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Translation of dishes from other cultures

I'm wondering what your opinions are about the best way to translate dishes and foods that might not have a direct translation into English. For example, dulce de leche. Literally translated, this would be candy milk. But that doesn't really describe what it is; it's really a type of milky creme.

So would you say that it's best to try to translate these things into English, or just leave the dish untranslated, or maybe leave it untranslated and then describe it in parentheses?

September 4, 2013



It's funny, since creme is a french word.

I think it is perfectly sensible to use the native name for a dish, and then describe what it actually is, whether you are writing a menu, a recipe or just mentioning it in passing. For one thing, it tells you instantly where it is from, and another, you can use the name to find a recipe yourself if you want to. It's simply being respectful to the origin of the food not to translate it. Imagine if we felt we had to make up our own words for pasta and pizza? Ridiculous, I know...

Food is one of the few avenues available in which it is possible to sneak foreign words into people's heads, I would abandon that at your own peril :)


Besides, we eat with all of our senses, and we'd lose so much if we sold our sense of adventure short by slapping old, reliable names on new, mysterious culinary experiences. Not only do we spoil the aventure, but we deny the diner the experience of perhaps learning a bit of culture and history and feeling that much better for having deviated from the path of the obnoxiously predictable. Would you rather know that you're slicing into a jelly, or a swiss roll, or would you rather marvel at the idea of something called a brazo de gitano, or "Gypsy's Arm"? It's the same thing the world over, but the Spanish variant has a history all its own.

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