Translating menus

We have all seen bad translations of menus. Once we have finished laughing at the hilarious images they conjure up in our minds, we then have to decide what we are going to risk eating.

My friend Ian who has been posted to Saudi Arabia sent me an example of one such menu recently. Everything is fine until you reach the "output ratio" option. As I do not know any Arabic I cannot begin to guess what this dish might be.

482383_10151284328587574_1413299966_n.jpgAnd it doesn't end there. In the next photo, there are some familiar names before the bzalaa (which I think, from a quick Google search, might be some kind of meatball) and the balbazlae (which could be a rice dish) and then some rather unappetising options. An attempt at a translation has been made so we have some idea of what might be involved but customers may be unwilling to try these dishes.


Would anyone like to hazard a guess as to what "Dump the thickness of" might be?
Why do we see this sort of thing so often? My hunch is that the proprietor of the restaurant finds a bilingual dictionary and takes the first word s/he finds listed under the entry.  Menus, like all other subject areas, have to be researched thoroughly and translated by a native speaker of the target language. Such effort may initially seem unnecessary but, to ensure  that the carefully prepared food sounds as delicious as it no doubt tastes, the ensuing sales to satisfied customers must surely be worth it!


Hi Lisa. It's great to see these menus on your blog. Much hilarity ensued amongst my colleagues here in Saudi when we discovered these menus in this newly opened fast food place near where we work.

Arabic is the obviously the official language of Saudi Arabia. Muslims believe that Arabic is the language of God (Allah). My wife loves this beautifully calligraphic language so much she learnt to read and write it since we moved here 3 years ago. Unfortunately though she doesn't always understand what she is reading.

We often need to get official documents translated to English at my work. Interestingly, as you and I have discussed, officially Government sanctioned translators here rarely follow the rule of using a native English speaker to do this, resulting in some obviously and sometimes painfully translated documents. There's little we can do however, other than getting an "unofficial" translation done by a more professional outfit when we really need to.

My favourite badly translated sign I saw in one of those internet competitions of reader submitted photos, was the sign over a local restaurant in rural China. Next to the name of the restaurant written in Chinese characters was the English translation of the restaurant name, which was "Translator Server Error"! Isn't that just delicious?

Ian in Saudi

Thanks for your comments, Ian. And for sending the photos. I am slowly assembling a collection of badly translated signs, etc. so if you discover any more on your travels I would be happy to see them.

I'm very impressed that your wife has started to learn Arabic. There will be a steep learning curve - not least with learning a whole new script.

"Translator Server Error" is very funny (although it is also a bit depressing...). It reminds me of another sign that has done the rounds in the translation world. I'll put it up on my blog soon, so come and visit again.

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