The quest of mobile phone scientists to overcome the remaining obstacles to communication has begun, with work on a program to translate Chinese and Japanese restaurant menus.
Speaking from the Nokia Research Centre in Helsinki, James Waterworth told The Times: “Most phones now have cameras and can plug into the internet. When you take a picture of text, it can then be run through a database.” Nokia hopes that the manifold mysteries of Asian menus may thus be revealed to Western travellers through their mobile app based translation service.
In Beijing, tourists will be equipped to avoid mudsnake and bullfrog. In Tokyo they will no longer find themselves unintentionally dining on raw horse meat or fermented bean curd.
The device could be useful in restaurants where an English translation of the menu is available. Many a traveller has been confused by “Salty egg king steams the vegetable sponge”.
Such titles arise from direct translations of Chinese names that incorporate the method by which a dish is prepared. Phyllis Fairfax, 30, a discerning London diner originally from Hong Kong, explained the riddle of the Salty Egg King. “I make it myself,” Ms Fairfax said. “It simply refers to eggs that have been soaked in concentrated salt-water. The ‘king’ is a description that tells you that the dish is upmarket. It might equally be translated as a ‘royal salty egg’. Then the vegetable sponge is probably just a bed of vegetables.”
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