How to translate food without getting egg on your face

When people go on holiday, they want something different, a fresh contrast with their everyday lives – to encounter things that don’t exist in their own country, like new ways of eating and new foods.

If you run a hotel, a restaurant or a gourmet food business, for instance, one of the challenges you face is how to fully convey such delights to foreign visitors and customers. English holidaymakers have heard of spaghetti, Chianti and mozzarella, of course, but do they know about orecchiette, Negroamaro or paranza?

There are many issues to bear in mind.

First, you must avoid clumsy mistranslations and spelling errors:

insalata di arance, finocchi e rucola

is not

orange salad with arugola and funnel”(!)

That just makes you look amateurish, as if you don’t care.

Instead, use

orange, rocket and fennel salad”.

Now let’s say you have a catalogue, website, brochure, menu or flyer to promote sumptuous Italian delicacies, such as busiate al pesto trapanese.

The name means little to most tourists, so you need to explain it from a whole host of perspectives that are obvious to you and to most Italians but far from clear to your English-speaking potential customers:

  • what kind of dish it is
  • what it tastes like
  • where it comes from
  • what connotations it has (e.g. rustic or sophisticated, traditional or modern, local or national, seasonal or otherwise)
  • what’s in it.

The last point is especially important, as the last thing you want is for someone with an almond allergy to try the dish and be taken ill in your restaurant (imagine the negative reviews on TripAdvisor …).

One rendering could be:

busiate al pesto trapanese (a traditional Sicilian dish of macaroni-like short pasta in a ground almond, basil and tomato sauce)”.

Or, if that is too long:

busiate al pesto trapanese (traditional Sicilian short pasta with almonds, basil and tomato)”.

The key is to know your target readers and what they need explaining – and to be able to do so incisively and persuasively. That’s where a professional translator can help you.

For now, buon appetito!