Hong Kong, many terms are direct translations from English by sound only. For example, Taxi becomes "Dic See" and Bus becomes "Ba See", Store becomes "See Daw".

In the forementioned article, 芝士士的 really needs to be decomposed into 芝士 (which is Hong Kong-Cantonese for Cheese) and 士的 (which is Hong Kong-Cantonese for Steak). Trying to look up these characters' individual meanings in a Chinese dictionary is a waste of efforts. Agreed, this takes someone who knows the Cantonese dialect (and probably the Hong Kong version of it) to get used to. But to those who do (like myself), it does make sense. However, that restaurant owner may not have thought of the possibility of how such terms would be interpreted from Mandarin or other dialect speakers, or some native English speakers who also learned Chinese.

------

About the oldest Chinese language (I assume it really meant Chinese dialect) in America, if I got my history lessons right shoudn't that be Toysanese rather than Cantonese? They (Toysanese) were the ones who got recruited over to the USA to build the railroads in the 1840's. Granted many of them probably spoke Cantonese as well, but more than likely they spoke Toysanese among themselves. Would it be that Toysanese be considered as Cantonese? If so, that's a big mistake because they are 2 distinct dialects. Cantonese might have become more predominant in later years (this century) as there were more immigrants coming to the USA from Hong Kong.

-----

As for the origin of PuPu Platter. I heard in another Internet discussion forum from

some Hawaiians that PuPu is a Hawaiian word. (Sorry forgot what they said it meant, somelike like appertizer or snack?) So the translation from 宝宝盘 to PuPu platter might have started in Hawaii's Chinese restaurants. To Hawaiian's natives, this does not have any negative connotation.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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The relatively small Toysan district of Guangdong province contributed 99% of the workers for two goldrushes, several railroads and countless lumber camps on both sides of the 49th parallel during the 1800s and early 1900s. The migration of Toyshan men became so pervasive that almost all of the villages in Toysan had several "gum shan lo", or "gold mountain men". Toysanese was the absolute dominant dialect spoken in North America until the recent (1970s on) immgration of people from Hong Kong (Cantonese) and later, from Taiwan and the mainland (Mandarin). I remember well the older folks advising recent arrivals who spent some time in Hong Kong and learned Cantonese, to drop the "language of the sing-song girls of the HK brothels" and speak like real people. :rolleyes: As for Mandarin, don't ask!! :blink::raz:

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My all-time favorite fortune cookie fortune--it's been 20 years and I still have the little strip of paper--reads "Guide yourself accordingly".

You betcha.

2 from my youth from restaurants in New York's Chinatown:

"Remember your mother's advice"

"Ignore previous fortune".

not making this up.

Mark

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gus_tatory Posted: Nov 28 2003, 12:18 PM

i've seen "human cuisine" (instead of hunan) on quite a few signs... 

Being a British Born Chinese I take great pride in acknowledging the fact that i REALLY do speak English :wink::raz: hahaha!!!

But the above post reminded me of the fact that mistakes will happen.

Being born in the UK, English is my first language and Cantonese is second

but if even a BBC such as myself can make the following mistake,

what hope does anyone else have??

We recently reprinted 10,000 menus for our takeaway

that had a really fatal typo!!!

Fried rice with Chicken had turned into Fried rice with CHILDREN!!!!! :wacko:

I'm expecting Dr Lector anytime now, anyone recommend a good Chianti with Chinese fried liver?

:raz:

"so tell me how do you bone a chicken?"

"tastes so good makes you want to slap your mamma!!"

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"In common Cantonese usage, and especially in Hong Kong, many terms are direct translations from English by sound only. For example, Taxi becomes "Dic See" and Bus becomes "Ba See", Store becomes "See Daw""

I remember seeing See Daw in Hong Kong and it took me ages to work out what it meant! We don't use that term on the mainland to mean shop, we use "dian"

Edited by Jeannie (log)
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I remember seeing See Daw in Hong Kong and it took me ages to work out what it meant! We don't use that term on the mainland to mean shop, we use "dian"

My Shanghainese wife is in stitches everytime she hears Hong Kong currency referred to as "gang bi".

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But I have to add that I know an American greasy spoon restaurant that features "bowel of oatmeal" on the breakfast menu.

There is a pub in Victoria BC Canada that has a very good seafood club (or clubhouse) sandwich. You would never know it to read the contents. Most of them look really good, but the fourth entry is "Crap" which does give me pause

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My Shanghainese wife is in stitches everytime she hears Hong Kong currency referred to  as "gang bi".

Just curious. That and I also like to "get" the joke... what is it that she finds funny about 港币?

To a Shanghainese ear, it sounds just like an epithet roughly translatable as "dumb c*nt."

Probably funnier when the Queen's picture was on it.

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