Thursday, June 19, 2008

Lung Slice By Circus Freak Atop Hedgehog. To Go.

Look, I haven't been to China, but I was under the impression that I had at least eaten Chinese food on occasion. Apparently, I either a) have not or b) had not clue as to what Chinese food actually consists of. Actually, it might be c) I'm OK with the American version of Chinese food and I can do without being all "authentic" when it comes to stuff I'll be ingesting.

Those folks over there in Beijing (yep, the one in China) are still getting ready for the Olympics. (It's under Communist rule, what do you expect?) Currently, Beijing is offering the local restaurants an official English translation of the local dishes. Turns out, Chinese doesn't translate all that well to English and it's not much better if you do it the other way around (like a lot of things, really). In fact, some of the translations are down right frightening and would send any potential diner scurrying for the exit.

Let's look at a few examples. First up, appetizers. You tell me that you're going to go into a restaurant in Beijing (or anywhere else, for that matter) and order "husband and wife's lung slice" off of the menu. Correct. Marital pulmonary a freaking appetizer. Mmmm...doesn't that sound appetizing? NO! Of course not. But it has been miraculously and officially translated in English and you will now be able to order "beef and ox tripe in chili sauce". Sound better? A little? Yeah, I'm having a hard time with the "tripe" part myself. What else do they have?

Well, what they have is a very strange way of naming their food dishes from what I can tell. For instance, you used to be able to order "Bean curd made by a pock-marked woman". (I don't know why you'd want to, but you could.) But now? Behold! It's "Mapo tofu" for everyone!

I'm a little unclear on the naming of the dish based upon the personal appearance of she who prepared it? What's next? Spicy noodles made by man with one leg? Mu Shu Pork created by disfigured circus freak? It seems odd.

Now, barnyard animals! A "pullet" by definition, is a hen of the domestic chicken less than a year old. (They start 'em young in Beijing apparently.) Thus, when you are ordering "steamed pullet" a la post-translation, you're getting steamed chicken. If you were ordering the "steamed pullet" a la pre-translation, you'd be ordering "chicken without sexual life." (Well, if it's a chicken and I'm eating it, while I should hope so, I don't want to know that!) (And let me just tell you, it was scary as hell looking for a picture of that dish on Google. Lord only knows what twisted images were going to pop up. I had to look at the results with one eye shut.) Behold! That chicken!

Naturally, change brings worry. And anxiety. And opposition. So it should come as no surprise to you that some of the Chinese over there in Beijing are not all that happy with the "Re-Naming Of Food So It Doesn't Sound Gross" pre-Olympic movement. According to the good folks over at the (where you'll always find Tasmania's news and more!) one individual was quoted as saying, "I don't like this new naming method, it's abandoning Chinese tradition. There are many stories in the names of these dishes." Well, sure there are. But are they stories you WANT to hear? I'm not so sure that you do!

I mean, so far we have the "husband and wife lung slice". What's THAT story? "It's the tale of two people, madly in love, who marry despite the opposition of their families. In a scene reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, a murder-suicide develops, and before he dies, the very last act of love that the husband performs, is slicing out his wife's lung and then slicing out his to go next to it." All on a plate with a parsley garnish and a side of rice! I can do without the stories, thanks anyway.

And while I appreciate the effort that is going into this undertaking, they're going to want to keep at it. There's about 50 days to go, so there is time. I went to the Beijing Tourism Bureau (the BTB) website and clicked on Restaurants. There were two types of restaurants I could choose from, Gourmet Streets or Long-Standing Restaurants. I went with Long Standing. I found myself with 10 choices. Most of them were named The "Something Chinese" Restaurant. Just like that. The Xiniuchun Restaurant. The Quyuan Restaurant. You get the point. I went with the Dadi Western Restaurant, figuring that the US is west. Apparently, according to the Chinese, the US must be the "far west" because "west" in the case of this Long Standing Restaurant, is Russia. Here is the description of the Dadi from the BTB:
  • Dadi Restaurant is one of the first time-honored brands that offer Western food in Beijing. Set up in 1945, it was located in the West Chang’an Avenue which was called the Restaurant Street in Beijing, and outstood from the restaurants there by its Russian food. Later it moved to Xisi Crossroad and finally to the present location due to business requirement. Because the food and decoration of it are similar with Moscow Restaurant in Beijing and it locates in the urban area, hence the name “Mini Moscow Restaurant in the City.”

For starters, when your restaurant is named "Dadi Western Restaurant", you cannot say, "hence the name "Mini Moscow Restaurant in the City" because that's NOT the name! "Hence" is like saying "and that's why we call it this". But in order to do that, you actually have to call it that before you explain it! But that's not the only problem. Then we have a description of the food. Behold!

  • As Dadi Restaurant started its business, it implemented the quality standard of being original. It offers Russian foods that focus on oil and color, and are oily and strong in flavor. Featured with sweet, sour, chili and salty tastes, it has rich variety of high, medium and low grades of foods. It is praise by common people in Beijing Consumable Western Restaurant because of its economical foods. Dadi Western Restaurant has created its featured dishes during dozens years business.

Well, I suppose if I'm in Beijing and I get a hankerin' for some low grade, oily food, I'll know just where to head over to. Until then (which will be right around, oh, never) I think I might want to see a menu first. Just in case. And I'm in luck! Here's a sampling of their menu items:

  • Featured dishes: Chicken Roll with Butter, Ham Salad, Jilin Pawn, Pan Fried Hodgepodge, Roast Mandarin Fish with Milk, Stewed Beef in Pot, King Bakemeat, borsch, Fried Pork Chop
Well. Russia in China is certainly diverse. What the hell is Pan Fried Hedgehog Hodgepodge? A hodgepodge of what? And King Bakemeat? I keep thinking of like King Neptune, the God of the Sea. Or King Vitaman, the cereal guy. (Oddly enough, they both wear crowns. Hmmm.) So what is it? The baked meat of a King? And then just thrown in there is a fried pork chop? I don't get it.

One more, real quick. Duyichu Restaurant has quite the assortment of foods on their menu. But the one that got my attention was the "Fried Round Mass of Food."

"Um, hello, BTB? You might need to have a word or two with the fine folks over at the Duyichu. Perhaps they could be more specific as to what the "food" in the "Fried Round Mass of Food" would consist of. Thanks."

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