Confusing Mistranslations in the Restaurant World

Tours, museums, restaurants, and historical locations are among the many things one will take part in or see when visiting a different country. What oftentimes strikes me is the humorous and incorrect translations I have read in places I never expected!

I consider myself to be an amateur chef of sorts; so of course, some of my favorite places to visit are restaurants, cafes, and farmer’s markets. Imagine sitting down at a beautiful restaurant in Santiago, Chile when you come across a dish described as “Board of Cheeses and Cold Meats” (Tabla de quesos y fiambres)….that certainly doesn’t sound very appetizing, does it?  A better translation would have been “Fine Cold Meats and Cheese Platter” or better yet, “Antipasto Platter”. While they probably don’t sound as elegant as in the source language, at least the reader (the restaurant client) will have a better image of what the dish is referring to. While the difference is small, I believe it can make a big impact.

Take for instance words and phrases particular to a certain country that are not much used elsewhere. “Salsa golf” in Argentina is a simple sauce made of equal parts ketchup and mayonnaise that accompanies such things as french fries and breaded cutlets. Back in New York City, I will never forget when I sat down in an Argentinean restaurant to see on the menu “Hearts of Palm with Golf Sauce”. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing!  What a terrible and worst of all, lazy translation.  A better version would have been “Hearts of Palm Accompanied with Russian Dressing”. Or what about a typical North American Chinese restaurant dish translated into Spanish? I’m sure many of you have heard of “Sweet and Sour Spare Ribs” but how about “Costillitas de repuesto con salsa agridulce”? To the Spanish speaker, this will only conjure up mixed images and much confusion as the word “repuesto” means spare parts or replacement pieces.

With all these examples in mind, it puzzles me as to why these places couldn’t have just hired a translator through an agency such as our own. Translation rates tend to be lower than people expect and when it can make a world of difference for a business, why not give it a try?