Sea Bay Restaurant

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Thomas Lumley sent in this nice multilingual pun from Sydney, Australia:

The Chinese part of the sign reads: Xīběi fànzhuāng 西北飯莊 ("Northwest Restaurant").

While the quality of the sibilants is quite different (Mandarin "x" is a postalveolar sibilant, viz., a voiceless alveolo-palatal fricative; English "s" is a voiceless alveolar sibilant), the person who thought up this clever English name for the Xīběi fànzhuāng 西北飯莊 ("Northwest Restaurant") recognized them as being close enough for the pun to work.

Now would someone in Sydney please call up the restaurant to ask whether they serve northwestern Chinese cuisine or seafood? The telephone number is right there on the sign.

[Update: David Morris took a photo of the restaurant menu, which you can see here.]


  1. David Morris said,

    February 4, 2013 @ 10:38 pm

    I reckon that's Pitt St, just up from Goulburn St, at the back of World Square. If so, it's about 3 blocks from where I'm sitting. I'll swing by there this evening and take a closer look.

  2. Daniel Tse said,

    February 4, 2013 @ 10:54 pm

    There's no seafood on the menu at all, a fact noted by a Sydney Morning Herald review. They only serve hand-pulled noodles in the northern style.

  3. David Morris said,

    February 5, 2013 @ 5:08 am

    After extensive field research (viz, a slight detour on my way to Central Station this afternoon), I can report that the menu is: BBQ lamb skewers, Fried egg plants with special sauce, Cucumber salad, Fried handmade noodles (lamb, beef or chicken), Boiled dumplings, Deep fried pork with pepper (or without pepper), Fried chicken with mushroom, Shallots lamb, Beef soup with handmade noodles (or bean noodles), Seabay hot & sour soup. Each item has Chinese characters, which I can't read and have no way of reproducing.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    February 5, 2013 @ 6:42 am

    Thank you, David and Daniel! You have done your duty as devoted Language Log field researchers!

  5. John Swindle said,

    February 5, 2013 @ 6:56 am

    Of course that kind of punning goes both ways. I understand that there is a college in New Jersey named "Seton Hall University" whose sole claim to fame is that it's called 西东大学 ( Xī Dōng Dàxué, 'West East University') in Chinese.

  6. Bruce Rusk said,

    February 5, 2013 @ 7:43 am

    A similar kind of pun appears in the Chinese name of a currency exchange shop in Toronto: It's called Ou-mei-ya 歐美亞, which are the first syllables of the Chinese names for Europe, America, and Asia, respectively. But in English that becomes "Omega," which is a pretty good fit phonetically and also a perfectly reasonable name for such an operation.

  7. zythophile said,

    February 5, 2013 @ 9:05 am

    I want to meet someone called Martin Paddock to tell them their first name in Chinese characters, 马田, pronounced 'Mă tián', meaning 'horse field', thus means the same as their surname …

  8. Ted said,

    February 5, 2013 @ 1:53 pm

    Meanwhile, the photo makes me wonder whether Eric sells serious literature (and not children's books) or just dirty books.

  9. David Morris said,

    February 5, 2013 @ 2:32 pm

    Ted: If you'd posted that comment 12 hours ago I could have extended my fieldwork! (I don't have to – it's a porno magazine/DVD/accessories shop. Please don't ask how I know.)

  10. Gianni said,

    February 5, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

    According to the information David Morris provided, this menu seems to be authentic Northwestern Chinese food represented by Xi'an cuisine.

  11. Gianni said,

    February 5, 2013 @ 3:21 pm

    BBQ lamb skewers 烤羊肉串, Fried egg plants with special sauce 酱烧茄子, Cucumber salad 拌黄瓜, Fried handmade noodles (lamb, beef or chicken) 牛羊肉/鸡肉炒面, Boiled dumplings 煎饺, Deep fried pork with pepper (or without pepper) (青椒)炸猪排, Fried chicken with mushroom 香菇木耳炒鸡柳, Shallots lamb 葱爆羊肉, Beef soup with handmade noodles (or bean noodles) 牛肉拉面(拉豆面), Seabay hot & sour soup 西北酸辣汤.

    I translate the last item to be 西北酸辣汤, meaning Northwestern hot and sour soup. However, it is disputed whether this soup originates from the south or the north. But definitely you can find all these dishes in one restaurant in Xi'an, where lamb, beef, chicken, pork and spicy food are all popular, but sea food is rare.

  12. Chau said,

    February 5, 2013 @ 4:24 pm

    My understanding is that Mandarin lacks the voiced stops b/d/g. The current pinyin system borrows these letters to write their voiceless counterparts p/t/k. For example, 北京 is transcribed 'Beijing' as compared with the older 'Peking'. So, 西北 (Hsi-pei in Wade-Giles) is also slightly off when it is rendered 'Sea Bay', but close enough.

  13. David Morris said,

    February 5, 2013 @ 9:53 pm

    There are small differences between the Chinese characters on the menu, and Gianni's rendition. I'll send a photo if someone can give me a general Language Log email address.
    My manager is from Xi'an, and was very interested in this. She also loved the 'Love Toilet' post from a few days ago.

  14. Gianni said,

    February 5, 2013 @ 10:40 pm

    Hi David, where are you working? I'm originally from Xi'an too!

  15. Nelson said,

    February 5, 2013 @ 11:38 pm

    @Chau: regarding the phonemic transcriptions, Mandarin lacks voiced stops. However, the Wikipedia article seems to indicate that some stops are phonetically voiced in unstressed syllables. And regarding English, I've read that initial "voiced" consonants are actually often partially or totally devoiced: the lack of aspiration is the main distingusishing factor. So even if phonemically there is a distinction, phonetically I don't think it is very salient (hence the use of "voiced consonant" letters for transcription of unaspirated voiceless stops in the first place, I suppose).

  16. David Morris said,

    February 6, 2013 @ 6:22 am

    Gianni: I'm an Australian working in Sydney. My manager just happens to be from Xi'an. I've never been there. The only part of the PRC I've been to is Hong Kong SAR for three days on a package tour.

  17. Cameron said,

    February 6, 2013 @ 9:40 am

    There's a local mini-chain here in New York called Xi'an Famous Foods. I've never sampled their wares myself, but they've been getting good reviews for some time. They used to have a location on East Broadway not far from my place, but it was so tiny, and always so jam-packed with Chinese people chowing down that I never went inside. Looking at their website it appears all their locations are tiny little places with no tables, just a few stools.

  18. William Steed said,

    February 6, 2013 @ 7:33 pm

    I guess we'd know if it was true Xi'an cuisine if they had biangbiangmian.

    I wish I'd noticed it when I was walking pretty much straight past it not two months ago!

  19. Cameron said,

    February 7, 2013 @ 10:06 am

    On the menu for the Xi'an Famous Foods places in New York that I mentioned above there is an item called "Concubine's Chicken". Is that a traditional Xi'an dish, I wonder? From the picture, it doesn't appear that olives, capers, or anchovies are involved – but it's hard to be sure.

  20. Gianni said,

    February 7, 2013 @ 7:43 pm

    I would say that the translation "Concubine's Chicken" should be corrected to "Imperial Consort Yang's Chicken"

    But I don't think it is a Xi'an cuisine.

  21. Victor Mair said,

    February 8, 2013 @ 6:56 pm

    Our man in Sydney, David Morris, has kindly sent us a photograph of the Sea Bay menu:

  22. Gianni said,

    February 8, 2013 @ 7:09 pm

    Thanks! This is very Xi'an style, though perhaps also likely to be from nearby cities. The word pai1 拍 "clap" for "(making) salad" is a very Northern term. It shows that the cook use the side of the Chinese cleaver to crush the cucumber into pieces.

    I've mistranslated some of the dishes. The most interesting one is "bean noodle". It is actually vermicelli fen3si1 粉丝 made of mung bean. The Deep fried pork is very popular in Xi'an and one should definitely try it.

  23. Ken Brown said,

    February 8, 2013 @ 7:17 pm

    To me, "fried egg plant" implies a large daisy with a yellow centre and white ray florets. (And yes, I know they probably mean what I'd call aubergine)

  24. Ken Brown said,

    February 8, 2013 @ 7:30 pm

    Tho shops and restaurants round here are as likely to call them brinjal or patlican as aubergines.

  25. qianlong said,

    February 10, 2013 @ 11:05 pm

    for zythophile… he works in Detroit

  26. Thomas Lumley said,

    February 11, 2013 @ 1:03 am

    When I took the photo, the restaurant was closed, with a handwritten notice in Chinese on the window — I wasn't sure whether it was 'summer holiday' or 'renovations' or 'we are closing down'. Glad to hear it was just temporary.

    @Ken Brown
    I think Australia has now pretty solidly opted for 'eggplant' and 'zucchini' over 'aubergine' and 'courgette', but that's a change over the past few decades. And if you mean Romneya coulteri, it's a poppy, not a daisy, and those really are petals and stamens, not ray florets and disk florets.

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