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How to translate "红烧肉" to a foreigner.

The braise in soy sauce meat?

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  • I usually look at a menu in a chinese restaurant and describe it the same way as they do
    – Huangism
    Jan 14 '15 at 15:38
  • It is a food made by more fat pork and a less lean pork and soy sauce and other flavouring to fry, I think that's not delicious. I am a Chinese
    – DeSI
    Apr 2 '16 at 13:33
  • Never try to translate dish names. if you just want the foreigner to know the dish, let them take a try, and tell them the whole story of the dish.
    – gcd0318
    Apr 5 '16 at 5:39
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I've eaten and cooked this dish many times before, and either "soy-braised pork" or "pork braised in soy sauce" would be how I would describe it to an English-speaker (the '肉' in this dish refers to pork, normally pork belly).

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  • +1 for brevity lol
    – Ming
    Jan 14 '15 at 0:26
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The standard translation is "red cooked" in English; but this is not the most common way it is presented in overseas Chinese restaurants.

Culinary terms (around the world) are known for being difficult to translate (cf. French macaronage), and so a calque / loan translation / 意译 strategy is usually used.

However, 烧 in a culinary sense does not translate to English burn: the connotations of burn in English are not appreciated in cooking, and so the more usual cook is employed instead. When a loan translation is established, many related languages may adopt the same strategy. E.g. Spanish uses cocción roja.

Interestingly, across languages they might not use the same correspondence: some French sources use braisé en rouge. This is a more explanatory translation, and it is this method that is most usual in restaurants even where English is spoken. Braised in soy sauce, or Braised + (meat) + with/in soy sauce, or even Soy-braised uses a slightly more well-understood collocation, that of braising, and mentions the main ingredient used in the sauce. This is therefore more transparent to the diner. It has now become semi-standard in the catering industry in overseas Chinese restaurants in English-speaking communities, whereas "red-cooked" is a specific jargon-like term.

However, it is possible to use a phonetic rendition / 音译: there are plenty of references to hongshao in English Internet media. Although this is not the main way that 红烧 is known, many examples from Japanese (sushi, sashimi, yakitori) and Korean (kimchi/kimchee, bibimbap) cuisine have been adopted this way. This has become the premier accepted translation for the related 叉烧, which is char siu in English, borrowed through Cantonese and with the transcription done in a non-standard British-based orthography.

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Let me build on the answers above: "Hongshao pork" sounds exotic, I expect it sounds good to most Anglophone Americans who like Chinese food but very few will know what it is. "Red cooked pork" is less exotic, maybe sounds more delicious to more people. "Pork braised in soy sauce" is the clearest brief description although most Americans do not really know what "braised" means.

One general rule, "pork" already sounds delicious to most Americans (Anglophone or not). To appeal to true pork lovers you could specify "pork belly" if you are using pork belly.

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  • I'd argue it's not real 红烧肉 if you're not using pork belly!
    – NS.X.
    Jan 15 '15 at 5:49
  • Serious question: do most Americans really not know what braising is?
    – Cocowalla
    Jan 15 '15 at 12:55
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    @NS.X. You'd be right. But goodhousekeeping.com/recipefinder/red-cooked-pork-1461 recommends using a pork shoulder, even many Asian cooking sites (in English) use other cuts. Pork belly is sold in American grocery stores almost exclusively in the form of bacon. Cocowalla, while I have no survey data on this, I believe most Americans identify a cooking method by how the food looks afterwards, and braised food looks to them as roast. Jan 15 '15 at 13:36
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@Cocowalla I'm an American and on a anecdotal basis, I can tell you that I had no idea what braising is until I went to China. My American friends were likewise confused. I would actually say that some Americans might be turned off by describing something with "belly" -- for whatever reason, I think Americans are very turned off by dishes that explicitly name organs.

One of my friends refused to order "pork belly" even though she loves eating 红烧肉 when nobody tells her what it is (her command of Mandarin is also atrocious for a person who's lived there for two years). On another occasion, I tried to get a friend to eat 大肠 once and they were horrified when I told them what it is. On balance, I might just unfortunately keep the most stereotypical American expats as company.

My thought on American cooking terminology is that dishes describe cooking method but not much else in regards to seasoning, sauce, etc -- grilled salmon, fried fish, baked chicken. My purely observational thought is that Chinese cooking uses a lot of blended sauces that American English is not really equipped for. For example, I usually just call 叉烧 "Cantonese BBQ Pork" to other Americans when that isn't really accurate or descripitive considering it typically involves marinating/roasting, honey, rice wine, hoisin sauce, and lots of sugar. But "BBQ" is a very easy way for my friends to conceptualize it.

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  • This is not an answer, but a comment to Cocowalla's answer. As a comment I like it though. Jan 21 '15 at 13:26
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If I were to introduce this dish to a friend who doesn't speak Chinese, and has no knowledge of culinary techniques, I usually just say:

saucy fatty pork.

And add, good with rice.

However, for the more technical users, I believe others here have nailed it.

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