Thursday, July 29, 2010

Curious Cookery: In the Words of "Nutrition Delicacy"

I just love the non-presupposing, devil-may-care, perhaps even naive attempts at translating many a Chinese cookbook into plain old English. I mean that with all due respect, fondness, and even gratitude, as nothing gives me more pleasure than perusing a badly translated collection of recipes. Somehow, the mysterious, incongruous, occasionally misguided directions make me even more wildly determined to make something edible out of them. Case in point, the hot, best-selling mini-cookbook series in the local LA Chinese community entitled Nutrition Delicacy (and I made that one up - don't really know if they're either hot or best-selling).

I received the first installment from my mom for my birthday last year, and was quite jazzed as it contained a lot of down-homey comfort foods that I remember from my childhood in Taiwan. The title, Nutrition Delicacy: Traditidnal [sicLocal Food, was simultaneously alluring and disconcerting, and I found myself riveted by the simple though challenging instructions contained therein, such as "clean the cylindric models and paint oil inner side" or "stew kelp, dry bean curd , chicken with soup of 2 for a while."

These masterful culinary admonitions left me totally admonished and craving for more. Enter Volume II, Nutrition Delicacy: Two Dishes with One Soup. Damn. How do they do it? Pure marketing genius. 

All said, the recipes are actually nostalgic and authentic, albeit badly in need of a translation of the translation. But then again, it would be way too boring if written in coherent English.

And now for a sampling of those "nutrition delicacies":

FRY CRAB FEET. I can just picture the Red Lobster restaurant chain here in SoCal advertising "Fry Crab Feet with Drawn Butter" - a surefire crowd pleaser. But the Chinese foodie in me is not so much into semantics. Fry or fried? Feet, legs or claws? Hell, who cares, as long as it's crab!

STEW DUCK WITH LEVISTICUM. I'm starting to see a pattern emerging here. Chinese recipe titles such as "Fry Crab!" "Stew Duck!" "Shrimp Thicken Soup!" etc., etc., are oddly assertive, perhaps even mildly epithetic. Makes you wanna cut the crap and just get down to cooking!

Anyhoo, the "Stew Duck with Levisticum" sounds herby. My mom will probably know what the heck "Levisticum" is, but I'm sure it'll be a whole 'nother phonetic tongue twister in Taiwanese. I'm also trying to interpret the first ingredient on the list "1/2 duck with red face." A genetic variation of the green-headed Mallard or half a duck that died of embarrassment? 


  1. Just as fun... using Google translate on Asian recipe sites. Oh boy, what a nightmare some of those dishes end up coming out as. The upshot though, you'll quickly become the absolute master of ingredient substitution :)

  2. Nicholas, thank the deuces that these recipes are also written in Chinese. When all else fails and I'm on the precipice of insanity, I can just ask my mom to translate. Moms can't be overrated.