When Taipei resident Chu Su-lan (朱素蘭) opened her beef noodle shop near the Taipei European School in the city’s Shilin District (士林) 10 years ago, understanding her foreign customers who lived or worked in the area was tough, not least because the menu was only in Chinese.
As the shop gained in popularity among the foreign community, a project initiated by students at the school to provide English translations of menus in local restaurants helped ease the confusion of foreign diners.
“We have a large foreign community here. When I first opened the eatery, I didn’t understand what [foreign customers] were saying, and Taiwanese customers who spoke English would help. Now they can look at the English menu and let us know what they want to eat. It’s very helpful,” Chu said.
The project was initiated by students at the Taipei European School two years ago. The lack of English-language menus in restaurants and eateries in Taipei, especially in areas with large foreign communities or large numbers of foreign visitors such as Tianmu (天母) and around the Taipei International Flora Expo sites, inspired them to offer free English translations of Chinese-language menus for local restaurants.
Melody Cho, a participant in the project, said the project aimed to offer accurate translations of menus and provide foreigners with a better understanding of Taiwanese dishes.
“We want the English translation to be more than a literal translation, so that foreigners know what they are eating. It took a lot of discussion to figure out the English translation for Taiwanese dishes such as pig’s blood cake (豬血糕) and milk fish (虱目魚),” she said.
Despite seeking to introduce Taiwanese food to foreigners, Cho said that some rare food items offered by a beef noodle shop near the flora expo venue in Yuanshan, such as beef testicles, gave them pause.
“I didn’t know if I should translate it into English because I was a little afraid that it would give a negative impression of Taiwan,” she said.
Another project participant Kevin Wang said the translations were more difficult than they expected, as they also offered to design the menus and print them out.
James Woodall, assistant head of the school’s British Secondary and High School section, said the menu translation service is part of a service project that requires students in every grade to initiate creative project proposals and take on leadership roles while giving something back to the community.
The school’s students have worked with civil organizations, and were involved with relief work after Typhoon Morakot by raising more than NT$1 million (US$33,778) for students at San Min Junior High School in Greater Kaohsiung.
The school also sends students to participate in an overseas house building project named TABITHA in Cambodia, aiming to broaden their service in the future, he said.