What China's Talking About Today: Restaurant Menu Chinglish

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Beijing sets standards for the appellation of traditional Chinese cuisine.

mapo march13 ph.jpg

A plate of Tofu made by a woman with a face full of freckles, otherwise known as Mapo Tofu / Sina Weibo

The Beijing government recently published a manual with preferred English translations for traditional Chinese recipes, in an effort to combat "Chinglish," the mish-mash of Chinese and English. The guide includes translations for 2,158 Chinese recipes.

Where popular dishes like ma po tofu have been translated by some of China's eateries as "Tofu made by a woman with a face full of freckles," the preferred translation is now just the transliterated "ma po tofu."

Another popular dish known in Chinese as shao shizi tou, has been directly translated as "red burned lion head," but the preferred translation is now "braised pork balls in brown sauce."

The preferred translations, designed to prevent foreign diners from confusion, are only suggestions, and will not be enforced by law.

China's mangled English translations have been ridiculed in the Western press for years. It seems that the Chinese government is engaged in one of many efforts to avoid foreign condescension over Chinglish.

In only a few hours, well over 200,000 micro-bloggers on Sina Weibo had written about the new translations. Some seemed to resent the fact that their English was being corrected to suit foreign palettes.

"#Beijing offers official translations for Chinese cuisine# You translate it all into English, and I lose my appetite," wrote user 米桃子rr.

chen_wn wrote: "Why do you need to translate stuff into English? Just transliterate it or use Chinese characters - that's enough. When traditional Chinese food names are translated into English, the whole flavor of the dish changes. How can English ever be as succinct and graceful as Chinese?"

Still, a small group of micro-bloggers seemed to profess a yearning for stronger English proficiency.

"I would like a good mouthful of superbly fluent English," wrote悬崖边de舞者.

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Massoud Hayoun is a digital-news producer for Al Jazeera America.

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