As anybody who knows me will tell you, I have an unhealthily immature obsession with anything to do with the face. I don’t know why. I just love the face. What’s not to love?
I’m also a big fan of Chinglish and badly translated signage.
So you can imagine how excited I was to see “Lamb face” on the menu at a local noodle place called “Surface”.
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Unfortunately you don’t really get a sheep’s head in a bowl if you order it – it’s a fairly obvious, if slightly strange mistranslation. The word for noodles, miàn (面), is short for miàntiáo (面条) – Mandarin seems to love shortening commonly used words when they’re used with other words (another example is the word for “rice”, which is shortened from mǐfàn (米饭) to fàn (饭)).
However, while taking just one part of the word might be a useful and well-known shorthand in Chinese, it sometimes causes problems when translating words back into English. The miàn part of miàntiáo literally means “face”, or “surface” (not like a person’s face, but like the face of a building). The weird thing about it is how they managed to translate it as “noodles” or “noodle” for every other item on the menu, but must have had a brainfart when it came to this dish, resulting in “Lamb face”.
It also explains why the noodle place was called “Surface” – it’s not some esoteric name or because they liked the sound of the English word. They looked up miàn to find out how to say it in English, and found that the first definition was “surface”.
In the end, they’re not going to have too many English speakers eating there – it’s a local lāmiàn (ramen) place for local people (no doubt they’ll have no trouble there) – so the mistranslation is more amusing than anything else.
While on the subject of noodles, at some point I’m going to try to get a video of one of these lāmiàn guys making noodles. It’s amazing and hypnotising to watch – they start off with a lump of dough and a minute later, after some ridiculously skilful stretching, weaving and swinging, they have a string of perfect noodles. It’s witchcraft, I swear.