Jen Cardelús writes:
I live in a primarily Chinese community in the San Gabriel Valley (near LA) and don't yet speak any Chinese. I've been wonderfully bemused by the restaurant naming conventions in the area, and was wondering if you have any insight into how Chinese people name restaurants, and what (if any) particular words are presumably being translated to reach the strange/humorous results. In particular, "tasty" is used in the names of countless area restaurants. (My favorite is the lamentably-named Thousands Tasty, but there are also Tasty Garden, Tasty Dessert, Tasty Dining, Tasty Choice, New Tasty, Tasty Food, Tasty Noodle House, Tasty Duck, Beijing Tasty House, etc.) Obviously, "Garden" is another word often used in Chinese restaurant names that would never be used for a non-Asian restaurant in the US. Are these same sorts of restaurant names also seen in China, or are these patterns specific to Chinese restaurants in the US? As a sidenote, it is amazing to me that so many immigrants opening restaurants must not know anyone with a reasonable command of English to run their proposed restaurant names by (e.g. Qing Dao Bread Food).
Jen has indeed hit upon an interesting aspect of Chinese restaurants in America, not just in the San Gabriel area. If you do a search on tasty Chinese, you'll find hundreds of Chinese restaurants with "tasty" in their name all across the country, and indeed throughout the world. There's even an O'Tasty Chinese Restaurant in Washington, DC, which I suppose is related to O'Tasty Chinese Food Inc. in Alhambra CA. Then we have lots of cute names like Cosy & Tasty Chinese Dumpling Cafe.
Of the few "tasty" Chinese restaurants that also gave their Chinese name, I didn't notice any that had a word equal to "tasty" in it. This is not an insuperable problem, however, since our earlier forays into Chinese restaurant nomenclature show that it is common for the their Chinese name and their English name to be completely unrelated, e.g.,
Anyway, were all those Chinese restaurant owners who named their establishment "tasty" this or that thinking of some particular Chinese term when they did so? Here are some Chinese terms that might be translated into English as "tasty":
hǎochī 好吃 delicious, tasty
kěkǒu 可口 tasty, delicious
shuǎngkǒu 塽口 delicious, palatable, tasty
shuǎngkǒu 爽口 delicious, palatable, tasty
yǒuwèier 有味兒 delicious, tasty
měiwèi 美味 delicious, tasty
pènxiāng 喷香 delicious, fragrant
I don't think that any of these terms are frequent adjectives in restaurant names written in Chinese.
Perhaps the restaurateurs are getting "tasty" from one of their trade journals such as Chinese Restaurant News. Or maybe they were inspired by Tasty Chicken, which is a common name for restaurants in America. I doubt that they were prompted to name their restaurants after Tastykake, since — until recently — that was a strictly Philly phenomenon (though it has now spread to a few other places on the East Coast).
I am inclined to believe that Chinese speakers of English — especially those who are into food (which means most Chinese) — simply like both the sound and sense of "tasty". That is certainly true of my friend Angela Chang / Tan, who is an avid cook with several cookbooks to her credit. Here's a video about one of them:
"Angela Chang: The Intriguing World of Chinese Home Cooking".
Even in this well-prepared and informative presentation, Angela repeatedly uses "tasty", which is one of her favorite English words:
2:01, 3:53, 5:08, 6:40, around 7:14 ("taste", "best-tasting").
On the other hand, Chinese friends with more sophisticated English tend to prefer words like "savory".