Funny Chinese Dishes: Dead Man’s Coffin, Wild Speculation Beef Salamander and More

I did a lot of thinking over the last week.

All this was sparked off by the long comment that Dyn made which I made it into a blog post called Why Do Whites Accept Japanese and Thai Cuisine Over Other Cuisine. I posted it because it was controversial and thought our readers would love to read of it. However, little did I expect that Dyn’s notes sparked off a series of very long, thought provoking comments from other readers.

That got me thinking over a few comments made regarding bad translations in Chinese Menu that puts off diners who are not familiar with the cuisine. So I did some more research on the internet and in one discussion forum, there was a discussion how a western menu differs from a Chinese one.


In western menu, the dishes often describes the ingredients and the way it is prepared.


On the other hand, with Chinese dishes, you will not always be able to picture the dish if you are not familiar with it. Traditionally, many Chinese dishes have a 4-word (syllable) names and some of the names have no relevance to the dish. Sometimes they even sound poetic when spoken.

Anyway, Suanne and I thought that over the weekend we just go and check out two funny sounding menu items that we know of. These are from our past restaurant visits that our readers had pointed out which we did not realize. The plan was just to go into these restaurants and order just this ONE item and do a review of them.

Suanne was kind of “mm hoe yee see” going in and ordering one item for the two of us. Taking pictures in a restaurant already catches attention but going in and ordering ONE specific dish, taking pictures and then leave quickly sure got the attention of the restaurant. But that is what we did.

Here is what we tried:

Dead Man Coffin from Sunway Restaurant


Anyone has any idea why this is called the Dead Man’s Coffin? I can only guess it is because it is … shaped like a coffin with a lid on it. No, Chinese coffins are not square if you are thinking that. Traditional Chinese coffins looks like this if you are curious.

Dead-Man-Coffin-1-300x300Dead Man’s Coffin is actually a very tall piece of deep fried toast filled with seafood in creamy sauce. The bread is deep fried and hollowed out for the fillings.
Dead-Man-Coffin-2-300x300#1: The first item to eat is the coffin lid. It is thin and amazingly crispy.
Dead-Man-Coffin-3-300x300#2: The seafood filling includes imitation crab, prawns and mussels. I am quite surprised that this is only $6 considering the work put into making this and the ingredients too.
Dead-Man-Coffin-4-300x300#3: Next is the creamy soup which has onions. We appreciate the fact that it is not too rich and thick.
Dead-Man-Coffin-5-300x300#4: And once the coffin lid and the coffin ingredients are done, we devoured the rest of the coffin. The coffin is slightly different from the coffin lid. While the coffin lid is dry and crispy, the coffin proper soaks up a bit of the soup giving it a very nice balance of crispiness and moist with contrasting flavours.

We had never heard of the Dead Man’s Coffin before, let alone eaten it until now. But this is one dish worth checking out. It is fun and tastes great to. Here is the link to the write up of our previous visit to the Sunway Restaurant.

Sunway Restaurant 三味食堂 on Urbanspoon

Wild Speculation Beef Salamander from Bushuair Restaurant

Earlier to going to Sunway, we went to the Aroma Garden to try the Wild Speculation Beef Salamander. We went in and was surprised that it is no longer the place we remember it. Instead, everyone was having hot pot!

We asked the waitress who told us that they had moved to the strip mall where Hon’s is on No 3 Road. She passed us a card saying it is just 5 minutes walk. But the new restaurant is no longer called Aroma Garden but it is now known as Bushuair Restaurant.


Walking into Bushuair, we can immediately confirm that it is the same restaurant with a different name as Aroma Garden … which in turn used to be called Gordon Park! There were these unmistakable portraits (portraits, not portrait!) of Mao in the restaurant and also the same octagonal lanterns we saw the last time we were in Aroma Garden.

What really piqued my curiosity is why they changed their name so many times when Gordon Park was already establishing a name for itself as a good restaurant in Richmond.


Bushuair is located at the same location where the Harvest Moon Szechuan Restaurant used to be. The picture menu at Bushuair is 100% identical with Aroma Garden from what I can see. Good thing is that they still serve the mysterious Wild Speculation Beef Salamander which was the reason of our visit.


Our waitress did not even bat an eyelid when we said we wanted one dish with one bowl of rice. So, this is it … the Wild Speculation
Beef Salamander!


Can anyone help with the translation here? Any idea how the Chinese name gets translated to Wild Speculation Beef Salamander?


Anyway, this dish is for the brave. It is super, super hot! All caused by these pickled chili peppers.


Look at it … they even have the seeds in it. This is not a dish for everyone. It is not choking kind of spiciness but it brings numbing, throbbing heat on the lips and tongue. Suanne said she can even feel the heat down to her stomach. We did not even finish half of this dish as we could not stand the heat anymore. To add to it, drinking hot tea will sear your tongue and lips more.

But did we like the pain this dish brings? He he he … yes, we did. But we should have other dishes to balance out the heat. Having just this with steamed rice is not a good idea.

So, there you go … two of of the funny named dishes we know in Richmond. Let us know if you know of any local dishes that came into your mind. We might just make a visit to check them out.

Sunway Restaurant 三味食堂 on Urbanspoon

And More …

I want to leave a few interesting links for you that I found in the course of writing this post:

This Post Has 31 Comments

  1. koji

    coffin bread is the proper name for it, it’s a taiwanese night market item that initially was in a longer shape like a coffin. the one that you see isn’t like what you can find in taiwan though. i’ll post some pics on what it looks like from shihlin night market in a few days.

  2. fmed

    The restaurant with three names. I actually know that restaurant more by the name “Gordon Park – Xiangcai Museum”.

    (Xiangcai was the clue that it served Hunan which is also known as Xiang.)

    The “Aroma Garden” was a new one to me – it was only ever on the sign at the entrance of the driveway.

    1. Suanne

      Hi Fmed: The name “Aroma Garden” was also on the receipt. I cannot recall if it was on the menu too but during our visit it was very much Aroma Garden except for the signboard on the outside which confused us. Ben

  3. LotusRapper

    Don’t know about beef salamander … but if it’s alive and moves, we eat ’em ! 😉

    Other dishes that always get the bad translations on menus:

    “Ants on a Tree” (or “Ants Climbing a Tree”): Mung bean thread noodles stir-fried with ground beef:

    “Singing Chicken”: Sizzling Chicken (usually served in a clay pot)

    Now here’s one that I always *thought* was a bad, comical translation: “Bible Tripe”. Until recently, when I discovered that “Bible” refers to beef omasum, also known as “bible tripe” ! :

  4. fmed

    This place has to be the tops for Crazy Chinglish. Along with the “Salamander” dishes (there are more than one) there is the “Wild Speculation” dishes (eg “Wild Speculation at the Center of Garlic”. And don’t forget that the little clay dish rice is “Immortal” LOL – which unfortunately does not mean All You Can Eat rice as there is so little of it.

    1. Suanne

      Hi Fmed: How did you know all these names? Do you happen to have their menu by any chance? There were so many pages to their picture menu that I did not take a picture of them. Ben

        1. Ben

          He he he … Fmed. I must say that I have not seen a person so dedicated to the subject to food that you. I would not have taken so many pictures of the menu but you did! Ben

  5. flown

    “Wild Speculation Beef Salamander”, according to your receipt actually reads as wild mountain peppers fried with beef. I have no idea where salamander came from! Maybe from the somewhat (but not really) similar pronounciation?

    1. shi-chan

      The chinese characters for “mountain” and “pepper/chili” (山 and 椒, respectively) is commonly a compound noun for “salamander” – not the legendary lizard, but the amphibious kind that’s more closely related to frogs than reptiles. I have no idea where the “speculation” comes in. *facepalms*

      sounds like the place just ran its entire menu through some sort of babelfish program and didn’t bother proofreading. XD You have now seen how Engrish is born in hawt smexy awkshun!

      1. shi-chan

        Wait, on second thought, I DO know where the speculation comes in.

        The chinese verb for fry, (炒)is commonly used as the action verb for speculating in fluctuating liquidables – such as stocks and bonds. There you have it.

  6. Monkeysmile

    Hi Suanne and Ben:

    What a hilarious experiment. I laughed out loud when I read the menu items that you tasted. What funny, yet aptly titled menu names.

    It seems like North American chefs have a certain knack for jazzing up the descriptions of food on their menus.

    For example, a menu item like a delectable plate of prairie oysters with chanterelle mushrooms are really a bowl full of bull testicles. An assortment of sweetbreads is really intestines.

    I think that Chinese menus describe their dishes in a blunt and unpretentious way and some times, this may lead the patron to have an unappetizing visual of the food product and be discouraged from trying it.

    1. Marcie Gauntlett

      Monkeysmile: Sweetbreads are not intestines; sweetbread refers to the thymus gland of the cow. Love them!

  7. Joyce

    Oh my god – they use “speculation” instead “fry/stirfry”!

    LOL “Speculation at the Center or Garlic”

    Awesome post, Ben & Suanne!

  8. DylanK

    I’m up early, reading old Chowtimes posts.

    野山椒炒牛肉, yěshānjiāo chǎo niúròu, “wild speculation beef salamander,” as someone said should be translated as “wild mountain peppers fried with beef.”

    I have a feeling the translation of “wild speculation” comes from crappy translation software misreading the 炒 chǎo and thinking it must mean the same thing as 炒热 chǎorè, which means “fry hot,” but is the term for wild speculation on stocks, driving the price up.

    Looking at all the possible ways to refer to salamanders and newts in Chinese, I can’t find anything to lead to that translation. There’s a piece of popular Chinese-English translation software called Kingsoft that’s notoriously bad and I think it’s probably the culprit.

    But what the heck is up with the new name Bushuair? The Chinese name has been the same but they’ve changed the name three times, four times? Bushuair seems to have nothing to do with their Chinese name, which is and always has been Jùxiāngcūn (or yuán, sometimes) Xiāngcài Jiǔlóu. The only place in the world that the word “Bushuair” occurs is in the English name of a Hunan restaurant in Vancouver!

  9. DylanK

    I went thru all 20 or so pages of menu ones. I love it.

    Lots of uses of “wild speculation,” too. You know, once you read enough of them, you can figure out what it is. Just remember, if it says “wild speculation,” it means it’s stir fried.

  10. cissy

    FYI, just this past week,a Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant made the headline news b/c of the English translation on its menu, e.g. beef tripe(牛栢葉) is translated as ‘albert yip’.

    1. LotusRapper

      For the longest time, I thought the Cantonese menu item “Bible Tripe” was either a typo or a really bad translation. Turns out, it’s for real:

      “Beef tripe is usually made from only the first three chambers of a cow’s stomach: the rumen (blanket/flat/smooth tripe), the reticulum (honeycomb and pocket tripe), and the omasum (book/bible/leaf tripe).”

      Who knew ??

      1. Marike

        Cool, I can totally picture it now! “Bible/book” because of the flaps that are like pages of a book. Wow, makes so much sense now.

  11. Marcie Gauntlett

    Marike: Any special recipes for the omasum? I’m cooking it now and will fry it up with onions…hmmmmmm! Cheers!

  12. Jimmy L

    According to the Chinese in your receipt, the proper translation for野山 椒 炒 牛肉
    is Wild Mountain Pepper 野山 椒 stir fry beef 炒 牛肉. This dish should call “wild mountain pepper stir fry beef”.
    They are misrepresenting the ingredient. It’s no such thing as “wild mountain pepper” and if they do have, it properly grows in the wild mountain in China by farmer and properly quite expense. The pepper shown in your pictures, it looks like ordinary green hot pepper. They should not charge you $14.95 for that dish. Ordinary green hot pepper is very cheap. It just like regular green pepper.
    If they call it “Hot Green Pepper stir fry Beef”, they can’t justify charging you $14.95 that’s why they give it a fancy name.

    1. Jimmy L

      Furthermore, I wonder why nobody raise the question why Mao’s
      毛擇東picture is in the restaurant. I guess the owner of this restaurant is from 湖南 Hunan province in China where Mao and Dong as well as most of the spicy food come from. This restaurant serve 四川 Szechwan food, that’s why they all very spicy.
      The reasons why they change their name so often, because they try to reinvented themselves, every time they change the name, they change the menu and they charge you more. Still the same food and same owner,why not! Very tricky operator.

      1. Jimmy L


        Sichuan pepper (Z. piperitum) leaves have a fresh flavour somewhat in between of mint and lime.

        Szechwan pepper is native to the Szechwan province of China. Though they bear some resemblance to black peppercorns, they are not actually of the pepper family, but the dried berry of a tree of the rue family. Several Zanthoxylum species grow throughout the temperate belt of China, Japan, the Himalayas and North America. They all have similarities, being aromatic and used in herbal remedies. Only the pipertium variety of the East is useful for cooking.

        Most of these dishes are use CHICKEN, because Chicken is more commonly used in China rather than Beef.

        *there are 4 pictures in the above site in connection with this reply. (I don’t know how to post picture in this site)

        Ben you get cheated.

        1. Jimmy L

          Chinese salamander is considered as delicacy, they consider Salamander has this myth of medical value. It quite an expense dishes. They eat so much of them; it’s now considered as extinct spices.

          The dish they serve you “Beef Salamander” which should stated as “Hot Pepper with Beef” don’t look very appetite compare to those served in China.

  13. Buddha Girl

    Coffin Bread (棺材板) originated from Tainan (Taiwan) but it’s original name was Chicken Liver Bread (direct translation from 雞肝板). It was called CLB because chicken liver was the main ingredient.

    The creator changed the name when one of the visiting archaeologists thought it looked like the stone coffin they were studying…the creator thought the name was quite unique, so he changed it to Coffin Bread (棺材板).

    Nowadays, many street vendors changed the name to Prosperity Bread (官財板) simply because of Chinese superstitions.

    The funny thing is that most locals do not (or refuse to) eat this, again, due to Chinese superstitions.

  14. Elaine

    Ben I had the Coffin Bread last week, I loved the lid SO MUCH!!! I wish there was more…if they make it dish…fried bread slices or something…I would totally order it. I find the other parts a bit too soggy for my liking (but mine was more drenched in soup than yours). Just wondering, have you seen it anywhere else? I remember having a taste of my friend’s a long time ago at Estea, but I don’t quite remember the taste anymore and am not sure if they have it still now…

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