A Brief Review on How Chinese and Western Catering Cultural Differences Influenc
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This article briefly presents how the Chinese and western catering cultural differences influence the translation of Chinese cuisine. Through an analysis of food cultural differences between Chinese and western countries, the author tries to find the existing problems in English translation of Chinese cuisine, and sets examples to summarize the principles, methods and skills in translating Chinese dishes. The paper also elaborates it on the basis of diet cultural difference; analyzing and discussing the close link between culinary cultural difference and dish translation. In the modernized China, translators should improve the quality of Chinese dish translation based on food cultural difference. Translation of Chinese cuisine embodies the diet cultural difference. The quality of English translation of Chinese dish has some direct influence on the entry of Chinese food industry into the global market. Correct translation of Chinese cuisine can narrow the gap in intercultural communication.


 Key words: food cultural differences; intercultural communication; Chinese cuisine; translation principle; influence;



















1. Introduction. 1

1.1 Put forward question. 1

1.2 The necessity to study this topic#p#分页标题#e#. 1

1.3The argument frame of this paper 2

2. Revelation of chinese and western culinary cultural differences  3

2.1 Contrast of culinary cultural difference between chinese and western. 3

#p#分页标题#e#2.1.1 Culinary cultural characteristics of China. 3

2.1.2 Culinary cultural characteristics of western countries. 4

2.1.3 Two distinct culinary concept and attitude. 5

2.1.4 Different dish style and table manners. 6

#p#分页标题#e#2.2 Aspects of difference. 8

2.3 Summing-Up. 9

3. Discussions about translation in cross-cultural communication. 9

3.1 Problems existing in translation of Chinese cuisine. 10

#p#分页标题#e#3.1.1 Differ in translations. 10

3.1.2 Awkward literal translations. 11

3.1.3 Ambiguity in the terminology. 11

3.2 Principles and Skills. 12

#p#分页标题#e#3.2.1 Avoiding virtual 12

3.2.2 To be brief instead of over elaborate. 13

3.2.3 Avoiding the cultural conflict 13

3.3 Methods. 14#p#分页标题#e#

3.4 Summing-Up. 17

4. Combination of cultural difference with cuisine translation. 17

4.1 Integration of cultural differences and translation. 17

4.2 Improving the quality of dish names’ translation. 18#p#分页标题#e#

5. Conclusion. 19

5.1The job that needs to be tackled whole-heartedly. 19






1 Introduction

1.1 Put forward question

Mao Zedong once said that “Hong Lou Meng”, together with Chinese food, is one of China’s greatest contributions to humanity. Food is a central part of the Chinese culture.

Considering the misunderstanding coming along with the cultural differences, the study of translation should take the consideration of culture. Diet is of paramount importance to people from all over the world.

Owing to the different cultural traditions, the need of partaking food is different for people coming from different countries. China is a country with a splendid catering culture with a very long history. Chinese dishes are famous around the world. After the entry into the WTO, we should work more on introducing the Chinese dishes and Chinese food culture to expand international cultural exchange. This article attempts to look at the issues of culinary cultural differences and Chinese dish translations; in other words, how to handle the cultural context in translation? The different culinary traditions make up an important part of culture system. Correct translations of Chinese cuisine make intercultural communicators communicate easier. In this paper, what the author does more is the discussion on English translation of Chinese dishes.

#p#分页标题#e#1.2 The necessity to study this topic

The Chinese always believe that “food is the first necessity of the people”. Naturally we have special fondness for food culture. As the culinary culture draws close to our life, understanding the connotation of the food cultural difference is imperative to understanding the life. Translation of Chinese cuisine becomes more essential as the cultural exchanges between foreign countries are daily on the increase. Most importantly with the internationalization in the development of Chinese economy and with the approach of the 29th Olympic games’ arrival, many restaurants’ menus show both Chinese and English names for the dishes. Thereby, the translations of Chinese cuisines recorded in books were born. Facing eight famous Chinese cuisines, some translators are giving full play to their abilities. Each translator shows his talent in these translations. There is no lack of excellent work among them. A well-translated name will make the Chinese dish look better. Yet a bad translated name denigrates the dish. The proper translation of the name can welcome the foreign visitor to a dish while a mistranslated name actually discourages a person to try it. It can cause misunderstanding to foreigners of different cultural background, thus fails to surmount the cultural difference and inhibits understanding different culture connotation.

For now, the main existing problems are as follows: there is more than one translation for individual Chinese dishes, word-for-word translations that are confusing; there is an ambiguity in terminology and so on. At the moment, there are no books on Chinese dishes’ translation used for reference. It is necessary to bring together experts and scholars in order to provide a standard of translation. The paper sets examples to summarize the principles and skills in translating Chinese cuisine from three aspects: avoiding virtual; to be brief instead of over-elaborate; avoiding the cultural conflict. Methods of translating Chinese dishes such as literal translation, free translation and transliteration are covered in this paper.

1.3The argument frame of this paper

#p#分页标题#e#The Sino-UK cultural differences bring up the culinary cultural differences between them, which comes from the different ways of thinking and philosophy. The Chinese emphasize the importance of “the unity of universe and human” while westerns lay stress on “man-oriented”. The first chapter of this article will find the cultural differences in culinary concept, table manners, and culinary object. The specific expressions may be found in taste and nutrition, standard and random, and individualism and collectivism.

Cultural differences can lead to communication difficulties for people of different cultural backgrounds. Food cultural differences are no exception and it is a way of building bridges between nations. Translating dishes’ name is vital in cultural exchange. A fully qualified interpreter can help bring about a meeting of minds like milk mingling with water. It also makes cross-cultural communicators communicate easier. The second chapter of this article will state the methods of translating Chinese cuisines in cross-cultural communication.

The modern translation should be the practice of analyzing and comparing Chinese and western culture. From the perspective of organically integrating of cultural balance and translation, the third chapter of this paper will give a demonstration of reflection and application in English translation of Chinese dish name.

But at the same time the author also knows clearly that this is not an easy task. As to matters of culinary culture and dishes names’ translations, it is an important task that is related to the fields of nutrition, tourism, catering, food science, and medicine. There will be areas that are not covered in this paper. In a certain way, raising questions are more important than settling it. In this paper, what I do more is raising questions; these problems will excite great interest among scholars, which is just what I am looking for.


#p#分页标题#e#2 Revelation of chinese and western culinary cultural differences

2.1 Contrast of culinary cultural difference between Chinese and western

The question has often been asked as to what we eat. The answer is that we eat all the edible things on this earth. It is useless to logical reasoning in the matter of our food, which is determined by prejudices and history.

In fact, the importance of food in understanding human culture lies precisely in its infinite variability -variability that is not essential for species survival. For survival needs, all men everywhere could eat the same food, to be measured only in calories, fats, carbohydrates, proteins, and vitamins. However, people of different backgrounds eat differently. The basic stuffs from which food is prepared; the ways in which it is preserved, cut up, cooked; the amount and variety at each meal; the tastes that are liked and disliked; the customs of serving food; the utensils; the beliefs about the food’s properties -these all vary. The number of such “food variables” is great.

2.1.1 Culinary cultural characteristics of China

The seriousness with which we regard eating can be shown in many ways. Anyone who opens the pages of the Red Chamber Dream or any Chinese novel will be struck by the detailed and constant descriptions of the entire menu of what Daiyu had for breakfast or what Baoyu had at midnight. Zheng Banqiao apotheosized rice congee in his letter to his brother:


On cold days, when poor relatives or friends arrive, first hand them a bowl of fried rice in boiling water, with a small dish of ginger or pickles. It is the most effective means of warming up old people and the poor. In your days of leisure, swallow cakes made of broken rice, or cook “slipslop congee”, and hold the bowl between your two hands and eat it with shrugged shoulders. On a cold frosty morning, this will make your whole body warm. Alas! Alas! I think I’ll become a farmer for the remainder of my days!#p#分页标题#e# Zheng cited by Zhang,2004:197


The Chinese accept food as they accept life in general. No great English poet or writer would condescend to write a Cook Book, which they regard as belonging outside the realms of literature and worthy of the efforts of Aunt Susan only.

There is a belief in a balance that governs all of life and nature—the yin and yang. Originally, yang meant the sunny side of a hill and yin the shady side. Yang is the bright, dry, warm aspect of the cosmos. Males have more yang quality. Yin is the dark, moist, cool aspect. Female have more yin quality.

The Chinese case is distinctive for its underlying principles. The bodily functions, in the Chinese view, follow the basic yin-yang principles. Many foods are also classifiable into those that possess the yin quality and those of the yang quality. Oily and fried foods, pepper-hot flavoring, fatty meat, and oil-rich plant food like peanuts are yang foods. Most water plants, crustaceans, and certain beans are cooling yin foods. When yin and yang forces in the body are not balanced, problems result. Proper amounts of food of one kind or the other may then be administered to counterbalance the yin and yang disequilibrium. If the body was normal, overeating of one kind of food would result in an excess of that force in the body, causing diseases.

Chinese people emphasize the aesthetic aspect of cooking and eating. They think that a proper dish should appeal to the eye as well as to the palate. For example, intricately carved vegetables are a common decoration.

Mixing of flavors is another principle of Chinese food culture. We eat food for its texture, the elastic or crisp effect it has on our teeth, as well as for fragrance, flavor and color. The matching of nutrition does not exist in the traditional view of Chinese culinary culture; only keep in good health exquisitely. It is just the yin-yang principle. Chinese regard diet as a kind of art, enjoying them with the romantic spirit.

#p#分页标题#e#2.1.2 Culinary cultural characteristics of western countries

The danger of not taking food seriously and allowing it to degenerate into a slipshod business may be studied in the English national life. If they had known any taste for food their language would reveal it. “The English language does not provide a word for cuisine: they call it just “cooking”. They have no proper word for chef: they just call him a cook. They do not speak about their menu, but know only what are called “dishes”. And they have no word for gourmet: they just call him “Greedy Gut” in their nursery rhymes.”(Wang,2001:18) The truth isthe English do not admit that they have a stomach. No stomach is fit for conversation unless it happens to be “sick” or “aching”. The result is that while the Frenchman will talk about the “food” of his “cook” without impairing the beauty of his language. When hard pressed by his French host he might be willing to mutter between his teeth “that pudding is awfully good” and there let the matter rest. All the English are interested in is how to strengthen themselves against influenza, as with Bovril, and save the doctor’s bills.

Modern science civilization in western countries has made a great influence on the forming of western culinary custom. Due to the developed science in the West, analyzing the composition content of the food, grasping concrete requirement to nutrition, it is just a piece of cake. Westerners pay attention to what nutrition does it have, what energy can be produced at first, taste and flavor is less important. If heating and cooking will cause nutrition losses, then even half cooking and eat simply. Westerners regard diet as a kind of science, paying attention to the culinary function with the realistic attitude.

2.1.3 Two distinct culinary concept and attitude

Because of the influence of the factors such as regional characteristics, climate environments and customs, the products of food will, to some degree, appear different in raw materials, taste, cooking method. Just because of these differences, the products of food have strong regional characteristics.

#p#分页标题#e#Compare with the Chinese cuisine that pays attention to “flavor”, the western cuisine is a kind of rational conception. No matter how the color, smell, taste and shape of the food are, the nutrition must be paramount. Even if the taste is dull and uninviting, they must eat it if it is nutritious. This conception suits with the western philosophy. Metaphysics is the main characteristic of western philosophy. This philosophy brings the life to western culture and makes great development on natural science, on psychology and on methodology. But in the other hand, this kind of philosophy has played a hindering role greatly, such as the food culture.

Chinese pay attention to eating very much. The Chinese greeting “chi fan le ma?” means literally “Have you eaten?” and suggests that the collective Chinese memory still recalls hungry times. Famine and hardship played a large role in the development of the cuisine. China has been an agricultural civilization for thousands of years and has suffered from poor harvests. (Xiong, 1992:03) Thats why people value eating more than everything else. During lean years, people would explore everything eatable to stay alive. Many strange and incredible ingredients such as edible tree fungus were discovered and added to Chinese recipes. The scarcity of food also taught people how to avoid waste.

If a kind of culture regards eating as primary matter, it will present two kinds of phenomena: On one hand it will bring this kind of eaten function into full play, not merely survive, but also utilizing it to maintain the health too; On the other hand, it will make people praise highly to excessive attention of food to the pursue of delicacy.

In Chinese cuisine, it nearly reaches ultimate attainment to the flavor pursuit. Chinese take opening restaurants abroad as a profession and to make a living. Unfortunately, when we regard the flavor of food as the first requirement, we neglect the most basic nourishment value of food. Much nutrient component of our traditional food has been destroyed due to the cook method; therefore we can say that the nutrition problem is the greatest weakness of Chinese cooking culture. There is a proverb that says: “Food is the masses’ heaven and the food takes flavor as a priority”. It is such a flavor pursuit that makes us neglect the real meaning to have a meal.

While tasting dishes, Chinese people often say one dish “delicious” and the other “non- delicious”. I'm afraid, however; it is not easy to say clearly what is “delicious” or why it is “delicious”. It means that Chinese’s pursuit to the #p#分页标题#e#culinary is a kind of “artistic” conception that is difficult to explain in words.

The unique glamour of the Chinese dish lies in its flavor. And flavor lies in mixing of flavors that enable this smell of the food, the well done flavor after heating and flavor of condiments merge together, making it complement each other. From this principle of mixture, any number of fine and delicate combinations can be developed. Shape and color of the Chinese dish are external things, but flavor is an inherent thing. This kind of culinary view is the traditional philosophy thought of China. The eastern philosophy which is represented by the Chinese philosophy is featured by microscopes, directness and subtleness.

2.1.4 Different dish style and table manners

Food is a basic biological need, a fundamental ingredient for the survival of a group. The environment often determines what sorts of foods are available and also influences which foods are culturally preferred and which are prohibited. (Kristina Sivelle, 2005:105)

In a more abstract sense, food can say a lot about your culture. Different cultures eat completely different foods in completely different ways. You can see this difference between American culture with the emphasis on the potato and the cow, versus Oriental culture that focuses on pork, chicken, and rice.  The real reason behind this cultural difference was simply that rice grew better in Asia while potatoes grew better on American and European soil.  I believe that the food style gives American people much more energy than Chinese have. They are much stronger than us. That is the fact! 


No society views every thing in its environment that is edible and might provide nourishment as food. Americans eat oysters but not snail. The French eat snails but not locusts. The Zulus eat locusts but not fish. The Jews eat fish but not pork. The Hindus eat pork but not beef. The Russian eat beef but not snakes. The Chinese eat snakes… (Xu,2004:#p#分页标题#e#43)


The food style of a culture is certainly first of all determined by the natural resources that are available for its use. It is thus not surprising that Chinese food is above all characterized by an assemblage of plants and animals that grew prosperously in the Chinese land for a long time.

Chinese cooking is, in this sense, the manipulation of these foodstuffs as basic ingredients. Since ingredients are not the same everywhere, Chinese food begins to assume a local character simply by virtue of the ingredients it uses. Obviously ingredients are not sufficient for characterization, but they are a good beginning.

Chinese food has some basic difference from the Western food: Several dishes in a meal; Diversify and sophisticated.

For convenience, we may use culture as a divider in relating food variables. I am using the word culture here in a classificatory sense implying the pattern or style of behavior of a group of people who share it. Food habits may be used as an important, or even determining, criterion in this connection. People who have the same culture share the same food habits, that is, they share the same assemblage of food variables. Peoples of different cultures share different assemblages of food variables. We might say that different cultures have different food choices. Why these choices? What determines them? These are among the first questions in any study of food habits.


Individualism and collectivism permeate every aspect of Eastern and Western cultures, influencing their communication patterns. For many trainers in cross-cultural and intercultural communication, individualism-collectivism is the most important value dimension on which cultures can be compared. (Quoted in Xu, 2004:109)


The main differences between Chinese and western eating habits are that unlike the West, where everyone has their own plate of food, in #p#分页标题#e#China the dishes are placed on the table and everybody shares. If a Chinese host is treating you, be prepared for a ton of food. Chinese are very proud of their culture of cuisine and will do their best to show their hospitality. “Chinese style” dinner means that all dishes are for everyone to try, which is why it is traditional to eat at a round table with a rotating center that gives easy access to any dish. It all reflects that Chinese culture emphasizes collectivism while Western culture airs individualism.

Don’t stick your chopsticks upright in the rice bowl. Instead, lay them on your dish. The reason for this is that when somebody dies, the shrine to them contains a bowl of sand or rice with two sticks of incense stuck upright in it. So if you stick your chopsticks in the rice bowl, it looks like this shrine and is equivalent to wishing death upon a person at the table! Don’t tap on your bowl with your chopsticks. Beggars tap on their bowls, so this is not polite. Also, when the food is coming too slow in a restaurant, people will tap their bowls. If you are in someone’s home, it is like insulting the cook. Make sure the spout of the teapot is not facing anyone. It is impolite to set the teapot down where the spout is facing towards somebody. The spout should always be directed to where nobody is sitting, usually just outward from the table.

2.2 Aspects of difference

Chinese use chopsticks. The thin and long chopsticks cannot be used to cut food, so we usually use our teeth to act as knives. We hold our food, meat or vegetable, with the chopsticks, send them to the mouths, bite off a part of it and remain the other part on the chopsticks. That’s the usual way we eat. We are also used to hold up our bowls when having rice or soup. But all these habits are considered rude in the Western countries.

The etiquette in the West requests that when eating, bowls and plates cannot leave the tables. Knives to fit into the mouths should cut food. Of course your mouth cannot touch the plates or bowls. So the regular process is like this. You cut your steak on the plate with fork and knife, send the meat cube into the mouth with fork and nothing will be returned back but the fork alone. (Zhao, 2006:316)

Two principles distinguish Chinese cooking from western cooking. One is that we eat food for its texture, the elastic or crisp effect it has on our teeth, as well as for fragrance, flavor and color. The second principle is that of mixing of flavors. The whole culinary art of China depends on the art of mixture. While the Chinese recognize that many things, like fresh fish, must be cooked in their own juice, in general they mix flavors a great deal more than Western cooks do. From this principle of mixture, any number of fine and delicate combinations can be developed.

#p#分页标题#e#2.3 Summing-Up

Cultural can be understood as a particular way to satisfy our human needs. Every cultural has its own way of doing things in daily life, such as ways of eating, drinking. Cultural differences can be reflected and understood in details of lifestyle, which I think is a better way to peer into the complicated topic than read books. You have instances where two people living in cities 50 km apart speak different languages and eat different food. Chinese Culture emphasizes Collectivism while Western Culture airs Individualism. It’s hard to express the difference exactly in language but I believe that’s part of the truth. From small things, really we can find a lot of differences. Chopsticks and forks and knives are such a good example.


3. Discussions about translation in cross-cultural communication

According to Christiane Nord(1997:221), the Skopos of any context is the primary factor to be considered. Generally speaking, there exists two probable Skopos in the process of translation. One is the general purpose which is to make a live. The other is the communicative purpose which is to communicate across cultures. The translator should adopt literal translation or free translation according to different translating purpose.

As a complete and unattached context, in terms of context type, Chinese menu is recognized as “non-literature context”, though some Chinese dish names are of much literary. For example“八彩迎嘉宾”(Ba Cai Ying Jia Bin)(Assorted Cold Appetizers). Exactly speaking, it belongs to “information context”, for the menu just offer a series of dish names that is available for choosing generally.

Confucius said that food is the masses’ heaven. This observation was made at a time when food was less plentiful than now. The Chinese people nonetheless approach food with respect bordering on reverence. The Chinese people have a history based on necessity of eating almost everything that grows, runs on or flies over the earth. China proudly offers the world’s widest variety of dishes for every taste, classified according to place of origin, nationality or the social bracket of their creator. #p#分页标题#e#

Chinese dishes can be geographically divided into four categories, Guangdong cuisine, Shandong cuisine, Jiangsu cuisine and Sichuan cuisine according to the book of Chinese Cuisine Culture (Huang, 2006:111). Chinese dishes are delicious and varied thanks to its way of cutting and way of cooking. A Chinese cook may cut the meat into various shapes by mincing, chopping, mashing, slashing, filleting, stuffing or cutting it into dices, pieces, slices, shreds, mashes, cubes, minces, straps and chunks. There are dozens of different cooking methods of Chinese cuisine, like stir-frying roasting, braising, and stewing, steaming, boiling, seasoning, pickling, smoking, mixing and stuffing. (Li, 2002:102)

3.1 Problems existing in translation of Chinese cuisine

3.1.1 Differ in translations

Different translations of Chinese cuisine exist not only between China and foreign countries, but also between mainland and Hong Kong. Take the dish “鱼香肉丝” (Yu Xiang Rou Si) for example, it is translated into “Shredded Pork with Pepper and Ginger” or “Shredded Pork with Vegetable and Chili” in the mainland menu, while “Shredded Pork Sichuan Style” or “Shredded Pork with Flavor” in the Hong Kong menu. There are also varieties of translations in Chinese restaurants of Chinatown in foreign countries. A restaurant in British has the translation of “Shredded Pork& Bamboo Shoots in Chilli Sauce”, while “Shredded Pork with Garlic Sauce” in an American restaurant. In addition, a foreign interpreter translated it into “Shredded Pork with Special Sauce”. From above we can see that, the Chinese translator mainly wants to translate fish’s fragrance by condiment added in the Sichuan Style shredded pork. Foreign translators take the way to avoid the “vocabulary vacancy” which is brought about by the cultural difference. In a result, Chinese and foreign readers feel confused in understanding of fish’s fragrance.

Some researchers suggest that it can be translated into “Fish Flavored Shredded Pork” which checks with the Chinese original meaning. Thus, I expect some standardized translation can be formed. Such as “糖醋#p#分页标题#e#Tang Cu---sweet and sour; “麻辣”(Ma La)--- hot and peppery; “酸辣”(La Jiao)---hot and sour; “五香”(Wu Xiang)---spiced; “家常”(Jia Chang)---home styled/home-cooked. Moreover, some dishes have been widely known, such as “麻婆”(Ma Po) “东坡”(Dong Po)and “宫保”(Gong Bao). So when they are translated, the initiators’ name can be transliterated. The translation of “宫保鸡丁”(Gong Bao Ji Ding)can be unified as “GongBao Mandarin Diced Chicken”. And “麻婆豆腐”(mapodoufu) into “Ma Po Bean curd” or “Ma Po Tofu”. What deserves to be mentioned is, with the development of cultural exchange, the name of “Ma Po Tofu” has become a household word. In fact, these words such as “Tofu” have belonged in British and American published authoritative dictionary. Never disregard of the common usage or put some own interpretation separately. Some translators are following their own inclinations and translate “蛋花汤#p#分页标题#e#” into “Egg Flower Soup”; “香蕉船”into “Banana Boat”. Actually, the former should be “Egg Drop Soup” and the latter should be “Banana Split”.

3.1.2 Awkward literal translations

Take Fujian style dish “佛跳墙(Fo Tiao Qiang) for example. Some interpreters would translate it word for word, that is Buddha Jumping over the Wall”. Foreigners are likely to feel lost and confused. Another example is “狮子头if translated into “lion’s head”, foreigners will face the difficulty of building up the courage to try this dish. How can we translate the dish name while taking into the consideration of diet culture? This is a problem that deserves to be looked into more. We can operate on the principle of relying mainly on free translation supplemented by transliteration and add literal translation. Therefore, “佛跳墙(Fo Tiao Qiang) can be translated into Assorted Meat and Vegetable in an Earthenware Pot”( Lured by its smell, even the Buddha jumped over the wall). Similarly, #p#分页标题#e#the Guangdong cuisine “龙虎凤大烩(Long Hu Feng Da Hui) should be translated into “Braised Snake, Cat and Chicken” instead of “The Ho-dgepodge of Dragon, Tiger and  Phoenix”. The Jiangsu cuisine “霸王别姬(Ba Wang Bie Ji) can be translated into Steamed Turtle and Chicken”. The above examples are but a drop in the sea.

3.1.3 Ambiguity in the terminology

Some translators lack a full comprehension of cooking, which lead to confusion of dish name translation. As to the difference between stew and braise, which translation for “清炖甲鱼(Qing Dun Jia Yu) is better? Braised Soft-shelled Turtle” or “#p#分页标题#e#Stewed Soft-shelled Turtle. Likewise, translators should take the same attitude towards红烧墨鱼”(Hong Shao Mu Yu). “Stewed Cuttlefish in Brown Sauce” or “Braised Cuttlefish in Brown Sauce”. In culinary art, “stew” can be interpreted as “to simmer in a liquid until tender” while “braise” means “to brown meat or vegetables in fat, then to cook slowly in a small amount of liquid”. So the translation as for “Stewed Soft-shelled Turtle” and “Braised cuttlefish in Brown Sauce” are better. “炒鸡蛋”(Chao Ji Dan)--(scrambled egg); and “煎鸡蛋”(Jian Ji Dan)---(fried egg) are other examples. The example is too numerous to mention individually.

In view of this situation described above, while translating the dish names, translators must be extra cautious and check more to terms that cannot be understood. On the other hand, because there are less materials of culinary art that can be used for reference at present, there haven’t been any English-Chinese dictionaries that are suitable for Chinese cooking characteristic so far. I think it is necessary to organize the scholars and experts to compile a dictionary for the vast numbers of translators, teachers, and students to use, as well as for the general readers.

3.2 Principles and Skills

The main purpose of translating Chinese cuisine is to carry forward the Chinese cooking culture and to#p#分页标题#e# promote cultural exchanges with foreign countries. It must be served as the basic task. The main difficult point is the translation of cultural factors in the Chinese dish names. Translators must get hold of the following principle while translating:   

One of the principles is increasing our exchange with foreign countries. Essentially speaking, translating Chinese dish names should serve culture exchange. It is measures taken for getting across to foreign guests. This means the translation must conform to foreign guests’ language habit and cultural tradition. That is to say, the translation should try hard to be succinct, demonstrate the essence of the dish; so foreign guests would be able to understand.    

The other principle is carrying forward Chinese culture and avoiding the cultural conflict. As a main component of Chinese and foreign cultural exchanges, the translation of Chinese dish names must serve for carrying forward the Chinese cultural tradition and propagate Chinese culinary culture as much as possible. When translating, we can look at objective situations such as time, place, and carry on the essential and feasible introduction in order to make foreigners get across the abundant culture behind the Chinese dish names.

3.2.1 Avoiding virtual

Some dishes are named after animals and plants and even idiom allusion by analogy and association. Its unique cultural meaning is what westerners don’t understand. Under the circumstances, the common practice is avoiding virtual and just be real. Take “百鸟归巢(Bai Niao Gui Chao) for example. Actually, it is made with drumsticks, pork, quail eggs, and bamboo shoot. Chicken feet, pork, and quail eggs is symbolized百鸟#p#分页标题#e#(Bai Niao),bamboo shoot” often denotes(Chao). To be equal in translation, one should take a great deal of effort, so the best way to translate is to do it according with the combination of the dish. That is chicken and pork with egg and bamboo shoots”. The implications of some dish names in the Chinese menu are profound. We call them “文化菜名(Wen Hua Cai Ming) culturally loaded dish names for the moment. I will take some more Chinese dish names for example. “红烧狮子头(Hong Shao Shi Zi Tou)红烧猪肉丸 (Hong Shao Zhu Rou Wan)---- braised pork balls. “霸王别姬”(Ba Wang Bie Ji)甲鱼烧鸡块(Jia Yu Shao Ji Kuai#p#分页标题#e#)--- broiled chicken cutlets with turtle/steamed turtle and chicken in white sauce). “金玉满堂(Jin Yu Man Tang)虾仁鸡蛋汤(Xia Ren Ji Dan Tang)--- shrimp and egg soup.

3.2.2 To be brief instead of over elaborate

Compared with dish name of Western-style food, Chinese-style dish name seem lengthy, complex and wordy. It is very difficult for foreigners to accept it. Therefore, translation should strive to be brief and concise instead of translating word for word. Take “莲子惹米炖鸭汤(Lian Zi Re Mi Dun Ya Tang) --- duck soup with lotus seeds and barley) for example. As we know, stewing makes soup. So when we translate such dish name, the word stewed can be omitted.

As the globalization trend is strengthened day by day, especially the world pays close attention to China day by day; the cooking culture of China incorporates the world gradually. There is a rush on buying Chinese Chaofan in American Wal-Mart supermarkets by the American customer. In this sense, chowfan is the transliteration of “炒饭(chaofan). If translating “饺子#p#分页标题#e#(jiaozi) into dumpling, it will make westerners be biased by association. In western food, dumpling is equivalent to small dough in China. The best way to translate it is just “jiaozi”. Also the same to “粽子(zongzi). The Chinese spelling that is adopted directly has already been accepted extensively by westerners.

Since such western dishes as Kentuckysandwich, hamburger, cheese, pizza, salad has been transliterated, why not use the same way boldly on traditional Chinese dish names.

3.2.3 Avoiding the cultural conflict

Because of the differences in historiesgeographic locations, local customs, religious beliefs, etcthere are some translation obstacles in communication which hinder people from understanding each other properly. Accordingly, it is very important to overcome the obstacle of cultural differences in cross-cultural communication.

In this sense, translation means more than merely translating the Chinese dish words. It means also to transfer between cultures.

The translation of one language into another is far more complex than most people believe. Most people assume that text in one language can be accurately translated into another language, so long as the translator uses a good bilingual dictionary. Unfortunately, languages are not this simple#p#分页标题#e#and direct translations in many cases are difficult. (Xu.2004: 136)

3.3 Methods

In addition to the principles and approaches, we should not neglect proper translating methods. “The English translation of Chinese dish names greatly depends on the motivation of naming them and it requires the translator to handle the relations between the headword and the premodifiers or postmodifers. Meanwhile, some rules for translation, namely the principle of pragmatism, the principle of conciseness and transliteration must be followed” (Liu, 2003:52) 

China is one of the birthplaces of world civilization with several thousand years’ history and has a high reputation for “Kingdom of Cuisine” for Chinese food culture. Food varies from place to place, and from nation to nation. Therefore, there is a regional difference in cuisine naming. Li Yuqing states that the cultural tradition of Chinese dish name is of highly sophisticated. These names are melodious, symbolizing auspicious and fortune. They involve the initiator’s name; the animal’s name; the plant’s name; the place’ name; the verse’s name and the special meaning’s name. (Li, 2001:95)

As to the following dish names, we may use the literal translation. Literal translation claims that we should keep the cultural characteristics of the original words as much as we can. In this sense, the original words broaden the reader's mind.

Zhang Enlai’s collection titled Chinese Dish being Classical Tone-Chinese English bilingual text lists the following:

(1)红烧鱼(Hong Shao Yu) --- Braised Fish with Brown Sauce

(2)回锅肉#p#分页标题#e#(Hui Guo Rou)---Twice-cooked Pork/Double Cooked Pork

(3)炒肉丝(Chao Rou Si)---Sautéed /Stir-fried Pork Slices

(4)炖牛肉(Dun Niu Rou)---Stewed Beef(Zhang,2005: 18)

When the dish name involves the place name, it can be translated following the rule of “ingredients + place name+ style” or “place name + style + ingredients”

(1) 湖南肉(Hu Nan Rou)---Pork Hunan style

(2)广东龙虾(Guang Dong Long Xia)---Lobster Cantonese style

(3)家常豆腐(Jia Chang Dou Fu)---Toufu Home style

(4)中式泡菜(Zhong Shi Pao Cai) ---Chinese--style Pickles

#p#分页标题#e#Another dish that I want to point out individually is “桂林炸虾丸”(Gui Lin Zha Xia Wan)(see the appendix)--- Deep-fried shrimp balls with chili sauce. The simple translation from the Chinese title says something different: “Deep-fried shrimp balls from Guilin”. This one is more about romantic scenery than about fortune. Guilin has two meanings here: first, Guilin is a city in the southwestern part of China famed for its chili sauce. It is generally said that they make the best chili sauce in China. Second, Guilin is famous for its scenic beauty. It is often said that Guilin has the most attractive scenery and the best natural features in China. It draws the imagination of a honeymoon in a romantic place. Despite the dish is engaging a lot with Guilin, the shrimp is not from Guilin. It’s merely the chili sauce that is come from there.

Free translation is used to express the meaning of the original context, so it doesn’t lay much emphasis on the form of a word and its surface meaning. It is always the case that cultural differences can be properly solved under the principle of pragmatic equivalence, when the equivalent culture-loaded words are not available in cross-cultural communication. Here are some examples of free translation:

(1) 百年好合(Bai Nian Hao He) --- Sweetened red bean cream with lotus seeds and dried lily. The unswerving translation from the Chinese title says “A happy marriage that lasts 100 years”. The name is inspired by the dried lily, which denotes harmony in Chinese. (See the appendix)

(2) 全家福(Quan Jia Fu)---it is a combination of shrimps, pork, beef, chicken, lobster and mixed vegetables with brown sauce. The direct translation from Chinese title says “happy family” (Liu, 2006:60)

(3) 八宝鸡(Ba Bao Ji)---rice stuffed chicken#p#分页标题#e#

(4) 金玉满堂(Jin Yu Man Tang)---Shrimp and Egg Soup

(5) 老少平安(Lao Shao Ping’an) ----Steamed Bean Curd and Minced Fish

(6) 发财好市(Fa Cai Hao Shi)---it is a kind of Guangdong cuisine and it is black moss cooked with oysters. The direct translation form Chinese title says “Making a fortune with prosperous business”

(7) 玉带展花枝(Yu Dai Zhan Hua Zhi) ----Sautéed fresh scallop and sliced squids with vegetables. The straightforward translation from the Chinese title utters: “A belt of jade sporting flower stalks.” In a Chinese dining table, flower stalk is the euphemistic name for sliced squid. The reason is totally beyond me. The vegetables are the green peas. The belt of jade reflects a combination of two ingredients: the green peas, with the same color of jade, and the fresh scallop, with the same pronunciation as belt in Chinese. (See the appendix)

To serve as an interpreter, one should translate orally on the basis of quickness. While translating in the restaurant, interpreter may add the explanation about the allusion. Take the following dishes for example. Translation may be accompanied by these explanations.

佛跳墙Fo Tiao Qiang (Buddha Jumping over the Wall)---- it is the Chief traditional dish in Ju Chun Yuan Restaurant in Fuzhou City. It is stewed with more than twenty materials including shark’s fin, sea cucumber, scallop, abalone, fish maw, etc. The cooking procedure is very strict. The ingredients are well selected and the shape cutting is quite an art.#p#分页标题#e#  It tastes mellow and tender. You can still savor its wonderful tasted when your tongue touches your lips or teeth for a long time afterwards”. (Zhu, 2002:72)

Ren Jingsheng put her explanation as follow:

叫花鸡”(Jiao Hua Ji)(Beggar’s Chicken)---There is a legendary story connected to it. Long ago there was a beggar. One day he stole a chicken and was pursued by the owner. He was almost caught when he suddenly hit upon a good idea. He smeared the chicken all over with clay, which he found nearby and threw it into the fire he had built to cook it. After a long while the beggar removed the mud-coated from the fire.  When he cracked open the clay he found, to his astonishment, that the clay together with the feather had formed a hard shell in which the chicken had been baked into a delicious dish with wonderful flavor. That night he had a very enjoyable meal. Hence there is the name of the dish. (Ren, 2001:57)

The differences between the West and China in history, social customs, religious practices, ideology, etc, bring forth many issues that need to be noticed in the process of translation. One of them is “cultural vacancy”, that is, some words and expressions conveying the cultural features of Chinese have no equivalents in English language. Under the condition of cultural vacancy, we have to translate by transliteration.

Transliteration can transfer specific cultural elements into the target language. The Chinese dish has national culture. It is very difficult to find a reciprocal word while translating, which requires translators use transliteration at this moment. In the practice of translation, the transliteration of Chinese dish names have enjoyed great success. Such as “饺子”--jiaozi; “麻婆豆腐”--mapo tofu ; “炒面”--#p#分页标题#e#chow mein.

3.4 Summing-Up

From above, we know that when we use those cuisine names on the basis either primary motivations or secondary motivations among the Chinese people, just as Zhong Anni stated “it is an intralingua and intercultural issue” (Zhong, 2006:79). The straightforwardness of the primary motivations and the associative ness of the secondary motivations will not cause misunderstanding or misinterpretation. Yet when we translate the cuisine names into English there is a cross-language and cross- cultural problem. Generally speaking, the literal translation of these cuisine names based on primary motivations may not give rise to much misunderstanding or misinterpretation. But as for the translation of the cuisine names on the basis of secondary motivation, we should be very careful and cautious. It is suggested that we should follow the principles of stability and consistency in cuisine naming and its translation. 

Therefore, one of the challenges for translators and interpreters is to learn to appreciate culture differences and also to keep up with the constant change that is happening all around us.


4. Combination of cultural difference with cuisine translation

4.1 Integration of cultural differences and translation

Culture and translation have a close relationship. Translation is to deal with two languagesto which cultures attached, so cultural differences bring enormous difficulties to translation. There is still a way for us to solve the problem if we know the laws and nature of the language.

Cultural differences bring about the difficulties of translation. Rendering a source language into a target language is to find out the equivalents between them. But people from different language background live in both a different world and absolutely a different society,#p#分页标题#e#so their mode of thinkingthe knowledge of the worldthe ways of distinguishing  the cosmos are by far different. And a language is a reflection of the culture and a mirror of the society. It is culturalized deeply.

The purpose and characteristics of translation are to promote understanding among different countries and nations. Eugene Nida, a famous American translation theoristdefined translation as: Translation consists in reproducing the receptor language the closest natural equivalent of the source language, first in terms of meaning and secondly in terms of style. (Nida and Taber, 2001:12) However, to reproduce “the closest natural equivalent in the target language is more or less influenced by the cultural differences.

4.2 Improving the quality of dish names’ translation

Translations frequently produce misunderstanding or incomprehension because of differences in cultural orientation. Chinese dishes’ names are multifarious with deep intension. Only on the basis of understanding Chinese and Western food cultural difference can the interpreter translate the Chinese dish name accurately and to make the westerners understand.

As China is with quite a rich food culture, the raw materials of some dish will not make the Chinese customer disgust. Take various wild animals such as the snake, frog for example. Because of cultural difference, westerns will be filled with disgust when they know that one dish is made of them. Meet this kind of situation, translators must consider foreigners’ psychology of accepting, which is very important for the anticipated foreign audiences who know English. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to realize the anticipated function of translation and translating purpose.

In translating, we can see that the commonalities of different culture are relative and extensive while the cultural differences are essential and profound. It is impossible that the cultural obstacle doesn’t exist in translation. That is to say, when translate occurs, there always exist some stumbling blocks that is of intercultural. Its translatability’s limit is absolute. Literal translation adds free translation is a common tactic when interpreting a dish name. The combination of free translation and literal translation is a sign of interpreting successfully. Therefore, in the process of translating Chinese cuisine or menu that is a part of food culture, adopting the method of “change the mode while being bilingual” is very essential. Because of the particularity of Chinese grammar, there is no fixed formula or stipulation for translation of Chinese cuisine. What the interpreter should do is to learn to be flexible and pay great attention to making changes according to specific conditions. #p#分页标题#e#

We all have ideas about what kinds of foods are good to eat. We also have ideas about what kinds of food are bad to eat. As a result, people from one culture often think the foods that people from another culture eat are disgusting or nauseating. When the famous boxer Muhammad Ali visited Africa, for example, one member of his group was shocked to see someone pick a butterfly and eat it. Many people would find it disgusting to eat rats, but there are many different cultures whose people regard rats as appropriate food.

In the same way, there are some foods in Chinese dish that are regarded as taboo in the western culture. Some of Chinese dish is named for being lucky and resent the animal name or some other articles that westerners put the taboo on. Thus literal translation of raw materials should be used. If raw materials are also regarded as taboos that are avoided being eaten in western culture, this course can be omitted and does not need to translate. Such as 翡翠鱼翅(Fei Cui Yu Chi), 红烧狮子头(Hong Shao Shi Zi Tou). As we know, the emerald is not eatable, here what we called “翡翠(Fei Cui) is only the vegetable. Lion, moreover, westerners will not eat. The intention is that we describe meatballs by dint of the mighty of lion. In this situation, it will cause “bloody” feeling if translating literally. And for example “脆皮乳鸽#p#分页标题#e#(Cui Pi Ru Ge). Pigeon signify peaceful and in westerners’ mind it should not be killed or be eaten.

In all, interpreter should pay attention to the essential material of Chinese dish when confronted dishes that are named for special meaning or blessing expression. So that choosing an effective translation for use in such situation. Not only that but also the cultural differences should not be neglected. Both the character of translation and the food cultural difference determined that faithfulness; fluentness and speediness are the ideal standard for translation of Chinese cuisine. This means that we should constantly summarize experience in practice, thus grasp skills of translating Chinese cuisine in a flexible way. We must slog away at our studies to improve the basic cultural knowledge that involves Chinese and Western food cultural difference, and then translate the Chinese cuisine in a way that foreigners can accept.


5. Conclusion

5.1The job that needs to be tackled whole-heartedly

Neither China nor the West is culturally homogenous. From above, we begin to realize that translation of Chinese dishes is a job that needs to be tackled whole-heartedly. Culture, especially material culture, such as music, food tends to vary in all the different parts of China proper much as it does in Western countries. Take the dining tools for example. Traditionally Chinese use chopsticks and Europeans use fork and knife. When one uses chopsticks he flexes his fingers to make the sticks hold the food. If you try it and feel the process carefully you will find that basically you are giving an inwards force. When one uses the fork and knife, he/she keeps cutting and sticking with the knife and fork. The force goes outwards.

       I think this small detail has connection with the different characteristics of the Chinese and Western culture. Chinese culture put more focus on one’s internal cultivation, while western culture is relatively more sensitive in external characters.

#p#分页标题#e#To be perfect, the Chinese dish has also to be artistically arranged and displayed on a platter like a fine work of art. Perfection in all these aspects can only be attained through skill and methodical preparation, which includes the selection of ingredients, slicing, and control of temperature, seasoning and cooking. Correct timing is vital, but another skill of a veteran Chinese chef is the ability to calculate the temperature of a high, medium or low flame. It is said that Chinese chefs can produce a hundred different flavors by judiciously blending the five basic ones—salt, sweet, sour, bitter and spiced. The most popular blends are fresh and salt, sweet and salt, sweet and sour, pepper and salt, spiced and savory, and piquant.

The quality of English translation of Chinese dish has some direct influence on the entry of Chinese food industry into the global market. This paper attempts to discuss some basic principles, skills and methods of English translation of Chinese dishes by analyzing the food cultural differences between Chinese and western countries. Translators must follow the principles of conciseness and stability according to the raw materials, and avoiding the cultural conflict. Meanwhile, one should also get hold of such skills as being brief instead of over elaborate. As to methods, the translator should adopt literal translation or free translation according to different translating purpose. In many cases, the transliteration of Chinese dish names have enjoyed great success.

However, just as what is stated above, this is an important task that is related to the fields of nutrition, tourism, catering, food science and medicine. There will be areas that are not covered in my paper. What we should do is trying our best to translate the refined and graceful cuisine names into English by keeping their original cultural connotations and helping foreign diners to appreciate the profound cultural contents. Meanwhile, we should take into consideration whether they are culturally acceptable to foreigners or not. In all, translators must be cautious in the practice of English translation of Chinese dish names. I sincerely hope that the findings are not only interesting but provide a sound basis for a further understanding to each other.




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My deepest gratitude goes first and foremost to Professor Wang Ping and Yao Shulin, my supervisors, for their constant encouragement and guidance. And how would I have survived all diploma work without the constant support that they gave me.
    Mr. Yao has walked me through the first stage of writing this paper. Without his consistent and illuminating instruction, this thesis could not have reached its present form. Also I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Professor Wang ping, who have taught me how to hunt for relevant material on the internet. I respect you deeply.

I would also like to extend my sincere thanks to the Foreign Language Department of Jinxing University as well as all my teachers. Thanks to their instructive guidance and comprehensive education during the four years’ university, I can acquire the opportunity to further study my English. #p#分页标题#e#

My great gratitude also goes to those writers and editors whose works I have perused and benefited greatly. Without them the completion of the thesis would not have been possible.

I also owe my sincere gratitude to my friends and my fellow classmates who gave me their help in helping me work out my problems during the difficult course of the dissertation. My beloved family made me what I am and I sincerely hope that I can pay you back in way or the other.

Finally, I wish to express my sincere thanks to my foreign friends. Aissa who is from Algeria offers me some relevant material. Another two are Roy and Wen coming from America and Canada respectively. They correct some errors in my paper. Their knowledge and experience contributed immensely to the progress of my dissertation.