Monday, June 04, 2018

Lost in Chinese Translation Meal in Shanghai

I have the inclination to order the wrong meal, every time, on the first day of my arrival in a new, usually non-English speaking (country) destination.


This restaurant offering Chongqing cuisine is located near the Shanghai Railway Station in Zhabei.

The last time it happened to me was last year when Dutchman and I were in Verdun, France. I ordered pig's feet because I didn't know what "Pied de Porc Roti au Four a Bois" means. Now, that's a mouthful of French!

You can read it here: Lost in French Menu Translation in Verdun: Who Wants Pig's Feet?

So it happened again, and this time in Shanghai, China. French was perhaps easier since the language is based on the Roman alphabet, but Chinese characters?

[To read the rest of the post and see more pictures, click the READ MORE link below]


On my first night in Shanghai, I was out late and wasn't really hungry earlier in the evening. I only started to feel the craving for food past 22:00 and this was when I have decided to go back to my hotel because I couldn't handle anymore the jet lag. Jet lag and hunger pangs are not great combinations. So I thought that I will have a quick dinner in the vicinity of the hotel. I saw a number of restaurants earlier in the afternoon around the building and was hoping that some of them are still open. I mean this is China, I am sure people eat late.

Well, I got lucky because there were still a few restaurants serving customers. I am craving for noodles by the way.

The first restaurant I went to was a Japanese chain restaurant. I sat there reading the menu when I realised that it was a Japanese restaurant. I thought to myself, "It's my first time in Shanghai, so what am I doing in a Japanese restaurant?" If I couldn't find any Shanghainese food, at least I should eat something Chinese.

The second restaurant I visited was almost empty so it was a no-go for me. I am already eating alone, so I do not need to be in full isolation.

The third restaurant was advertising Dry Pot cuisine from Chongqing. Now that is interesting. Compared to the other restaurants in the area, this was perhaps the busiest at this time of the night. They didn't have noodles though but they have a vegetable buffet selection on the counter ready to be cooked. The idea, or so I thought, is to choose the vegetables and then they will cook it for you. I actually saw some of the diners eating the Dry Pot.


I felt so greedy with this huge meal.

As it is very late, I do not have the luxury to hop to another restaurant again, so I decided to settle here, come what may. I went up to the counter to check out the spread of vegetables, as well study the menu of pictures on the wall. This place is a mix of fast food style and restaurant service. Then a middle-aged guy interrupted my menu inspection and started speaking in Chinese.

You know, this is the biggest challenge when you are in China, and in areas that have very little foreigners and tourists around, nobody is really able to converse in even very basic English. It is really a struggle because I am left with my hands and facial expression to communicate!

The middle-aged guy was trying to explain to me how the ordering works and I do not understand a single thing. Haha!

He kept talking in Chinese and I kept pointing to the vegetables. How difficult can that be? Haha. I asked him if they have noodles to go with the vegetables. Wait, he understood the word noodles! Hallelujah! He shook his head vigorously sideways and kept talking Chinese as if it mattered to me, but I cannot blame him, I am in China. Obviously, they did not have noodles and I was disappointed as I was really craving for it.

I switched my attention to the menu pictures on the wall and pointed to the Shrimp Dry Pot picture. He shook his head again. It looks like there were no more shrimps in the kitchen inventory. So I pointed to the Crab Dry Pot picture, which looked very delicious by the way. But he only shook his head faster sideways. No luck, they ran out of all seafood I want. How hard can this be?!

Then the Chinese guy shouted to the cook in the kitchen, who quickly came out and said something back in Chinese. They have fish, he said. Surprisingly, he managed to produce an English menu and on it is the name of the fish (which I already forgot). By this time I was already too tired to explain and go through the Chinese - English translation jargon. I just want to order and eat, and then go back to my hotel and sleep.


I rest my chopsticks. I couldn't finish it.

I did manage to ask if they can add some vegetables to the fish by pointing to the heap of green leafy stuff on the counter, but the man shook his head sideways again. He was also making movements with his hands whilst caressing his stomach and making funny faces. So I stood there ruminating for a second and trying to figure out what he actually meant. Think hard and keep it simple, I pondered to myself. Then it hit me. He is trying to say that adding vegetables will be too much because the fish I ordered is already big. Hmm, how big can this be?

At the back of my mind, I thought -- We could have been playing Charades! LOL

So I obliged. Paid the fish and the coconut juice and walked back to my table. While waiting for the fish to be served they gave me a small pitcher of warm tea to consume. The tea was free and they gave this away to every diner in the restaurant. I cannot make up what tea it was but it was light in flavour and flowery in scent, although nothing too strong. It was nice.

The waiting didn't take that long. When my meal arrived, I was truly caught by surprise. A sizable hot pot in stainless steel - the type that you see in buffet and catering parties - was placed on my table. This is a humongous order!

I knew that the fish will be big, but I didn't expect it to be this huge. No wonder the other diners in the restaurant were staring at me. They must have wondered if I could finish the whole thing, and probably thinking, this silly female tourist. The fish was garnished on top with lots of chilies. I did order those chilies though.

Well, your guess is as good as mine. I wasn't able to finish the fish. Not even half. Haha. Why is it that I always order the wrong dish on my first big meal in a new city/country? #travelfrustration

I went back to my hotel full and groggy. I couldn't sleep with a heavy stomach so I spent another hour zapping through Chinese channels on TV. The very least concession I have with this ordeal is that I will be cured of jet lag the next day as I have stayed up longer than I should have. There is always an advantage in every disadvantage.

Travel Period: April 2018
Destination: Shanghai, China

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Happy Travels! Enjoy Life =)

All pictures were taken by a point and shoot pocket camera or a smartphone.

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