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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Food: Translating Menus -- Not As Easy As You May Think


Lovin' the new mural on glass at La Lombarda.

Had a ton of fun  translating the Ristorante La Lombarda May menu into English. This exercise always takes much, much longer than you would think. There's the literal translating, the searching for some items, the understanding of new methods and foods, the discussion about how to describe them in English, and finally the complete digression into thoughts of how hungry we are and what we want to eat, and so on. But it's always an entertaining, mouth-watering few hours and this time was no different.

Andrea is a talented and innovative chef who is very proud of his culinary creations and techniques. With each new menu he searches out ingredients that are in season, but also some that are special delicacies. Their rareness is recognized and appreciated immediately by his Italian customers, but sometimes much can be lost in the translation, or simply unknown, for the English-speaking diners, and I often worry, while translating the menu, how to depict it in a way that is accurate but also understood and still attractive to English speakers. 

Andrea, lo chef.
(   continued...   )

Because Northern Italian cooking, as many who travel here soon discover, is not full of pastas with tomato sauces (a meat ragu is more likely, or a pesto with green beans and potatoes), or parmesans (NEVER chicken, but you'll find the eggplant kind here and there). What you will find on Andrea's menu are dishes like:

 'Risottino al nero di seppia profumato al bergamotto e crudo di gamberi siciliani.'

Allora. This one took quite some time last month. We have risottino al nero di seppia. Is risottino a small risotto? No, just a nicer way to say risotto. Al nero di seppia is black ink, but all may not know that this is made from the black ink of a squid. Should we tell them? Will it dissuade people from trying it? And if that doesn't dissuade them, how about the crudo di gamberi siciliani, which are raw, red Sicilian shrimp? And how to explain profumato al bergamotto? What is bergamotto? Bergamotto, it turns out, are a certain type of fruit, very specific in their juice and aroma. And while you won't see any of this fruit in this risotto, or any of the juice, there will be present the essence of this flavor in the dish. Eventually we settled on the translation: Black Ink and Bergamot Lemon Risotto with Raw Sicilian Shrimp. This at least lets you know to expect raw shrimp and a black risotto. And lemon is the closest flavor to Bergamotto (Scientific nameCitrus bergamia: Citrus bergamia, the Bergamot orange, is a fragrant fruit the size of an orange, with a yellow colour similar to a lemon. Wikipedia) that we could compare, although not exact. 

But if I could, I would have liked to have written more along with the English name. I would have liked to say: This is a risotto that is black in color because it is made from the ink of a squid. The taste is mild. You'll notice a flavor akin to lemon in the dish; that's from the Bergamot fruit used to lightly flavor it. And those red shrimps in the dish are not undercooked, they are meant to be eaten raw, as they are a very rare and tasty delicacy, a type of shrimp found only around Sicily.

Clearly not enough space to do that.

But I want to, because I want you to try the food. Don't be shy! You are here in a city with several innovative restaurants and chefs, so please do take some chances with your meal choices. You'll learn and who knows, possibly love it, and you'll return home and tell everyone all about the exciting new foods you tried in Stresa.

Here are some other dishes from La Lombarda menus, in the original Italian, the English, and then what I'd like you to know:

Lardo "Mangalica" e pane nero
translated to: Mangalica Pancetta and Black Rye Bread

What I want you to know: This is not lard. This is a finely cut slice of meat from a special type of long-haired pig called Mangalica. It is called lard because of the higher fat content than other pancetta, giving it a unique taste. Italians know that this is a delicacy. It looks like this:

Lardo "Mangalica" con pane nero.

Fusilli al ferretto con bacon, asparagi e salsa all'uovo leggera 
translated to: Handmade fusilli pasta with bacon, asparagus, and a light egg cream.

What I want you to know: This is not fusilli pasta as you are probably thinking of it. Fusilli al ferretto is a very particular shape of pasta that can only be made by hand. Long, thin strips of pasta are twirled around a thin iron skewer. After the entire strip is wrapped the skewer is removed, leaving the spiraled pasta. Andrea's is not made here, but it is made in this traditional fashion. 

Fusilli al ferretto.

You can begin to see why this takes so long...

Well, if I haven't persuaded you to try something new, there's always Andrea's half-pound hamburger (250g) con anelli di cipolla, patatine e insalata; yes, the classic half-pound burger with onion rings, french fries, and green salad. But guess what? This burger isn't on the menu for you. For the Italians, this is, ironically, a treat and a delicacy.



We love talking about food! We are in Italy after all... Remember the time we talked about soup? And there was this other time we spoke for far too long about condensed milk, not written about, that's another story for another day... Whatever you are eating today, buon appetito!

Want to see the entire May menu? Here it is!


fusilli al ferretto photo courtesy of cookaround.com

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