There are many attractions to living in Poland and one of them is the menu translations!
It is always with a sense of excitement that I open a menu wondering what surprises I might find inside or even if I will find the holy grail of a perfectly translated menu from front to back. It’s a bit like like having Christmas over and over again every time you walk into a restaurant.
Most intriguing is the way most people seem to get some rather complicated things right and then slip up with what should be bread and butter translations (excuse the intentional pun).
Here’s a page from the menu of the cafe inside the castle at Nidzica (click for bigger version):
The most obvious amuse bouche, and the reason I took the photo, are the “Herring with wooden mushrooms”, which should probably be (including the bracketed ‘marynowane’) “Herring with preserved woodland mushrooms”. Reading further though you have steak tartar described mouth-wateringly as “raw beef”. True, at least. Then you have the rather awkward “King’s meat” or “King’s fish”, which I suppose should really be something like “Fish in a King’s style” but is actually quite hard for me to translate after so many years of seeing the “po Grecku” or “po something else” plopped on the end of the description.
Finally, my favourite gripe is calling pierogi, “dumplings”! I know this is perhaps the most obvious description but it really doesn’t do them justice. For most English speaking people dumplings (anywhere outside a Chinese restaurant) are big, stodgy, fatty, jabba-the-hutt type things that you don’t want to eat unless you’re about to swim the Baltic sea, naked. Pierogi are not like that, well most of them anyway, so we really do need a better translation for them. I suppose “Polish style dumplings” would be an improvement, or even using the word “ravioli”, which is actually a lot closer than dumplings.
Here’s a shot of a “pierogi” I took at the Star Wars exhibition in County Hall, London. Would you order this from the menu? I thought not!
The bottom line is that ordering food in Poland using the English translations is a hit & miss affair. So much so that I generally refuse the English menu I’m offered and ask for a Polish one. It’s the only way of knowing exactly what I’m ordering.
Bear in mind, these errors exist in every menu throughout Poland. It is not restricted by either class of restaurant or by geography. When I see this in a high quality restaurant I have to wonder how much they spent on printing the fancy menus and just how they would feel if the Polish menu was equally badly described. Surely they would be sending it back to the translator / printer and demanding a recount! Does every restaurateur in Poland have their second cousin who got a ‘B’ in English lessons do the translating for their menu??
I have often thought of starting up a “Menu translation service”. I have no idea how many of these things need translating each year but I’d be prepared to do it for a nominal fee of say 10 PLN per page (+VAT) just for the satisfaction of seeing better menus in restaurants. What do you think, good idea?