Food for thought

We’ve all done it. We’ve been in a foreign country and visited a restaurant. We’ve read the menu and then fallen around laughing at the weird and wonderful delicacies on offer.  Sometimes the specialities of the country in question really are a bit off beat from our usual fare – and other times the translation has just been unbelievably funny.

Following my recent experience at the word face, I shall be less critical of  the poor person (often the waitress) who has been given the task of translating the chef’s creative forays into regional cuisine equipped only with a pocket dictionary.

Recently, armed with all the resources the internet affords, my reasonably good research skills, a robust understanding of the languages involved and an interest (if not a personal skill) in the subject area, I confess I was almost entirely floored at times.

My task was to translate the menu for a large, swanky German hotel.  After almost two days’ solid work on the topic, I sent a long list of questions to my colleague in the German translation agency. I hate doing this – it looks as if you don’t know what you’re doing and that you expect your own client to do the work he’s paying you to do.

My colleague said he’d get back to me. Which he did the next morning. He said he’d taken a copy of the German menu home and his wife “had cried tears of laughter”. I wasn’t so sure I could see the funny side at the time, having slogged my guts out to work out what these dishes were. Not easy without pictures or the original recipe.

So what were these delicacies and delights, I hear you cry. For starters, there was Kohlrabi crème brûlée.  Kohlrabi is not commonly found on these shores – but if I tell you that it is a sort of white turnip-looking vegetable, you may understand why I was rubbing my eyes in disbelief.  Then there was the “BLT im Weckglas”. BLT is borrowed direct from our humble bacon, lettuce and tomato sarnie. When I saw “Weckglas” I chuckled to myself thinking that someone had misspelled “Weckla” – a word used in the Nuremberg area for bread roll… but on double checking, I found that in fact Weckglas does indeed exist. It means “preserving jar”. With eyes on stalks, I added this to the lengthening list of queries. Can this be correct, I asked my client humbly. Don’t they mean Weckla?  The answer came back the next day. No, they do actually mean Weckglas.

Freedom for BLT sandwiches I say! What the Dickens are they doing bunging them in preserving jars?

I cannot spend more precious minutes of my life devoted to this subject, I’m afraid, and these are just two of the astounding examples. I can say though that usually when translating menus I get hungrier and hungrier. On this occasion, I could hardly face the idea of having my supper. (Calf’s cheeks featured prominently as did gazpacho mousse – which apparently is a mousse made of gazpacho… a cold soup. Um, why?).

Should anyone ever want to take me to dinner in Germany, I know there is one hotel I shall be making great strides to avoid.  :-/