Culinary subjectification: The translated world of menus and orders

Adam Yuet Chau


The idea for this article began with a couple of innocent questions: How would one translate the word "menu" (i.e., restaurant menu) into the native languages of people without any experience of restaurants and menus? And how would you explain to them how ordering from the menu works? It quickly became clear that translating the word "menu" entails not only translating the world of restaurant-going and ordering from the menu but also our (i.e., ideal-typically Western) very conceptual and social world, which is another way to say that what seems to be a humble piece of paper listing a certain number of dishes is itself made by the world in which it is found and in turn contributes in a significant way to making that world. In this article I examine the restaurant menu as a world-making social and translocutional / transinscriptional technology (the menu as menu-logic and cosmo-menu). As a kind of text act that is situated at but one of many "iterative/inscriptional stations" along an indeterminate and continuous chain of translocutions and transinscriptions, the menu highlights the temporal dimension of all kinds of translations (translingual, intralingual, transmodal, transcultural, etc.).

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau4.2.007