Mistranslated Chinese Dishes and What They Actually Are

International food is often complex, and even though we can easily try a wide selection of international dishes from nearby restaurants nowadays, they are not always authentic because of either a difference in cooking techniques or ingredients. Some ingredients are difficult to find outside of the countries that the dishes originated from, which is partly why the names of the dishes cannot easily be translated as well. 

While Chinese dishes like sweet and sour pork, Peking duck, and soy sauce chicken are relatively straightforward, there are dishes that do not have an English equivalent, which often leads to hilarious results when translated. Here are some of the funniest mistranslated Chinese dishes and what they actually are. 


Chicken Without Sexual Life (Tong Zi Ji 童子鸡)

As much as the name would make you feel bad for the sad and lonely chicken, it would also leave you wondering why such a dish is on the menu in the first place. Does the restaurant handpick chickens with “no sexual life” to cook? Does it make a difference in flavor? How can they tell if the chicken has sexual experience or not?

This gives rise to so many questions, but in reality, this dish is more accurately translated as “spring chicken,” which refers to chickens that have been bred for less than three months for the purpose of consumption. This makes them “young chickens,” which is probably where the lack of sexual life comes from.


Government Abuse Chicken (Gong Bao Ji Ding 宫爆鸡丁)

We went from a chicken with no sexual life to a chicken straight up committing government abuse. Who knew chickens were capable of being corrupt? However, the literal translation of the dish is “The Palace Guardian’s Diced Chicken,” which is more commonly known as Kung Pao Chicken. 

The dish originated in the early 19th century from a man named Ding Baozhen, who had fallen into the water by accident. He didn’t know how to swim and would have drowned if he hadn’t been saved by a bystander. Ding later became a palace official in Sichuan and went back to his hometown to thank the man who had saved his life by cooking him an unfamiliar dish composed of chicken, peanuts and Sichuan peppercorns. The man enjoyed the dish so much that he started sharing it with his friends and family. It eventually became popular across the province and became known as “The Palace Guardian’s Diced Chicken,” as it originated from Ding, a palace official.


Chicken Rude and Unreasonable (Chuan Shui Pola Ji 川水泼辣鸡)

What can be worse than a chicken with no sexual life or a chicken that’s possibly committing government abuse? Probably a chicken with bad manners. While chickens do tend to be aggressive sometimes, you can’t help but wonder what these chickens have done to the chef in order to be considered rude and unreasonable. 

There isn’t exactly a backstory to this; it’s just an instance of mistranslation. The dish is actually Sichuan Spicy chicken (more commonly referred to as jerk chicken in other cultures), and while the word 泼辣 means pungent and bold, which accurately describes the flavors of spicy chicken, it also translates to rude and unreasonable.


Lion’s Head (Shi Zi Tou 狮子头)

Have you ever tried lion meat before? Well, you shouldn’t because it’s probably illegal. Even though the name of the dish does contain the word 狮子, meaning lion, it’s not actually made of lion meat. Instead, it’s just pork meatballs stewed in red sauce. It’s only called Lion Head because the meatballs are meant to resemble the shape of the Chinese Guardian Lion’s head. In other versions, it’s also called Hong Sao Shi Zi Tou 红烧狮子头, meaning braised lion head, but it’s sometimes mistranslated as “Red Burned Lion Head,” which makes it even worse. 


Husband and Wife Lung Slices (Fu Qi Fei Pian 夫妻肺片)

This isn’t really a mistranslation because the dish literally translates to “Husband and Wife Lung Pieces,” but don’t worry though, it’s not as cannibalistic as the name suggests. It’s basically just thin slices of beef marinated in chili oil, but the reason why it’s called husband and wife lung slices is because it was made popular by a vendor couple named Guo Zhaohua (郭朝華) and Zhang Tianzheng (張田政) during the 1930’s. It doesn’t contain lungs either, but rather the meat is just sliced in the shape of a lung.


Roasted Husband (Sixi Kaofu 四喜烤夫)

Has your husband been frustrating you lately? Well, here’s a perfect dish for you! This might seem like a dish that Hannibal Lecter will serve you, but calm down because there’s no cannibalism involved in this either. It more accurately translates to “Four Joys Roasted Seitan.” The “Four Joys” refer to four ingredients: shiitake mushrooms, dried lily buds, bamboo shoots, and wood ear fungus, while seitan is a wheat gluten that’s used as a meat alternative. The reason why it was so horribly mistranslated was because the word “seitan” 麸 was shortened to 夫, which is the word for husband.


These are just some of the Chinese dishes that have been hilariously mistranslated over the years, but given the abundance of mistranslations making rounds on the internet, the Beijing Municipal Office along with the Bureau of Tourism has since released an official list of English translations for the most popular dishes in the city. It’s probably a good move to not scare the tourists, but opening a menu and seeing a dish called “chicken without sexual life” would definitely be a unique travel experience. 

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