Lost in Translation

It was way back in college. I self invited and piled on with a friend for one of the wedding feasts of her cousin. Tired of varieties of gourds on offer in hostel menu, the thought of some protein in my diet was appealing. While I settled for mutton curry my “Bengali” soul ached for “Phish” (The Bengali tongue often confuses Ph for F ). A little disappointed my flat mate sprung a surprise next day when she came back with a box of sweets. She said how did I find the Jhinga? Jhinga in Bengali is a variety of gourd, a summer vegetable we cook with poppy seed paste or add it to Moong Dal. I did not even see any merit in this question. While I was struggling to see a point a friendly neighbour who was used to my “Hindi” chipped in. She asked me if I liked the prawn curry. To my shock, I realised there was some confusion. My friend added, Jhinga means Prawns. I realised I had missed out on tasting the “Jhinga Curry” because I thought it was bottle gourd curry. I gathered my composure and told myself that one needs to learn the names of non-vegetarian items in Hindi. Similarly, a friend went to Kolkata and ordered Jhinga Posto thinking she would be served a dish made of prawns/ shrimps with poppy seed paste. As the green vegetable peeped from the poppy seed paste she realised that there has been a miscommunication. Another friend of mine migrated to Kolkata and was placing an order for his tiffin. After bored with Fish and dishes over a week he decided to order “Dim” thinking it would be some Bengali exotica. To his irony when two eggs peeped from an oily red gravy. He realised that it’s best to pick up some Bengali words.

I am sure such adventures are part of everybody’s food trail. Every time I look through City of Joy’s (a Bengali restaurant in New Delhi) Menu I wonder how food metaphors could be translated as it is steeped in one’s cultural sensibilities. For instance under the section on Breads/ Rice they have something called Maa er Hather Roti. While in Bengali it sounds fine, for any non- Bengali speaker, and particularly in English it would sound ridiculous if one were to literally translate this item. It would mean “Flattened bread from your Mother’s hands”. Thankfully City of Joy does not translate such metaphorical usage of words and leaves it to your imagination but recently I received links of two news items from B which adequately explains how such adventures can turn out to be linguistic mis-adventures. In other words, how food metaphors find new meaning in such cases of appropriation and translation.

Have you ever ordered “Chicken without sex life” or “beancurd made by women with freckles” in a Chinese restaurant in Beijing? These are the literal translations of some of the dishes and the book published by Municipal Office of Foreign Affairs aims at helping restaurants to avoid what the news report calls such cases of “ bizarre translations”1. If the translations of 3000 odd dishes on offer are used by the restaurants the English speaking audience will no more hear dishes like “Chicken without Sex life “ which has been translated to “Spring chicken” or “Red burned lion head” which would know be known as “braised pork ball in the brown sauce”. The translators according to this article translated the names of dishes using four rubrics : ingredients, cooking method, taste and name of a person or place.  The book aims to solve the confusions that English speaking food lovers encounter when they hear the bizarre translations. While the translator’s efforts might have saved the food lover’s confusions in the near future what’s the harm in retaining these metaphorical translations of everyday life with a description of food… The best in this series of translation was relating Fuqi feipian which used to be called Husband and Wife’s Lung slice. Now it will be called Sliced Beef and ox tongue in Chilli Sauce… For a visual treat of these dishes with how the lexicon takes over food metaphors please visit the following link on the book of translations (http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2012-03/15/content_14837721.htm).

So next time you are in Beijing you might be told how Ludagunr is not Rolling donkey but glutinous rice rolls stuffed with red beans and paste. 2


1 For details see “No More Chicken without Sex Life” in http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/business/2012-03/14/content_14833808.htm.

2 For details see “Cuisine Lexicon Offers Tasty food for thought” in http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2012-03/15/content_14837721.htm.



Breaking fast on a rainy day

Fish ball Soup

Are you a morning person? Are you willing to explore a breakfast destination which winds up by 9.00 am? Are you looking for good food and have no hang ups about standing in a street corner and enjoying your Saturday breakfast?  These were the few exchanges we had among a group of food fanatics who braved a morning shower and ended up meeting for a Chinese breakfast in Kolkata sharp at 7.30 am. 

City of Joy, i.e., Kolkata is a migrant’s city and the culinary journey of Kolkata as all travel guides would direct you to Tangra a bustling settlement dotted with closed tanneries and new age Chinese eating houses, sauce factory, a Chinese temple and in fact a Chinese Kalibari. While restaurants like Kafulok, Kimling and Beijing have attracted Chinese food lovers during lunch and dinners in Tangra it is worthwhile to note and remember that the oldest Chinese settlement was actually in Tiretta Bazaar  popularly referred to as Tiretti Bazaar ( Tiretti marketplace) in central Kolkata. The street beside the Poddar Court is lined with stalls selling breakfast straight from the oven. Unlike Kolkata’s breakfast joint here the breakfast is really early. So if you fail to reach by 8.00 am you might end up being served cold food.

We decided to do a survey of the street before ordering our fare. To our surprise we found it was a combination of sorts, for instance next to a stall of dumplings,  was a vegetable seller who  were calling out to the Chinese Memsahibs as he had stalked fresh Chinese Cabbage followed by an old woman who was selling fish.  We were amazed by the variety that was on offer and I for once regretted that I had to go for library work; else one could have stalked up fresh vegetables.

Greens on offer

We decided to begin our Chinese breakfast with a bowl of piping hot fish ball soup. While our hungry eyes could not wait as the lady poured our portions to the bowl; the silent wait was worth it. The fish ball made out of Chitol fish was a delight.  We could not resist the fish dumpling which melted in the mouth as soon as we bit into them. We followed the tips penned by  Joydip Sur in a piece “Chinese Breakfast :A tradition in Calcutta” ( Kolkata on Wheels, Vol 4, Issue No 2 , November 2011) and went ahead to try out the Steamed pao – a soft steamed bread stuffed with Pork, eggs and Chicken), followed by the most wonderful Pork Roll I have had. Even though we missed out on the Pork Pancake and Pork chop we decided to keep it for our next trip.


While our respective schedules did not allow us to stock up fresh vegetables we could not resist the temptation of venturing into the Sing Cheung Co. Pvt. Ltd. Shop where I bought three bottles of Sweet Chilli Sauce, Garlic Chilli Sauce, Black Bean Sauce for my kitchen. The shop’s supplies come out of its own factory in South Tangra Road.  While we waited at the shop counter for the cashier to finish his breakfast we realised it was only 9am and we had not only treated ourselves to a most amazing breakfast but also gifted ourselves with some lovely sauces. Though we wanted to buy the entire shop we realised that between our respective work schedules the sauces might sit pretty on the table top before they hit the expiry dates and realised to choose a few. The prices are reasonable and I would recommend any shop (Pou Chong sauce manufacturers) in this vicinity for anyone who wants to indulge in Chinese delicacies.

Pork Roll

So in case you are a morning person and craving for an early morning breakfast gear up for the breakfast gourmet in Tiretta Bazaar.

Happy eating!