Skip to content

Misleading food names

We have a lot of trouble with food. A tortilla de patatas, for example, could be translated as Spanish omelette. But should we assume that English speakers know that what a tortilla is? Should you translate it as Spanish omelette even though (in the UK, at least) a Spanish omelette is a curious concoction of eggs and fried vegetables which has very little to do with a tortilla de patatas? Then there is the ensalada rusa: a very common item on menus in Spain and Italy, it does exist in English, where it is called Russian salad, but it is nowhere near as common. Should you translate it as Russian salad, a name most people will be unfamiliar with, or go for a more explanatory title?

Questions like this underline the importance of agreeing with clients on their preferences. Having established whether, for example, a restaurant prefers ‘tortilla’ or ‘Spanish omelette’, we then input that preference into the Translation Memory we have for that client, ensuring that all the translations QuickSilver does for them are consistent.

But talking about this issue in the office brought to light a number of treacherous dishes, the names of which give a (sometimes extremely) misleading impression of their ingredients…

Sticking with the omelette theme, there is the Norwegian Omelette, a French desert (also known as Baked Alaska) composed of ice cream and meringue, toasted in the oven.

Still with omelettes: in Catalan, a (French) omelette is called a truita, or trout, because it is said to resemble one.

In fact, there is a long list of dishes which are named after animals they have nothing to do with.

Welsh Rabbit is made of cheese and toast. According to legend, the name is an oblique slur on the Welsh, once said to be too poor to afford meat (the alternative, but etymologically incorrect, name ‘Welsh Rarebit’ seeks to redress this slur.)

Bombay Duck is a type of particularly smelly fish called Bummalo. One story about the origins of this name is that, in the days of the British Raj in India, the train compartments of the Bombay Dak (in English, the Bombay Mail) would smell of the fish, leading the British to refer to the peculiar smell as the “Bombay Dak”.

No amphibians are harmed in the making of British school-dinner classic Toad in the Hole, which is in made of sausages cooked in batter. Sausages seem to suggest unsavoury connections, possibly because it is hard to tell exactly what they contain. Hence, no doubt, hot dogs.

Mock Turtle Soup is not made from turtle, but rather those unsavoury parts of calves which share the texture of turtle meat, like brain. In some parts of Germany, incidentally, they eat Mockturtlesuppe, a relic of the time when the UK and Germany shared a ruling house.

As Ambrose Pierce rather dryly observes, the French dish ris de veau à la financière ‘is not the smile of a calf prepared after the recipe of a she-banker’ but rather a kind of sweetbread.

Popular in the States, Buffalo Wings are doubly misleading, in the sense that they are not made from buffalos and buffalos don’t have wings. Buffalo wings are in fact chicken wings cooked according to a recipe invented in Buffalo, NJ, served in a vinegar-based hot sauce and butter, with celery sticks and blue cheese dressing.

Another dish from the US, Rocky Mountain Oysters, aren’t oysters. No.

On the other hand, the world-renowned British pudding Spotted Dick is made from sponge and dried fruits.

And there are two Chinese dishes with absolutely fascinating names.

Ants Climbing a Tree is a Szechuan speciality made with ground pork and noodles, so called because it looks like columns of ants climbing twigs.

And no-one seems to know why a Szechuan cold meat dish is called Married Couple’s Sliced Lungs.

You might think that Bird’s Nest Soup fits into this category. It doesn’t. It really is made of bird’s nests.

Related Posts