Food is celebrated in every culture across the globe; not only is it necessary for human existence, but it brings people together. From ordinary fare to culinary masterpieces, food can be prepared in many ways. And because a large part of everyday life centers around food and eating, there are countless cookbooks and recipes being published in papers, selling in bookstores, and appearing on the internet at any given moment.
As with any translation project, translating cooking recipes comes with its challenges, but here are a few tips to help make the experience more enjoyable. Translate Shark can be very helpful when it comes to having your favourite cookbooks professionally translated.
Availability of ingredients
Despite the growing popularity of cooking these days and the new trendiness of certain ethnic ingredients, the fact remains that not all items are available in all countries (and in some cases, they are only available at exorbitant costs).
For recipes, translators ought to stick as closely to the original as possible and if ideas for substitutions are being offered, the translator must explain why. Also, the translator or another person connected to the project should try to cook recipes both in their original form and in the version with substitutions, to make sure that the tastes, appearances, smells, and other salient features are preserved.
Cuts of meat
Cuts of meat are not necessarily the same in different countries. Translators who are not “foodies” themselves or those who do not eat meat, must be aware of this fact. Here, asking experts and using reference materials is a great help. There are cuts of meat charts that are easily found on Google or you can get acquainted with chefs or others interested in food and ask for their advice.
Many translators either do not think about asking for help or they get nervous about doing so. Experts are glad to help, and some professional translators build up a “little black book” of experts to call when they need advice on botanical, architectural, culinary, or any other matters.
In any case, do not make assumptions about cuts of meat being the same, even if the terminology is the same or similar. Always check on this or a recipe might not turn out well.
Cups or grams? Tablespoons or ounces? As is well known, there are different measurement systems around the world and it is not enough to, say, maybe try out online conversion? Type in the numbers from the source text and write down what the website has offered you. If you did that, 2 cups would be 4.7317 dl, and when have you ever seen a recipe that calls for 4.7317 dl flour?
In cases where measurements have to be changed, there are two major possible strategies. The first is that the publisher simply retains the measurements and then offers a conversion table at the back of the book. This can be quite irritating for a reader, however, because then she or he has to keep flipping from the recipe to the table.
If the cookbook is more of the coffee table type, however, which is to say one that people read and look at, but don’t really plan to cook from, this solution is fine. But for a cookbook that is meant for real use, it is just not practical.
In this situation, new measurements based on the target culture’s system must be used. This can be done either via complete replacement or replacement and retention. Complete replacement means that either the translator or another expert tests all the recipes and shifts the measurements so that instead of 4.7317 dl flour, the recipe calls for 5 dl flour.
The translator must be careful here to ensure that all the new measurements make sense in the context of the recipe and that all have been converted.
A recipe may not work if even one measurement is off, especially for baked goods. Replacement and retention is a combination strategy that means both changing the recipe so it reads 5 dl flour and also keeping 2 cups flour in parenthesis. This can, however, confuse readers, so it is a rare book that will use this strategy.
Implements, pots, and pans
As with ingredients, some countries have different implements, pots, pans, and other essential cooking items, or they may use drastically different words for a similar tool. For example, I was cooking a recipe from a Swedish cookbook and was stuck on one word that kept appearing in recipes.
It referred to a specific kitchen tool that does not exist in English (and, frankly, is one of those tools that don’t need to exist either) which was a “potato stick,” which you use to check if the potatoes you are boiling are ready. People use cake testers, skewers, forks, toothpicks, or meat thermometers instead. In this case,
I was able to rewrite the sentence, but for other implements, there may actually be a proper word for it. It is important to find out, so ask an expert when you are not sure.