I’d like some Moo Goo Gai Serving Dish please

moo goo

Of the many hilarious English translations of Spanish food names on the variety of menus I have seen, some favorites include “battered brains” (which was not quite inaccurate, yet so disturbing) on a menu in Madrid, and of course, sweater to the trout, a mysterious offer on a menu in a bus station in Puno, Peru, which I was unable to try due to a recent episode of one of the two main malaises that travelers suffer, this one requiring vigorous toothbrushing and judicious application of Sprite and a very slowly-consumed packet of saltines.

But even more favorite than my most favorite Spanish-to-English snafus are the ones I saw from a restaurant in Mount Pleasant, in Washington DC, the type of restaurant we used to call “bulletproof Chinese,” the kind of place where a greasy sheet of plexiglass wedged into a metal runner held down to a counter that too many elbows have polished, and where in addition to Chinese food offerings, the menu features any of a manner of thing that can be fried: chicken fingers, french fries, onion rings.

Mount Pleasant is heavily Latino, and the adjoining neighborhood of Columbia Heights even moreso (at least is was when I lived there). If you want to have a good bulletproof Chinese resto, you’re might want to translate the menu into Spanish. And so they did.

The fried things were strangely translated, with chicken fingers translated to dedos de pollo, which sounds like it could mean “chicken toes,” and onion rings rendered as “cebolla suena,” which means “onion rings” (as in how a telephone rings). (Hello? Sorry, I’m having trouble hearing you, I’m talking on my onion phone).

But my favorite of all the favorite things I saw on this menu was definitely moo goo gai cacerola. Which means “moo goo gai serving dish.” Now I don’t know what the “pan” in moo goo gai pan means, but I’m guessing it doesn’t mean “serving dish.” Clearly what happened here was the poorly-thought out application of machine translation over the whole menu, even the Chinese part. I suppose we’re lucky it’s not called “cow sound baby talk gai serving dish”.

And lest you think the (one of many) bulletproof Chinese restaurants in Mount Pleasant is the only restaurant to have ever made this gaffe, here’s a little screen shot I lined up for you, from here.

Got a bad menu translation? Margaret at CachandoChile wants to know. Tell her and she’ll link you up, link back for extra linky fun. This is part of a series of group posts that the gringa bloggers in Chile have done, though not lately. Here’s one on seized goods. And another on travel horror stories (mine was read last year at TBEX’10, in case it sounds familiar).

Author: Eileen

Living in the "wrong" country for nine years now, I bike, photograph, write, eat and talk about language, but not in that order. Chile is home now, and probably will be for a while. I was raised in Brooklyn, and in response to a question I've been asked a couple of times since I've been here, no, I am not carrying a knife (most of the time).

12 thoughts on “I’d like some Moo Goo Gai Serving Dish please”

  1. I will never, ever be able to eat or read about Moo Goo Gai Pan without thinking of my childhood best friend’s Chilean mom, who called it “Mocos con Pan”. I think I’d prefer to eat the serving dish, thankyouverymuch.

    (and as I re-read, I realized that the “pan” in Chinese was probably taken as “pan” in English and changed to serving dish. And that is a lesson in why we need human translators, huh?)

    Cute post.

  2. Cow sound-baby talk-gai-serving dish! Love it!
    Delce and Pollo Picante…? um, sweet and sour pork with lots of imagination?
    And what the heck is Came de Puerco?
    Fun post and will be linked in about 37 seconds!

    1. Maybe Came de Puerco was originally Carne de Puerco and the r and the m got stuck? I have no idea. I don’t even know what Moo Goo Gai Cacerola is, but thanks for the link!

  3. Ah! yes! the carne–>came thing works!
    And I’m sure that as Taryn said, the English word “pan” turned into caserola. Too bad though, because “Moo Goo Gai Olla” would’ve had a much cooler ring to it!

  4. In Switzerland once, I ordered lachsnuperli, which was translated as crunchy salmon balls. I was picturing salmon croquettes. What I got was deep fried, breaded strips of smoked salmon. One of the greasiest combinations possible. Only after I received the food did I make the connection that “lachs” meant lox. I shouldn’t have relied on the English translation.

    However, that still doesn’t explain the “shrimp cocktail” that was essentially mayonnaise and pineapple, with a few shards of shrimp. Although, it was partly my fault for ordering seafood in a land locked country.

  5. Hmmm… once saw “Fresh caught Mobster” with the price listed as “market price” at a chinese restaurant in NJ (lobster!!!)

  6. I had heard about cebolla suena before, but I never made the association with the ringing. You learn something new every day.

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