The (often amusing) perils of poor menu translations

I am reliably informed that today is the beginning of a monumentous countdown: there is exactly one year left until the start of the World Cup 2014!

FIFA World Cup 2014 logo.

FIFA World Cup 2014 logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the major cities in Brazil continue to prepare for the event, one aspect I find particularly interesting is the language barrier. The more touristic cities such as Rio de Janeiro do of course have plenty of people that speak basic English, at the touristic attractions and in hotels and restaurants. If the press is to be believed, Belo Horizonte has been focusing instead on teaching English to its prostitutes.

OK, OK. I am joking! Even though that is a true story.

Hotels will always hire multi-lingual staff, but restaurants in Belo Horizonte would do well to make sure they have some staff with basic English language skills. Please don’t misunderstand me here. I don’t normally go to restaurants in Brazil and think that the staff ought to speak English! However, in anticipation of a much greater number of foreign tourists next year, I do think those places that don’t take proactive steps with the language barrier will miss out.

A quick and affordable way for restaurants to address part of the problem is by having an English menu available. However, without a proper translation, this can be more of a hindrance than help!

I love reading the English translations in menus here in Brazil. My favourite translation so far was for ‘cheiro verde’ – translated (literally) into English as ‘green smell’! In fact, it’s just parsley.

I also heard recently about a menu where ‘frango ao molho pardo‘ had been translated into ‘chicken in brown sauce’. This doesn’t sound too bad, but don’t you think the unsuspecting customer should be informed that the sauce is made with chicken’s blood? Eek!

What’s the funniest menu translation you’ve seen in Brazil?


4 responses to “The (often amusing) perils of poor menu translations

  1. As publishers of (the online restaurant guide for international visitors to Brazil), we too have come across numerous amusing translations. Some of our favorites include:

    Italian Restaurant #1
    Item: Crudi di Mare/Peixes e frutos do mar crus ao estilo mediterrâneo
    Restaurant’s English Translation: Sea raw’s fish at Mediterranean style
    Meaning: Mediterranean-style raw bar

    Italian Restaurant #2
    Item: Penne all’arrabbiata/Penne com alho, pimenta calabresa, azeite extra virgem e molho de tomate
    Restaurant’s English Translation: Penne skipped on olive oil sauce along with garlic and chilli sauce
    Meaning: Penne in spicy Tuscan red sauce made from tomatoes, garlic and red chili peppers cooked in olive oil

    Italian Restaurant #3
    Item: Ravioli d’aragosta/Massa verde recheada com lagosta, molho de queijo ‘‘Brie’’
    Restaurant’s English Translation: Green fresh lobster, ravioli, ‘Brie’’ cheese sauce
    Meaning: Fresh spinach pasta ravioli filled with lobster and served in creamy Brie sauce

    Your post is right on point! Restaurant owners in Brazil need to improve their ability to properly host foreign guests. A good place for them to begin is with their menus. Drop the menus with computer-generated translations and opt for professionally translated menus. A menu is more than just a list of food and prices – it is a reflection of the restaurant as a whole… In the meantime, enjoy the perils of poor menu translations in Brazil!

    Bom apetite!

  2. I heard of a hotel breakfast area labeling mango-juice as sleeve-juice. Apparently “manga” is a homonym. 😀 Tee hee! [Admittedly though, as a language-learner, this anecdote has been helpful for learning the word, “manga.”]

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