If you love Italian food as much as I do, translating an Italian menu might be your dream project. Have you ever been lucky enough to translate foodie texts or menus from Italian? Then you’ll know what I mean when I say it’s more challenging than you first think.
Menus are chock-a-block with words and names which simply don’t exist in English. So, how do you go about tackling this mouth-watering minefield? Here are my tips to help you. They’re based on my experience of translating food texts from Italian to English, but could be applied to other language combinations too.Translating menus is more challenging than you think Click To Tweet
1. Do your research
This is the first stage for any translation. Check the context, find out as much as you can about the restaurant, its location, the kind of clientele. This will help you have an idea of the cultural background and experience of your readers. The result? You create a better translation fit for its purpose.
Research any terms or dishes which you are not familiar with. It’s also a good idea to look at examples of similar menus in English. By this I mean either other translations from similar restaurants or original English-language menus from restaurants of a similar standard.
If there’s anything you’re unsure about, check with the client.
- Warning: Be prepared for a lot of mouth-watering and tummy rumbling!
2. Keep it simple
Don’t over-translate. Yes, it’s helpful for you to have a clear and detailed idea about each dish or product, but you don’t have to give all of this information to the reader. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of regional specialities in Italy, including specific filled pasta dishes with traditional sauces. It’s not always necessary to explain in detail exactly what the filling or shape or technique involved in a dish is.
3. Keep some Italian flavour
- You might feel like a fraud sending off an English translation full of Italian terms, but there are loads of Italian terms which are perfectly ok to use. One reason for leaving these terms in Italian is because they have become part of our English-speaking culture. If you’re not sure whether it’s appropriate to leave the Italian term ‘bresaola’ or ‘agnolotti’ in your menu translation, check your trusted English dictionary. Also check menus you find in the UK, like Jamie Oliver’s Italian, for example. If an Italian term is frequently used on English-language menus, there’s a good chance you can safely leave it in Italian in your translation. It seems that every year, more and more Italian food terms are coming into our homes, supermarkets and restaurants. Before you know it we’ll all be enjoying ciauscolo with our mozzarella, focaccia and prosciutto antipasto.
- Another reason to leave a term in Italian is to help your readers find the traditional dishes they might read about in their guidebook. Someone travelling in Piedmont may be excited about trying agnolotti, a traditional local pasta dish. Therefore it would be helpful to leave this specific term on the menu so they know what to order. If you feel that the Italian term alone doesn’t provide enough information, you can always add a short explanation, such as ‘agnolotti pasta parcels’.
4. Make it delicious
When you check through your translation, your guiding principle should be: does this sound tempting? Hint: if it doesn’t sound tasty in English, maybe you should leave it in Italian or try some other translation choices. Compare ‘gnocchi’ to ‘potato dumplings’. Which would you rather be tucking into?
5. Be an expert
- If you’re offering foodie translation services, you should be constantly developing and honing your knowledge in this field. Pay attention to how menus are written wherever you go. Keep up to date with food trends. Learn as much as you can about Italian food, traditions and products. Make sure you know the difference between various cooking techniques. Create a glossary of terms. Your clients are passionate about the food they produce, and they want you to be equally as passionate when providing translations.
Do you have any more tips for translating menus?
What do you love about food and wine translations?
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