Bad Translation Fun: Menus

Bad Translation Fun Menu: Choritos to the Vapor, Chile

May I have Males to the Vapor ?

You don’t need to travel far outside your language zone to find well-meaning but often funny and even unfortunate translations. Signs, tourism information, and especially restaurant menus are often a great source of entertainment (as the Asian-oriented fun-with-language-gaffes site Engrish proves over and over again) , and Chile is no exception. Get your red-hot menu blunders here!

I’ve kept a “Bad Translation Fun” file for years, where I’ve collected true oddball translations I’ve come across in Chile, and it’s about time I started sharing. So, let’s begin at a restaurant. Always a great place for Espanglich fodder!

True story: a friend used to work on a cruise ship and confessed an embarrassing moment. He proudly announced to a couple from the US that he was the “eunuch sommelier” on board. Imagine their reaction! They delicately explained what a eunuch was and suggested that maybe he was the ONLY sommelier on board (Spanish for only is “único“).

Here are some of my favorite mangled menu items. I swear I’ve seen all of these with my own eyes!!

Bad Translation Fun at the dinner table: Seafood

(1st: Spanish menu item, 2nd: attempted English translation, 3rd: what they meant to say…)

Choritos al Vapor
Choritos to the Vapor
–>Steamed Mussels

Machas a la Parmesana
Males a la Parmesana
–>Razor Clams Parmesan

12 Unidades de Colas de Camarón Salteados c/Champiñon
12 units of Tails of Attacked Camarón c/Champiñon
–>12 Sautéed Shrimp w/Mushrooms

Locos con papas mayo
Crazys with potatoes May
–>Chilean abalone with potatoes and mayonnaise

Jardin del Mar: Surtido de Mariscos Finos (locos, ostiones, camarones, machas, choro maltón)
Garden Gives the Sea (crazys, oysters, shrimps, males, choro maltón)
–>Assorted Shellfish (Chilean abalone, scallops, shrimp, razor clams, mussels)
(Note that ostiones are scallops, not oysters!)

Róbalo a la plancha  (Róbalo is a fish, but robar is to steal, so…)
Steal it to the iron
–>Grilled Snook (Yikes! Sounds cannibalistic to me!)

Róbalo frito
Steal it fried
–>Fried Snook

Bad Translation Fun at the dinner table: Dessert

Pie de Limón
Foot of Lemon
–>Lemon Pie

Bad Translation Fun at the dinner table: Drinks

Bad Translation Fun: Drinks Menu, Chile

I'll skip the Disposable Drunk this time and just have a singular You Water Down Mineral please

Bad Translation Fun: The Wine List

Vino Blanco o Tinto por Copa
Cup of white wine or I Dye
–> Glass of White or Red Wine

Sta. Emiliana Blanco y Tinto Botella 1/2
Sta. White and Stained(Red) Emiliana Bottle 1/2
–>Sta. Emiliana White and Red Wine, 1/2 Bottle

And check this out (!)

Casillero del Diablo Blanco y Tinto Botella 3/4
Pigeonhole of the White and Stained(Red) Devil Bottle 3/4
–>Casillero del Diablo White and Red,  Bottle 3/4 liter
Bonus Track: I once saw a sloppily printed brochure with an obvious machine translation offering a tour to the Shell & Bull Winery!! (That would be Concha y Toro to the rest of us!!)

I’m not sure what I want for dinner, as long as it’s served with one of those Stained Red Devil Bottles!!

So, what’s YOUR favorite Bad Translation Fun menu item?

Group Post idea!!

Why not write a post on your own blog about Bad Menu Translations (any language). Link to this post and I’ll link back to you!

Eileen’s Sweater Gives Trout on her menu-inspired post at Bearshapedsphere

Terri at Found in Chile considers a Suck of Crab for lunch

More from Eileen: Moo goo gai serving dish

Leigh at Crooked Compass finds a blush-worthy salad on the menu

Isabel, from Of Heart and Mind found some magical surprises on the menu

Judy gets “gutsy” at It’s Over

Not exactly menus…

But fun food-and-language posts just the same:

Piglet in Portugal’s chicken-clucking grocery adventures

Thorny Rose-now that’s some classy sugar!

For more silly Spanglish fun…

Click on the Language Category and/or Language Tag (in the right-hand column), but here are a few favorites:

Chilean Spanglish Spoken here: Rooster from the Glue

Annje Speaks Chilensis.

Gringas Die Laughing


65 responses to “Bad Translation Fun: Menus

  1. Hahahahah so funny! This is why in Paris they don’t bother to translate menu at all! 😀
    I had to order zuzuzu zuzu zu to a waiter while he was watching me with look “wat a heck this girl is talking about?!” I was just telling the same what the menu was telling to me!!!
    Again great entry! Cheers! xx

  2. @Marija-Thanks–and yes, we have to at least give them credit for trying!

  3. On a Facebook group (Cosas que sólo pasan en Chile), I saw the following thing at a menu in Pichilemu:
    “Steak with DADS FRIED” (Bistec con papas fritas).

    I still remember the billboard in Parque Arauaco from Gatsby that said “remember to claim you’re discount”.

  4. Very funny Peg! You’ll be handling any orders for me, should I ever make it for a visit!

  5. Good ones Cristóbal! I remember seeing Papas translated as Popes too! (Popes Fried!) And I wonder how many people bit and said “I’m a discount” (Sadly, I doubt many noticed!)

  6. It’s a deal Barb, you just get yourself here and I’ll make sure you get all the red stained cups and feet of lemon you want!

  7. Haha! Love it. I need to keep a list because I can’t remember any of the funny ones I’ve come across now but my all-time favorite English student studied in France about 30 years ago so he would go Spanish -> French -> English and one time recommended I try his favorite Peruvian restaurant because they have great sea fruit there

  8. Ah! Frutos del mar! Sea fruit–of course!!

  9. Hilarious! When we were beginning to learn English in Chile, our tutor would always make it to us English is NOT Spanish translated. For example; ‘entre no mas’ cannot be translated as ‘between no more’, tome una silla in English is not ‘drink a chair’, lol, 🙂

  10. Woops, I meant to say ‘always make it clear to us English’.

  11. Good post-I also can’t think of the many mistakes I’ve seen right now. Even “Google traductor” would be better than many translations. Points for them trying but you have to be a detective 🙂

  12. I’m laughing so hard that I can barely reply. I haven’t noticed it so much here, but in Spain I took photos of similar menus. BTW, Margaret, would you rather be grilled or fried?

  13. Pingback: Machine translation! No! Pukey feeling? Yes! | Bearshapedsphere

  14. have seen popes with mayo! Poor greasy popes!

  15. @John-yes, literal translating can lead to some pretty funny results!
    @Laura-most restaurants in Santiago are pretty good now, but along the coast and in the regions there are still some real doozies! My husband always reminds me that I’m supposed choose from the menu, not EDIT it!
    @Rose- grilled or fried? Haha-Well, I’ve certainly been grilled about a thing or two, and in Spanish (or is it just Chile?) I say “estoy frita” when I’m in trouble… not sure which I prefer though!

  16. Pingback: Group Post: Bad Translation Fun: Menus | ofHeartandMind

  17. @Margaret-yes, I was outside Santiago. Even an hour away makes a big difference so I was always torn between being grateful for the few that tried-and wanting to correct English. And John is right, there is so much that doesn’t translate the way people think.

    Something to ponder-how many will pick up misinformation from this blog and somewhere we will see “a tour to the Shell & Bull Winery”…

  18. “Complete Special” is the best translation ever of a hot dog with mayonaise. This jewel can be found at the Prosit “soda fountain” menu, at Plaza Italia.

  19. @Eileen, @ThornyRose, @Laura. I’m rolling on the floor laughing.

  20. My favourite is

    Vino Blanco o Tinto por Copa
    Cup of white wine or I Dye
    Glass of White or Red Wine

    I can not think of any bad translations off the top off my head re menus but I do remember saying words incorrectly at the supermarket and then miming what I wanted to the shop assistants. They had great fun at my expense!

  21. Pingback: The Grocery Shopping “Experience” in Portugal | Piglet in Portugal

  22. Oh Pip! What a fun story! I would have loved to have been there to see that! So you bring up another point–when menus or other items are not translated into a language we understand, what do we do–or what are we WILLING to do to get our point across or obtain the item we want/need?

  23. No he tenido la suerte de encontrar cosas así (aunque se que en el restorán chino de un poco más allá de mi casa debe haber algo así.)

    Pero, este es uno de mis favoritos.

  24. @Palomin Increíble! no había visto esto jamás y es excelente!! Gracias!!
    For those who don’t read Spanish- this link (in English) is to a post about a very curious Chinese menu–hilarious!

  25. Not a menu item, but struck me funny just the same. High class:

    p.s. If I can ever find the photos of the menu from Toledo, I will share.

  26. @Thorny-Oohh! The translation of product names could make for a whole new post! Especially for the “high class” stuff! Thanks!

  27. Yes, yes, yes … as an English teacher in Japan I’ve assure you that I have had my share of the weird and wonderful. One that comes to mind is the word ”erection”, not the sexual goods but something built or erected. I had just moved into a new building (erection!) when a student blurted out ” Professor you have beautiful erection!” Enough said.

  28. John-thanks for starting my day off with a guffaw! This was the first thing I read this morning and almost choked on my coffee! I can just imagine the scenario-you trying not to laugh and trying not to cause the poor student the horrors of shame!
    In grad school I had a classmate from India who had learned English as an adult and was quite sensitive about it. She had to interview a professional and present it to the class. She was already nervous, but when she began talking about this top-level woman, a company CEO, as an ex-e-CU-tive woman, we all laughed spontaneously and unintentionally and she was upset. We had to explain the difference between an ex-EC-utive and a woman executioner, and the mental image of a woman at the top of the corporate ladder that it produced.

  29. Ha ha ha! This post cracked me up! THanks for sharing!

  30. Pingback: I’d like some Moo Goo Gai Serving Dish please | Bearshapedsphere

  31. Got another one up for you, check out moo goo gai serving dish, here:

    thanks for organizing the group blog post!

  32. Pingback: Living a life between two languages « Abby's Line

  33. This is a great idea for a group post. Your botched menu translations are hilarious…The next time I’m in Chile, I’ll be sure to order some crazys!

    A few years ago, I wrote a post about wacky transations, my favorite of which was a menu item called “Moby’s Dick Salad.” Wonder if everything was free-range. Here’s the link:

  34. @Eileen- thanks for yet another fun post! Love the Washington-Latino-Spanglish-Chinese approach to dinner!
    @Leigh- hahaha and OMG-still giggling over here!

  35. Had “chupe de locos” for dinner last night… so if I were a bad menu translator, would I call that… “Crazy Sucker”?

  36. Pingback: A suck of crabs /  Found in Chile

  37. I can answer that: A Suck of Crazys, if you are in a certain restaurant in Pichilemu. 😉 Reposted my old one thanks for the reminder!

  38. Funny post! 🙂 You are so right that there are many instances where the language is so bad that you forget content and focus instead on editing and proofreading. It happens to me all the time. And it happens everywhere, not just in Chile.
    Here is a line I found at a restaurant in Budapest last year:

    “Slow steamed beef cheeks, cock’s testicle stew with cottage cheese dumplings”

    Not very appetizing, huh? I even took a picture of that menu. I also found another gem at El Hoyo restaurant in Santiago, where they listed ‘Pollo arberjado’. You see, the local language may be just as challenging to people. A simple and common Chilean specialty such as ‘pollo arvejado’ should be easy to spell, right? Apparently not.

  39. Hi A A! Yes, of course this happens everywhere! It’s just that most of my own experience is from right here in Chile–but that’s why I invited others to share their own experiences. Beef cheeks and cock’s testicle stew, huh? Hmm, er–interesting? Haha- did you try it?
    And yes, spelling here is pretty bad sometimes–which is particularly sad when we remember just how phonetic Spanish is! I saw a sign in Jumbo’s wine aisle once that said “Gran Venta de Binos”!!!

  40. In the now closed but really good Peruvian restaurant they had Pollo a la Brasa which in English is of course “Chicken in a bra”

  41. Noooo! Chicken in a BRA?? Are you kidding me??? Ahahha!! That’s CLASSIC!!!
    Which restaurant was that?? (here in Santiago?)

  42. Hi,
    I’ve tried to leave a comment twice on “The Thorny Rose” blog, and I can’t. Says my URL has illegal characters…I may be a bit of a character myself but not illegal…
    anyone else experiencing difficulties?

  43. Ps great Post BTW Margaret, I am enjoying reading all the comments and gradually visiting all the blogs…

  44. Hi Pip–I’ll pass the word on to Thorny Rose. Wonder what’s going on?
    And glad you enjoyed the post–it’s a fun topic! I enjoy reading about everyone else’s experiences too! (and am still chuckling about your chicken impression!)

  45. thornyrosedechile

    PiP, thanks for reading my blog and trying to comment. I am a techie dunce and have no idea why you can’t comment. @ Margaret, thanks for letting me know.

  46. Maybe it was the more formal….Chicken in a Brasier. It was in Ruinas de Machu Pichu, a second floor Peruvian restaurant that was right behind Mercado Central. Great place, turned me on to Peruvian food and somehow restored my faith in eating well here in Chile. Makes me hungry, and a bit sad, to think about it now.

  47. Ha-ha, Matt! Here’s to dads, French or otherwise!

    Found my Toledo menu post:

  48. Like many others who posted, I laughed so hard it brought tears to my eyes! Thanks to you all for sharing. We’re in the midst of our move to Stgo, so the humor found today is excellent medicine.
    And in all humility, may I offer my own translation humor…. we lived in Maracaibo some years ago. My first experience in a non English speaking country. I naively thought my 4 years of A+ Castilian Spanish years before would suffice as a base. Wrong. They speak “maracuch” there. A hybrid of the language of the indigenous people of the region, Spanish, and the heavy influence of Italian and German heritage and slang. Also, I commonly mixed up similar sounding words.
    I was at a supermarket one day, noticed some mushrooms, and excitedly called to my husband (difficult to find a lot of products in VZ). A nice local person noticed my reaction and asked me (in Spanish) basically how do you cook with these? I felt overly confident in my conversational abilities and told her that we love to saute them with garlic and butter. Her eyes bugged out, she crossed herself and walked away. I could not figure out why she reacted so strangely.
    Later I realized that I said ojo, instead of ajo. And manzanilla.instead of mantequilla.
    My husband also reminded me that there was a lot of voodoo and other superstitious rituals in that particular region. No wonder she ran away!

  49. Hi Catherine- thanks for the chuckle–and could I convince you to send that mushroom with eyeballs and manzilla recipe please? Loved that! I can just imagine the look on that woman’s face!
    And did you see Piglet in Portugal’s link to her post about imitating a chicken? Oh the stories we can tell on ourselves!

  50. ah, it’s good to be able to laugh at ourselves!
    Oh yes, Margaret, I did see PiP’s story – I was enjoying my morning coffee as I explored her site. In reading her chicken-laying-egg description, I spit out the coffee in a huge laugh, and sucked half of it down my throat causing extreme coughing – not to mention the mess that sprayed on my computer screen, coffee table and rug.
    Oh it gets better… one of my cats is near the spray/cough zone. Peripherally I notice her take off real fast… She’s one who escapes our fencing all the time and doesn’t need much motivation. She tore out the back door, up the huge bird of paradise tree and over the fence, and I spent a good half hour calling her. Now please note that I’m still in my jammies ’cause I was up most of the night with my brothers and sisters discussing my mother’s health – I slept in and got up late.(California time).
    So I’m out in the backyard calling the stinkin’ cat and looking over the fence and of course my neighbors see me… in my jammies. At that point I thought “Curses, Piglet in Portugal!”.

  51. hahaha! good one!I’m sure PiP will get a kick out of her international influence!

  52. Hi Catherine…at least I don’t have to contend with VooDoo… 🙂 I would not fancy miming that 😳
    I am in France at the moment and there are def lots of opportunities for misunderstandings re translation!


  53. Love your site, Pip. And so glad I discovered yours, Margaret.

  54. Thanks Catherine! And I’m a big fan of PiP’s too!

  55. Hi Margaret,

    I love your bad translations (Crazys with potatoes May is my favorite). But join the club. Robalo in Chile ain’t snook – it’s Patagonian blennie (or Faulkland Mulet, Eleginops maclovinus). 🙂


  56. What about “HAY SANDWICHES”?

    Actually perfectly good Chilean for – “SANDWICHES TODAY”

  57. haha-that was the TRANSLATION? As in sandwiches made with HAY? funny!

  58. Hillarious!! I am Portuguese by birth, but was brought up in South Africa, and live in Australia now, but we have traveled the world and came across many crazy translations. Once in Turkey a sign outside a restaurant advertised “fresh flesh” (fresh meat). In Portugal I stayed in a hotel, and while reading the room´s leaflet about the hotel services, etc, there were so many mistakes that I decided to put it right and wrote out everything in the correct way. When I signed out, I gave it to the desk clerk, and told her the leaflet should be correctly written in English. She just took the paper and didn´t even say Thank you. I wonder if they ever changed it!. I had been hoping for a discount on the room, in lieu of my “unrequested” translation services LOL.

  59. Hi Sami- The flesh vs meat translation comes up in Spanish sometimes too because they use the same word for both (carne). I think that’s also true in German (Fleisch). Funny about your voluntary translation experience. I had a similar experience with a travel company whose translations were so bad I couldn’t bear it and started correcting them–supposedly in turn for some of the interesting tours they offered to places I was unlikely to have access to otherwise, but the company went broke before I could collect. Oh well…

  60. As I was saying, before I messed up, one of my favourites has always been ‘Rape in a seaman-like fashion’ for Rape a la marinera

  61. Or menus apart, how about “Deliberamos groserías” for ‘We deliver groceries’

  62. Hay sandwiches is fine and means literally ‘there are sandwiches’ or better we have sandwiches. (Hay not hoy!) tish tish

  63. Vi una vez “Bird with rice” en lugar de “chicken with rice” en un restaurant en Santiago.

  64. Pingback: 10 Restaurant Translations To Will Amuse You (to Say the Least)

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