When I was a teenager, I once found myself on a plane with my mom, flying somewhere. I can no longer recall where we were going, but I do recall my mom idly leafing through the in-flight magazine and suddenly (to my intense embarrassment) guffawing out loud at something that she had read. Surely nothing could be that funny? She later handed the magazine to me and I proceeded to discover one of the funniest pieces I had ever read before or since, and one that rapidly entered our family’s lexicon as a byword for bad menu English. You can read the full piece here (and I encourage you to do so), but the basic premise is an English tourist in foreign climes (the piece says Bangkok, but the mangled pronounciation suggests a Spanish country to me). In any event, the man calls room service and what ensues is a hilarious phonetic rendition of heavily accented English as spoken by hotel employees around the world. Highlights that my mom and I kept repeating over the years like some secret language were “Toes! Toes! Why jew Don Juan toes?“, “crease baycome” and “mopping we bother“. So began one of our family’s most enduring sets of in-jokes and the start of my lifelong love affair with mangled menu translations.
Because English is so pervasive, every man and his dog think that they can translate their native tongie into perfectly understandable English – but as hundreds of hilariously garbled street signs, shop signs and menus around the world prove, this is simply not the case. Here’s a fine selection from hilariously mistranslated menus from around the web:
- Steamed red crap with ginger (don’t know what to cook? Any old crap will do!)
- Sweat and sour chicken (made with a *lot* of physical effort)
- Healthy demolition tofu (not words I ever thought I’d see in the same sentence…)
- Chicken dumpings (eating nose to tail – and beyond…)
- Steak the guest (umm, is that the time? I really must be going.)
Given this long tradition of badly translated menu items, when I saw the above menu item of “Emperor’s nonsense with apple mush” at the Munich Oktoberfest a couple of years ago. I simply assumed that it was another incorrect translation. But I was wrong – the German name kaiserschmarr’n literally does translate as emperor’s nonsense! Wikipedia tells us that the dish was first prepared for the Austrian Emperor Franz Josef I. The (probably apocryphal) story goes that the emperor’s wife, Elisabeth of Bavaria, was obsessed with maintaining a minimal waistline and directed the royal chef to prepare only light desserts for her. When the chef first presented her with these shredded pancakes, she found the dish too rich and refused to eat it. The exasperated Emperor said: “Now let me see what Schmarr’n our chef has cooked up” – but apparently the dish met his approval as he finished his own and also his wife’s serving. And from then on the dish was said to be called Kaiserschmarr’n across the empire. Today it remains popular throughout Austria and Bavaria, and a version is also served in Czech Republic.
The story may be a bit of fun, but let me assure you that nothing nonsensical about these delicious sweet shredded pancakes!
- 6 egg whites
- 4 Tbsp caster sugar
- 1 pinch salt
- 6 egg yolks
- 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
- 2 Tbsp single cream
- ½ cup of of raisins or sultanas
- 50 ml brandy (or orange juice)
- 60 g flour
- 25 g butter (for frying)
- icing sugar (for dusting)
- Fruit compote or jam (to serve)
- Pour the brandy over the raisins and microwave on high for 15 - 30 seconds and let them soak until the rum is absorbed (about 20 minutes).
- Separate the eggs and in a clean bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks, form, adding a pinch of salt towards the end of the mixing. In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until pale yellow. Add milk and flour, a little at a time to avoid lumps, and mix well. Fold in egg whites. Let the batter rest for about ten minutes.
- Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Warm up a large frying pan (about 30cm in diameter – preferably one with a metal handle or a skillet, so it can go into the oven) and melt the butter in it.
- Stir the batter again, then pour into hot pan. Drain and sprinkle the raisins evenly over the top. Cover the pan and let the pancake cook for 10 minutes over medium heat. When the edges start showing signs of turning golden and bubbles appear on top, place the whole pan on the middle shelf in the pre-heated oven and cook for a further 5-10 minutes until just set.
- Turn out onto a plate, tear apart with 2 forks, sprinkle with sifted icing sugar to serve. Serve with preserves of your choice – apple puree is traditional, but I love serving it with chunky apricot jam.