Cookbooks in languages besides English

publickmanJanuary 21, 2010

Have you used cookbooks in languages other than English? One of the reasons I ask is that we watched Julie and Julia last week-end, and Julia mentioned that there were no French cookbooks in English when she first started hers. As a result of her books, I have not bothered to look at cookbooks in French (although I could), and the first cookbook I bought in another language was German. I ordered it from a publisher in Germany that published some of the German books I had to buy while studying German at university. Then I found out that everything was metric, and so I had to buy metric measuring tools. Most of the recipes were very unappealing to me, but I wanted to learn about German cooking. My grandmother was Alsatian and spoke German, but her cooking was more similar to French, I think. I've looked at recipes in Italian, but they seem mostly to be available in good translations. I can pretty much decifer recipes in Dutch because the culinary words are similar enough to German. I have several Mexican cookbooks in Spanish, but they are no better than the ones available in English.

Is there something I'm missing out on by not being able to read Greek, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese or Japanese? I always wonder if something is being left out in translations.

What languages are you able to read? I can decifer Russian, but I haven't been compelled to look for Russian recipes. I got a Brazilian recipe on a package of what I think is hominy from a Brazilian store and asked the woman at the store if she could read Portuguese. She said "yes", and so I asked her to translate the recipe for me, but unfortunately she did not know enough English to help me.

Is there anything you can think of that needs to be translated that is not available in English?


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Funny you should bring that up, Lars. Just yesterday I was trying to translate a recipe that was in Portuguese. I don't know Portuguese, but in written form it is close
enough to Spanish that I can sometimes do pretty well. There were words I couldn't figure out, even with the dictionary, so I ran it through BableFish. The results were hysterical. In the end, I decided it was not too different from a recipe SharonCB had posted and so, having hers in English, I decided this other one wasn't worth spending any more time on.

I think any countryÂs food that is very popular in the US  like Mexican or Italian  there are plenty of cookbooks in English that are on par with the ones in the original language, but that for cuisines little known here or very specialized ethnic cooking methods, there could be a big advantage to being able to read the language of that country. I remember doing a project in the 80s that required some information on Turkish foods, and our otherwise well-stocked library had exactly one Turkish cookbook. It had maybe all of 40 recipes in it, and most of the instructions didnÂt make sense. Of course now we have the internet and a lot more to choose from, but I suspect a lot of the really interesting recipes and background for some countries is still in their native language.

I read enough Spanish to get into trouble with it, although I can usually glean a rough idea of the material. (Except Chilean Spanish, which is so idiomatic that itÂs almost a different language construction from Spanish.) I'm usually pretty good with recipes since they tend to be in simple phrases.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2010 at 4:30PM
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I can read French but I've never tried to read and follow a recipe written in French. Like you mentioned, the first thing that would throw me off would be the metric measurements. I mean, I cook a lot of things without measuring, even when following a recipe. So when they say a half cup, I usually can figure that out without actually measuring. Imagine me trying to do that with a measurement like 50 grams!

My real problem is that I'm really not vigilant about reading the whole recipe before I start when it's in ENGLISH which has caused me problems in the past. I don't think using a recipe in French would inspire me to do better. LOL

    Bookmark   January 21, 2010 at 4:37PM
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I can read some Chinese but when it comes to recipes I am useless. I was given a Chinese bread book for Christmas; the illustrations were great so I didn't need any translation to follow. But the ingredient part was what got me. Al

    Bookmark   January 21, 2010 at 4:42PM
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If there's something lost in translation, perhaps some of it is because the adaptation attempts to use ingredients available in our part of the world. For instance, my inlaws bought me a traditional Greek cookbook. There are so many fish and "edible" organs (HA!!!) called for that I'd never find - or would probably not trust if I could find - that the book is largely useless to me.

The only foreign language I'm decent in is German, so I'm not afraid to peruse my mom's cookbooks. Of course again avoiding the brains and tongues, etc.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2010 at 4:47PM
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I was wondering about cultural changes that happen during translations. I think Diana Kennedy did a good job of documenting Mexican cooking (even better than what native Mexicans have done) despite her somewhat overbearing style of writing. She did a good job of staying true to the recipes she found, but I still revise them to my taste, which she probably would not like.

I'm not particularly worried about not being able to find ingredients. There are so many diverse ethnic markets here that so far I have been able to find everything that I have looked for, with the exception of a few rare tropical fruits, and even those could be grown here, providing I was willing to wait a few years for a tree to mature.

I've watched cooking shows in Korean and Japanese, and the Japanese shows had subtitles, which allowed me to use the recipes if I wanted, but the Korean shows did not, and I would have to guess at what they were really making. I'm sure I could find Korean ingredients because there are some huge Korean markets in Koreatown. I've been able to find most of the Japanese ingredients as well - even the ones used for making pickles that were fairly rare.


    Bookmark   January 21, 2010 at 5:54PM
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When we were living in the Netherlands, I bought an Italian cookbook written in Dutch. It has photos of each recipe. It is very contemporary and the food is quite stylish. I learned enough Dutch to be able to cook from it. The Dutch do not cook food like that, in general.

When we were in Japan, I bought several Japanese cookbooks but they were printed in English. The different alphabet would make it prohibitive to translate. But the recipes are wonderful, and quite different from the books that I have found in the States.

Whenever we travel, I always come back with a cookbook if I can. I've had luck finding English versions in tourist-oriented cities. I do have trouble finding some of the ingredients, though, since we live in a very small coastal community. Mail order would be my only source of some of the stuff the recipes call for. So I use them for armchair travel!


    Bookmark   January 21, 2010 at 6:57PM
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Lars, I may be able to help you with the Brazilian recipe. I used to speak Portuguese and, although I've gotten very rusty, I still have some capacity to figure it out.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2010 at 10:24PM
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Since I grew up German, I have a couple of German cookbooks. But I mostly just cook. Before finding this forum I didn't experiment as much with recipes as I do now.

Thanks everyone for posting your best recipes.


    Bookmark   January 21, 2010 at 11:00PM
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I have many cookbooks in German. I would say my collection is now about half and half english/german.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2010 at 2:01AM
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The Cordon Bleu cookbook in English was one of the first I bought when I was a new bride many years ago.

I have Spanish cookbooks, a beautiful Austrian pastry book that Wolf bought me (in German) as well as several German cookbooks, some that Wolf had and passed on to me. I find yes there is a difference often in ingredients or methods for a same dish as written for Germans or Spanish and when it is translated and intended for British or North American readers. The original dish often uses ingredients uncommonly used outside of that country and unusual time-consuming methods.

One of the books I frequently used years ago and a favourite of all my cookbooks is written partly in Mallorquin, similar to Catalan, and partly in Spanish. I did need some help at times to translate the names of some ingredients, but the preparation methods were extremely simple. The recipes were very basic and frugal, having been used in the countryside in early times before and during the Spanish civil war and written by an old woman who was apprenticed to a kitchen in a private townhouse when she was 14 years old. Some of her recipes are now favourites of my daughters who grew up being served those Mallorquin dishes.

A charming note from the author at the end of the book states..."if you have any difficulty with a recipe just come to my house and I'll show you how to make it. I live at....address in the town of...." I thought that was lovely! Here she is:


    Bookmark   January 22, 2010 at 5:02AM
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The German cookbook I have is called Das Grosse Taschenbuch vom Kochen, 1970, and it has very simplified recipes, being a very general cookbook. The Mexican cookbooks that I have in Spanish also have very simple recipes, possibly because they are also paperback. It seems that the most detailed books I've found are in English, but I haven't looked at other German books recently. I might look at some German books on Indian cooking to see how they differ from English versions.

Janene, I finally did get the recipe translated. The person who handled my bank account was from Brazil, and he helped me with it. I don't know if I still have it, however, as that was quite a few years ago. Thanks for offering to help!


    Bookmark   January 22, 2010 at 11:48AM
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I have a number of Chinese cookbooks published by the Wei-Chuan Cooking School in Taiwan. All but one of them are bilingual Chinese/English. A Chinese chef friend tells me that the recipes are authentically Chinese and that the Chinese is idiomatically correct, as is the English in my opinion. It's not clear which is the original language of the recipes.

The one oddball in my Wei-Chuan collection doesn't help. Mexican Cooking Made Easy/Comida Mexicana Facil de Preparar by Diana Soliz-Martese is bilingual English/Spanish. I am fairly fluent in both languages. Not only are the English and Spanish idiomatically correct, but neither appears to be a translation of the other. The phrasing, sentence structure, and even the division of the text into paragraphs is significantly different in places. The paraphrase is good enough that I can't tell which is the original language.

Sadly, when I cook from the Chinese/English books I have no choice but to use the instructions in English. When I cook from the English/Spanish book I deliberately use the instructions in Spanish because it just feels right when I'm cooking Mexican dishes.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2010 at 4:48PM
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Ok, so perhaps you can answer your own question for us. What's the difference between the English and the Spanish within the same cookbook? Is there any, or do you just feel more of a spiritual connection reading a Spanish recipe in Spanish?

That's not to downplay the latter, because to some of us cooking is more than a scientific function. But if you think about it, a written recipe is nothing more than ingredients, amount, and method. I think we'd all agree that three cooks could turn out three significantly different meals from the exact same recipe, so would you blame the recipe? Unless there's a translation issue - which I'm offhand thinking shouldn't really be an issue unless the cookbook is poorly edited - then fault potentially lies in the hands of the interpreter/cook.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2010 at 7:07PM
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Sorry, when I read velodoug's response I thought it was Lars'... It doesn't change my point any, just who I'm pointing to ;-)

    Bookmark   January 22, 2010 at 7:13PM
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So I wonder if the recipes taht are significantly different in English were edited by someone who knows that most American cooks aren't going to have the time or patience (or possibly skill) to use the recipe as originally written. (And I realize that English is spoken in many other countries, but the American market for cookbooks is the biggest. Also, i know we have skilled cooks in the US, but I don't think any of us would deny that most people don't bother. There's a reason more and more cookbooks that are big in the US are of the "semi-homemade" ilk.)

    Bookmark   January 22, 2010 at 7:16PM
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English is a foreign language to me, but it is the language most of my cookbooks are written in, second to my native Icelandic. I also have several in Danish and one in Norwegian. I can decipher recipes in German, indeed I have a few that I translated to make using them easier. I could get through ones in French and Spanish with the help of a dictionary, but I haven't tried because there are so many cookbooks on those cuisines available in English.

I tend not to buy translated cookbooks. On the couple of occasions I have, I've run into problems, mostly due to the translator being unfamiliar with the cooking language of his or her target language. One recipe had cummin translated as kúmen, which is the Icelandic for caraway. Whenever I get into a discussion about translation problems I mention this as a perfect example of false friends.

Here is a link that might be useful: False friends

    Bookmark   January 22, 2010 at 7:21PM
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foodonastump asks, "What's the difference between the English and the Spanish within the same cookbook? Is there any, or do you just feel more of a spiritual connection reading a Spanish recipe in Spanish?"

The ingredients and process are identical. The reason I prefer the Spanish version is that almost all of the people I know personally who cook Mexican or other Latin American food are native Spanish speakers, and all of my conversations with them about that food are in Spanish. I won't go so far as to say that I think about Mexican food in Spanish - Spanish is my second language - but I do feel more connected with my friends when I use the Spanish versions of the recipes.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2010 at 9:16PM
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Another aspect of this question is that I think that when, to choose one example, a French cookery book is written/translated into English, there is possibly a tendency to pick recipes which will appeal to English/American people. An authentic recipe book will have recipes that will appeal to French people. Not necessarily the same! I have some (French) regional recipes books that are very different to those that I bought when I lived in England.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 3:37AM
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foodonastump asks, "What's the difference between the English and the Spanish within the same cookbook? Is there any, or do you just feel more of a spiritual connection reading a Spanish recipe in Spanish?"

The ingredients and process are identical. The reason I prefer the Spanish version is that almost all of the people I know personally who cook Mexican or other Latin American food are native Spanish speakers, and all of my conversations with them about that food are in Spanish. I won't go so far as to say that I think about Mexican food in Spanish - Spanish is my second language - but I do feel more connected with my friends when I use the Spanish versions of the recipes.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 11:06AM
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Sorry about the double posting. I was trying to retrieve an older thread and somehow resent the form for this one instead. (I wonder what else I messed up in the process.)


    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 11:11AM
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I can agree with Doug that there are often some differences in recipes from a foreign language being translated into English, perhaps it is in the use of idiomatic expressions or references which are recognized in one country but not the other, or in the methods used which are different than those used in an English speaking country. I only know that when I want a Spanish recipe, I much prefer to read the original as written by a Spanish cook over a version which has been translated into English.

And even in some of the best publishing houses there are often misunderstandings or mistakes in the translations.
Or a watered down version of a recipe so it will have more appeal to an English speaking readership.


    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 12:45PM
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One main different for using Vietnamese vs. English cookbooks is the measurement. The Vietnamese recipes uses the metric system (gram, liter, etc.) vs. American recipes uses the English system (cups, quarts, tsp, Tbs, etc.).

Many Vietnamese cookbooks that are written in English have been written by cook/chefs living here in the US. I noticed they use substitute ingredients sometimes because in many parts of the US, asian ingredients are not ready available. I'm fortunate to live in Houston which has a large community of Vietnamese with many Vietnamese/Chinese supermarkets. Not to mention, we get alot of produce and similar ingredients from Mexico.

Funny how it is, I seem to like adventuring with international cuisine more than just Vietnamese cuisine. I truly believe that if everyone in the world just concentrate on food, this world would live more in unity. My reason... there are so many similarity in food from different countries. ie: beef stew, so many countries has their version of beef stew, using almost the same ingredients: beef cubed, potatos and carrots, simmered until the meat has soften. Another example: beignets (Europe), sopapillas (Central America), ba'nh tie^u (Asian), doughnuts (North America), and so on... they're all simple batter, fried and taste quite similar.

Food never fails to amaze me. What can I say... I just love food. Can't imagine living my whole life by limiting with just a few cuisine or even solely of my own country.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 11:19PM
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Houston does have really good international markets, but I've noticed that these are showing up in many more cities. Perhaps this will encourage more interesting ethnic cookbooks to become available to take advantage of the availability of ingredients. I think the availability of good ethnic cookbooks in English has changed greatly in the last 30 or so years. One of the first good ethnic books I got was from the Frugal Gourmet on Immigrant Ancestors. Of course the recipes he collected were already Americanized to some extent, since he got them from immigrants and not the native countries, but it made it easier to make the recipes. I have found some recent cookbooks on Asian cuisine that have good glossaries describing exotic ingredients, where to find them, and what substitutions to make if they can't be found. I like this trend, and I hope to see more books with completely authentic recipes that the chef can then adapt as he likes or needs to.

I have an old Chinese cookbook that my sister gave me in 1987 (although it was first published in 1966), and it goes into detail about how to make the skins for spring rolls and egg rolls but say nothing about making noodles from scratch, which I think would be easier than spring roll skins. It's called The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook, and I've used it as a general reference for several years now, although I seldom follow the recipes to the letter. Many of the recipes offer quite a few variations, and so I felt that adaptations were encouraged.


    Bookmark   January 24, 2010 at 4:29PM
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Lars, you may be interested in the Wei-Chuan Cookbooks. They're written both in Chinese and in English. I have a good collection of these cookbooks because every photo looks yummy. I've made a few recipes and had learned quite a bit about why such recipes are cooked that way. I like cookbooks that besides giving the recipe, explained why it is done that way. I like cookbooks that give out tips too.

Here is a link that might be useful: Wei-Chuan Cookbooks at

    Bookmark   January 24, 2010 at 10:32PM
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I used Cuisine Sans Souci frequently when I lived in Paris. It contained a chicken and olive recipe similar to one posted here. Perhaps it was Lars?

    Bookmark   August 2, 2014 at 9:39AM
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