Kim Possible Taste

« previous post | next post »

Carley De Rosa sent me this illustrated description of an intriguing dish from a menu at a restaurant in Beijing:

Seldom does one encounter so many delectable Chinglishisms in such small space.  Furthermore, several of the items, especially the last, are both rare and challenging, so I take particular delight in explaining how they came about.

Starting at the top:

The name of the dish is málà quánjiāfú 麻辣全家福.  Málà 麻辣 is often rendered as "spicy," but it more specifically refers to the "numbing" effect of Szechwan peppercorn and the "hot" quality of chili peppers.  Quánjiāfú 全家福, literally "whole family welfare / blessing / happiness / good fortune," is a colloquial term referring either to a "portrait of a whole family" or something quite different, "a hodgepodge."  Unfortunately, the person who drew up this menu made the wrong choice between the two meanings.  The correct translation should be something like "Spicy Combo," not "Hot family photo."

yuánliào 原料 should be "ingredients," not "stuff"

zhǎngzhōng bǎo 掌中寶 literally, "treasure in the palm"; depending on the context, this could means lots of different things (e.g., certain portable electronic devices go by this name), but in recipes it usually signifies the cartilage or gristle of chicken claws

hǎixiā 海蝦 "sea lobster," not "crayfish"

bāzhuǎyú 八爪魚 literally, "eight claw fish," but referring to "octopus"

jīchì 雞翅 this is pretty hard to mess up:  literally, "chicken wing"

niúròu wán 牛肉丸 this one is also difficult to get wrong:  literally, "beef meat ball."

All right, that's the end of the ingredients.  Now we move on to pēngtiáo 烹調, which refers to how all the above will be cooked, and that is:

zhà 炸 means to "scald in hot oil or water"; unfortunately, because it also enters into the word for "explode," viz., bàozhà 爆炸, it often gets mistranslated on Chinese menus and in Chinese cookbooks as "explode," which is not exactly what one wants to happen while cooking

chǎo 炒 is "stir fry," the usual way to cook most vegetables and meats

Enough for the cooking process.  What about the results?  Well, the menu informs us that the wèixíng 味型 ("flavor type"), what is rendered on it as "taste," is "Kim Possible."  A Google search for "麻辣" + "Kim Possible" yielded a fairly large number of occurrences of  "麻辣女孩 Kim Possible OP," where the "OP" could appear at various places in the string of characters and letters, or even separated from the string.  I guessed that "málà nǚhái 麻辣女孩 Kim Possible" must mean "Spicy Girl Kim Possible" (not "Spice Girl Kim Possible"!) — Kim Possible being a popular Disney cartoon character. The chat rooms are full of youths who confess to being in love with her.

But I was still confused about what the "OP" stood for, so I had to ask my students, and they immediately informed me that "OP" means the opening theme song for an anime show; it contrasts with ED, which means the ending theme song that is played at the conclusion of each episode.

The Kim Possible theme in Chinese can be found here; or in English:

Nor should we forget Kim Possible's friend Ron Stoppable, and his naked mole rat Rufus, though they have yet to be documented on a Beijing menu:

(And in Danish, even!)

Kim Possible is indeed a spicy girl, so that is how this inimitable "Hot family photo" got its "Kim Possible" taste.

[Many thanks to Miki Morita, Nathan Hopson, Jing Wen, Wicky Tse, and Sophie Wei.]


  1. Twitter Trackbacks for Language Log » Kim Possible Taste [] on said,

    January 24, 2011 @ 4:52 pm

    […] Language Log » Kim Possible Taste – view page – cached January 24, 2011 @ 3:57 pm · Filed by Victor Mair under Lost in Translation Tags […]

  2. Lareina said,

    January 24, 2011 @ 5:02 pm

    I like how 全家福 was translated as family photo (at least the translator did some homework!)….And the cooking methods looks very … high tech…..(EXPLODE)
    lol :D
    one of my fav entries!

  3. Lareina said,

    January 24, 2011 @ 5:03 pm

    first to comment, yay!
    In Chinese-speaking cyberspace I would say I get the 沙发 (Sofa) of your blog entry XDXD

  4. Dan Parvaz said,

    January 24, 2011 @ 5:16 pm

    I'm passing this on to the Chinese Restaurant at EPCOT (where Kim Possible figures quite heavily — a series of scavenger hunts around the international pavilion are themed as KP Missions)!

  5. Wes said,

    January 24, 2011 @ 5:31 pm

    So is the official Chinese name for the Kim Possible cartoon "麻辣女孩" (lit. "spicy girl")? And what is the menu trying to convey by labeling the dish that way? Would just "麻辣" suffice if they meant "spicy"?

    Note that I don't read a word of Chinese and my "translations" are straight from :)

  6. Henning Makholm said,

    January 24, 2011 @ 6:43 pm

    That Danish dub is slightly strange, in that they translate the naked mole rat into hårløs rotte (literally "hairless rat"), which is a hairless variety of domesticated ordinary brown rats. The naked mole rat is a completely separate creature — as different from brown rats as beavers or squirrels — whose Danish name happens to be nøgenrotte (literally "naked/nude rat"). One shouldn't think that would be difficult to get right … it's not as if rhyme or meter demands one over the other.

  7. Roger Lustig said,

    January 24, 2011 @ 7:08 pm

    Somewhere, Sam Goldwyn is smiling.

    ("In two words: im possible!")

  8. Jeremy said,

    January 24, 2011 @ 8:55 pm

    The item above the one in question is labeled as having a spicy taste, but one of the characters is different. Are they different types of spiciness?

  9. Alaina said,

    January 24, 2011 @ 10:35 pm

    Loved the post, but I am still confused as to how they got "Kim Possible" as a "taste"??

  10. Fluxor said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 1:05 am

    @Jeremy: the first spicy is 香辣 – the first character meaning fragrant and the 2nd one meaning spicy.

    I have a couple of problems with the translations provided in the post. The first is the so called "crayfish" (海虾), which is translated in the post as "sea lobster". I believe the correct literal translation is "sea shrimp". No mention of lobster anywhere on the menu. The other one is 炸. In the context of cooking, it means "deep fried", or "scalding with oil" will do just fine. However, I've never seen someone 炸 using water.

  11. Chaon said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 1:53 am

    Ask me about my 掌中寶. Touching costs extra.

  12. M said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 4:38 am

    In South Africa (and, according to Wikipedia, New Zealand and Australia as well) crayfish is are sea creatures: those called spiny lobsters or rock lobsters. So, calling lobster "crayfish" isn't so much wrong as a regionalism.

  13. Victor Mair said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 6:50 am

    @Fluxor 炸 usually does mean "scald in hot oil," but in some topolects it can mean "scald in boiling hot water." I suppose that is why people often say 油炸 ("oil ZHA") to specify that it is being done in oil.
    As for 海虾, the terminology surrounding 虾 is notoriously vexed, since it covers "shrimp, prawn, crayfish, lobster" in English. And, as M says just above, the application of these terms in English is itself rather vexed. Anyway, for what it's worth, Bernard Read's Chinese Materia Medica (a reliable source of information for botanical and zoological identification), Fish Drugs, #189 calls the 海虾 "crayfish," though in his discussion he makes reference to really huge prawns. I grant you that "prawn" or "crayfish" would probably have been a better choice than "lobster" in this case.

  14. VinnyD said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 9:30 am

    I imagine that Quánjiāfú is the dish that I often see on US Chinese restaurant menus as "Happy Family".

  15. Dan T. said,

    January 25, 2011 @ 10:08 pm

    The edible creatures known as crawfish in Louisiana are the same species known in more northern places as crayfish, I believe.

  16. dalt said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 3:22 am

    炸 is used to write two different words: zhà "to explode", and zhá "to deep-fry". In some Chinese topolects, the two words are homophones. For example, both are pronounced zaa3 in Cantonese. This causes some non-native Mandarin speakers to mispronounce them as homophones in Mandarin. The second word, "to deep-fry", was traditionally written as 煠, which has another meaning, "to scald in water". This meaning was lost in colloquial Standard Mandarin, but preserved in some topolects such as Cantonese, in which it is pronounced saap6.

  17. Ken Brown said,

    January 26, 2011 @ 10:57 am

    Common names of species don;t really translate across bio-regions, but "crayfish" is probably as good as any for this one in British English. "Lobster" would imply something rather bigger I think. "Prawn" can refer to any one of many species of large shrimp or small lobster, and from the photo the stuff in the happy family looks as if a Brit could call it a prawn.

    In British English "spiny lobster" or "rock lobster" is Palinurus elephas which can also be called "crayfish", though that is more usually used for some freshwater species. They are a bit too large and heavily clawed to be called "prawns" – though Nephrops norvegicus, which is about the same size, and is a real lobster can be called "Dublin Bay prawn" as well as "Norway lobster", "langoustine", and "scampi". (and it is far more commonly eaten in the British Isles than crayfish or spiny lobsters put together)

  18. Eric said,

    January 27, 2011 @ 2:52 am

    麻辣女孩 is indeed the name of "金 Possible" in Chinese.

    Victor Mair, you are my hero.

RSS feed for comments on this post