When promoting Taiwanese foods, how should dishes like pig’s blood cake (豬血糕), tofu pudding (豆花) and others best be translated?
In her research, Chen Tsai-ti (陳采體), an instructor in the Department of Translation and Interpretation Studies at Chang Jung Christian University in Tainan County, found that a multitude of English translations of Taiwanese snacks exist among Taiwanese and foreigners.
She is now suggesting that the government consider the issue from the point of view of foreign visitors to Taiwan and publish a reference book to provide them with clarity.
Pig’s blood cake has been voted the most disgusting food in the world on one English-language travel Web site, but it was also the dish used by Taiwanese chef Li Chia-chi (李佳其) when winning the prize as the best chef in Asia earlier this year.
Tsai found that in most English translations, the word gao (糕) is translated as “cake” or simply transcribed as “gao.”
Pig’s blood cake could easily give someone who does not know the snack the idea that it is a cake or pastry made from pig’s blood, which immediately makes the whole idea a lot less palatable, she said. This translation also surprises many people who like the snack, she added.
Chen has given a questionnaire to Taiwanese and foreigners and then interviewed them about the current translations of some of Taiwan’s most popular snacks, such as pig’s blood cake, steamed dumplings (小籠包), rice pudding (米糕), coffin bread (棺材板), Tainan du xiaoyue danzi noodles (度小月擔仔麵), tofu pudding, meat balls (肉圓), stewed minced pork on rice (肉燥飯) and bowl rice cake (碗粿).
Chen found that the greatest difference in opinion was over the Tainan specialty coffin bread, which Taiwanese felt would be best translated as deep fried coffin shaped sandwich, while most foreigners felt that the word “coffin” should not appear in the name of a food. Eighteen foreigners interviewed offered 13 different translations for this snack.
Chen said steamed dumplings, rice pudding, tofu pudding and meatballs were already -established translations that could serve as a reference since they were commonly used by foreigners, which highlights the importance of the assimilation principle in translation.
Chen said that for the Beijing Olympic Games, the Chinese government issued instructions for the translation of Chinese foods and she suggested that the Taiwanese government also issue a similar version for the public’s reference.
When making these translations, the focus should be on the end users, foreign visitors, and not on the view of Taiwanese in order to avoid taboos, she said, adding that if a dish includes pork, it should be clearly stated.
“The main point is that these dishes taste good, and appropriate translations are helpful in promoting Taiwanese food, since it allows foreign visitors to Taiwan to eat what they want,” she said.
Lost in translation:
Examples of how local delicacies are being called by different English names:
豬血糕 Zhu sie gao:
Pig blood gao; Black cake; Pig’s blood cake.
小籠包 Siao long bao / Xiaolongbao:
Small soup dumpling in steamer;
Steamed pork-filled dumpling;
米糕 Mi gao:
Sticky rice gao; Sticky rice cake; Sticky rice curd.
棺材板 Guan cai ban:
Deep-fried coffin-shaped sandwich;
Coffin sandwich; Coffin burger.
度小月擔仔麵 Dan zi mian:
Tainan noodles in soup; Tainan dan zi noodles;