At the start of a new year, most of us are thinking about food and drink – not just about how indulgent we’ve been or what delicious dishes we’ve eaten over the holidays, but we also think about what we’re potentially going to give up or cut back on as part of our new year’s resolutions. In the UK, for example, many people stop eating sweets and chocolate after having gorged themselves on masses of selection boxes, and those who are a little more daring take part in Dry January – a movement that encourages people to have an alcohol-free month and to even raise a bit of money for charity in doing so! We’re no different in the English department here at WIENERS+WIENERS – especially as many of us visit our home countries over the festive period and treat ourselves to national and regional foods. It all sounds wonderful, but it can actually result in some very confusing conversations when we return to Germany and talk about what a great time we had at home – not just with colleagues in other departments, but sometimes even among us native English speakers too! There’s a few specialities in particular in the UK that can be quite puzzling if you’re not familiar with them – mince pies that don’t have any minced beef inside, pigs in blankets that are actually just sausages wrapped in bacon, and Yorkshire puddings that aren’t a dessert, but are served as part of a main course. It’s always tricky trying to explain something in another language where there either isn’t a direct translation for it or if the concept of it is completely foreign!
However, it’s not just during conversations in the office about Christmas that we have such problems. Throughout the entire year, many of our customers ask us to translate menus. It sounds like a simple task but, somewhat like translating fashion texts, often requires much more extensive research than translating legal contracts or financial reports, for instance. To give you an idea of just how difficult the topic of cross-cultural culinary translations can be, take a look at the following examples that are commonly found on both German and English menus:
Rote Grütze is a popular dessert in northern Germany, and is a take on the Danish dish called Rødgrød. The literal translation for Rote Grütze is red groats, but the dish is much more appetising than it sounds – it’s actually a red-berry compote and is traditionally served with vanilla sauce.
Surprisingly, this one does have a direct translation into English – kale. This superfood has become quite popular in the UK in recent years and is available in various different forms such as crisps, in smoothies, or steamed and served as a side dish. In Germany, however, Grünkohl is a well-established favourite and even has a bit of a cult status – when people talk about Grünkohl, they’re usually referring to a seasonal dish consisting of stewed kale served with caramelised potatoes, pork and smoked sausages – it’s a staple of most German grandmas’ cooking repertoires!
Sauerkraut is quite a familiar term among native English speakers and we often wonder why we don’t just translate Sauerkraut as pickled cabbage since it is a similar condiment in the UK and can be found in most supermarkets. The big difference here is that vinegar is added to salted cabbage to create pickled cabbage, whereas to create Sauerkraut, the cabbage is salted and then left to ferment, creating its own brine. Delicious – and incredibly nutritious too!
If you’re feeling adventurous when you’re in northern Germany, you might order the local delicacy – Labskaus. There are many variations of this dish, but common ingredients include corned beef, beetroot, a fried egg and even pickled herring wrapped around a gherkin. It doesn’t sound like a winning combination but it’s said to be a great hangover cure – perfect for the beginning of January!
How about an Alsterwasser to go with your Labskaus? Alsterwasser literally translates to ‘water from the Alster’, the Alster being a river that runs right through the centre of Hamburg. There are other names for this drink throughout Germany, Austria and Switzerland, all of which have translations that are as confusing as the next, but don’t worry – the waiter won’t go dunking your stein in any rivers. Instead, they’ll simply present you with a refreshing pilsner-and-lemonade shandy. And if you fancy something a little bit different, you can also ask for a Diesel, a pilsner-and-cola shandy.
Arguably one of the most confusingly named dishes to come from the UK, this winter warmer is the perfect dish to get you through the freezing weather! Luckily, this recipe doesn’t include any type of frog, and all you need to put together this delicious meal is a huge Yorkshire pudding (made from a batter similar to the one when making pancakes, that rises and turns golden and crispy when baked) with two rows of juicy sausages inside! Served with seasonal vegetables and lashings of gravy, toad-in-the-hole is a real family favourite!
Neither its name nor its ingredients make haggis sound particularly appealing, but this national dish is considered a delicacy. While it might not be your first choice of meal when visiting Scotland, the savoury dish made by mincing sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, onion, oatmeal and suet, and stuffing it all into the sheep’s stomach is actually really popular. It is traditionally eaten on Burns Night – a celebration in honour of Robert Burns, who is widely considered as Scotland’s national poet.
It’s uncertain where the amusing name for this classic pudding came from, but this dessert is loved across the whole of the UK. The suet sponge laced with currants or raisins (hence the reference to ‘spotted’) is usually served doused in thick custard and is often found on most gastropub menus up and down the country.
Welsh rarebit comes in varying degrees of sophistication – it can be anything from toast with melted cheese on top to smothering it in a rich béchamel sauce. Surprisingly, however, it doesn’t include any rabbit meat despite its name. As with many other traditional dishes in the UK, it’s unclear where its name originally came from, but a possible answer is that rarebit was a filling meal favoured in times when meat was scarce since ‘rarebit’ is the Welsh folk spelling of rabbit.
Bubble and squeak
After all the extravagance over the holidays, there’s no better way to use up any leftovers than creating your own version of bubble and squeak. This hearty accompaniment to a full English breakfast is made by taking any leftover vegetables from the previous day’s roast dinner, mashing them together and frying them in a shallow pan. If you’re still full from all your indulgence, bubble and squeak is great for freezing, so you can be sure not to be wasteful!
Now, after all these culinary musings, let us say Mahlzeit – an expression that is untranslatable in English – and wish you all the very best for a healthy, happy and successful new year! May 2019 be filled with good food, good times and lots of translations!