Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cookbooks--a translator's best friend

Maybe I just tend to translate books full of food, even elaborate meals (the Virgin's Jubilee breakfast in La Virgen Pipona/The Potbellied Virgin being a favorite example) but I have found, mostly by chance, that international cookbooks provide a wealth of information for the translator. Plenty of ingredients--herbs, spices, cuts of meat--have straightforward parallels across languages, but many do not. Prepared dishes can be harder to indentify, and a lush, full-color illustration of the finished stew or conserve can be invaluable. Pictures can be especially helpful in a monolingual, source-language cookbook-- so that's what they're eating! Then there are the multi-lingual glossaries, the explanations of staples and procedures that might be daunting to a cook unfamiliar with the cuisine described. 

Not to be overlooked: the tangential fun of reading cookbooks. So many wonderful dishes to imagine without all the tedious chopping. One of my favorites carries a blurb that proclaims it a MUST for the bookshelf of any serious cook. I'm not really a serious cook. Grim, maybe, heating bean and cheese tortillas at a gallop before fencing classes or recorder lessons. But I like to dabble. Imaginary cooking requires little skill and only modest self-control to keep the snacking demons in check. And if I finally identify an elusive pastry, it even counts as work, not woolgathering.

I suppose it's a matter of seeing "dictionary" in the broadest possible sense--the plant books I've mentioned before, compendia of mythological creatures and little-known saints, forgotten movie reviews. Today's library trip had a specific goal: cookbooks from or about Argentina. There weren't too many in my local library but there were, I hope, just enough to get the characters through their breakfasts and on with the story. Maybe I'll even try cooking a new dish or two in preparation.

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