The handy list of French food vocabulary. With words and phrases translating from French to English, here is the ABC of French Cuisine!
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There is nothing scarier than looking at a French recipe book where you don’t understand anything. Or worse, walking into a French restaurant and looking at the menu in bafflement. French cuisine may be much-vaunted but are you accidentally going to be ordering frog legs or pig guts?
Not that there is anything wrong with those who wish to order a yummy
plate of escargot, but I presume that everyone prefers to know what they are ordering before they order it.
We will look at the top French food words, terms, and phrases to make it all clear, along with example recipes so that you can follow it in action. So here goes, the ABC of French food.
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38 French Food Facts that will have you saying “hmmm” A
À emporter meal to go, takeaway food (opposite of “sur place” – eat in) Addition bill, receipt Agneau lamb Aïoli a Mediterranean sauce made of garlic, salt, and olive oil. (Get aioli recipe here.) Aligot mashed potatoes combined with Tomme d’Auvergne cheese Andouillette sausage made from pork intestines. Often smelly. Apéritif pre-meal drinks before sitting down for dinner (see list of top French apéritifs here). Apéro an informal get-together over drinks and finger foods. Usually held in the early evening with family and friends. Assiette plate B
Baba au rhum spongy cake soaked in rum. Usually topped with whipped cream and berries. Baguette long traditional French bread Beignet fried dough, fritter Bien cuit well-cooked meat, usually steak. (Other options are “ saignant” – rare or “ à point” – medium) Boeuf bourgionion a traditional beef stew cooked in red wine from Burgundy. (See recipe here) Boeuf Bourgionion Bonbon candy Boudin Noir sausages filled with cooked or dried blood of pigs, cows, etc. Bouillabaisse a fish stew from Marseille Brioche a type of French pastry bread that is slightly sweet. C
Cabillaud codfish Cacahuète peanut Café a cup of espresso. (See here for ordering other types of coffee in France.) Cake a savory cake, usually filled with bacon and olives. (A normal english cake is called a gâteau in French.) Calisson a traditional French candy from Aix-en-Provence. Made out of fruit topped off with a thin layer of marzipan. Canard duck (eg. “ confit de canard“, a dish you will regularly see on Parisian brasserie menus.) Carte the menu. (Carte de vin is the wine menu.) Cassoulet a traditional dish from Southern France consisting of white beans, sausages, and meats. (See cassoulet recipe here.) Cèpe porcini mushroom Champignon mushroom Charcuterie a variety of dried sausage, ham and meat products served at an apéro get-together. (Get the Guide to composing a charcuterie board here.) Charlotte a type of dessert where the tin mold is lined with ladyfinger biscuits and filled with layers of custard and fruit. Chèvre goat. (“fromage de chèvre” is goat cheese.) Chou cabbage Chou à la crème a small pastry ball filled with cream or custard Choucroute sauerkraut Cochon pig Compote a pureed fruit that is usually served to children as an after-school snack or dessert Comptoir the counter at a bar or restaurant. (In France, unless you are at a fancy restaurant, it is acceptable to go up to the counter to pay. Sometimes, it is even expected.) Confiture jam Coq au vin a traditional stew with chicken cooked in wine. (See coq au vin recipe here.) Coquille St. Jacques scallops dish that is usually served as an appetizer in France. (See Coquille St. Jacques recipe here.) Couteau knife Crème fraîche heavy cream Crêpe thin flat pancakes, originating in Bretagne ( Brittany). (See Crêpe Suzette and Crêpe Galette Bretonne recipes.) Crevette shrimp Croque Monsieur/ Madame a traditional sandwich served at lunch, that is smothered with cheese. (See here for a Croque Monsieur recipe.) Cru raw Cuillère spoon Cuit cooked D
Dégustation tasting. (eg. “ Dégustation de ” – Champagne tasting) champagne Déjeuner lunch. “Pétit déjeuner” however means breakfast (small lunch). Dessert Dessert (get list of top French desserts here) Digestif a strong alcoholic after-dinner drink. (See popular digestifs in France.) Dîner dinner. Usually served after 8pm. E
Eau water. (“ Eau de robinet” – tap water; “ Eau Gazeuse” – sparkling water; “ Eau plate” – still water) Entrée starter Épicé spicy Épinard spinach Escargot snails (See how to eat escargot here.) F
Faire moitie moitie splitting in half (eg. spliting the receipt, or splitting a dessert) Farci stuffed or stuffing (eg. stuffed mushrooms) Fermier Farmer (referring to produce directly from the farm). Flan type of custard in a crust (see French flan recipe here) Foie liver. (“ ” is the goose liver delicacy.) Foie gras Fondue a traditional recipe from the Alps mountains that involves dipping bread in hot melted cheese dish served in a large pot. (See Cheese fondue recipe here.) Fourchette fork Frit fried. (“Frites” is french fries.) Fromage cheese (See here for more on different types of French cheeses.) Fruits de mer seafood Fumé smoked. (“ Saumon fumé” is smoked salmon) G
Haricot beans (eg “ haricots verts” is green beans) Harissa a spicy chili red paste from North Africa that is popular in France Homard lobster Huitres oyster I
île flottant a French dessert consisting of meringue floating on crème anglaise. J
Jambon ham (“ jambon cru” – salt-cured ham; “ jambon cuit” – cooked ham) Jus juice K
Macarons a meringue-like cookie with cream in between 2 layers. Comes in a variety of flavors and colors. Maison Home (eg: “fait maison” meaning home-made. This is an official govt. distinction that restaurants in France are allowed to note on their menus if they meet certain requirements.) Moules mussels Mousse food that has been pureed and incorporated with small air bubbles to give it a light and airy texture. (See Strawberry mousse recipe.) N
Navet turnip Noisette hazelnut Noix nut; walnut O
Pain bread Pâté paste made of ground meats and organ meats (see pâté examples here) Pastis an anise flavored apéritif Pâtes pasta Pâtisserie pastry; pastry shop Petit pois peas Pichet Pitcher or Jug (eg. “ pichet de vin” meaning pitcher of wine, which is usually less expensive and less quantity than a full bottle of wine.) Piment spice. (“ pimenté” meaning spicy) Plat main dish. (eg. “ Plat du jour” meaning special of the day) Poisson fish Poivron bell pepper Poivre pepper (as in salt and pepper) Pomme apple Pomme de terre potato Porc pork Pot-au-feu a French beef stew with carrots, turnips, leeks, celery, and onions). Potiron pumpkin Poulet chicken (see recipe for Poulet Provençale) Poulpe octopus Pourboire tip (Note: In France, the price usually includes the tip. If you wish, you can round up the bill.) Q
Raclette a traditional winter dish that involves pouring melted cheese on to potatoes. Served with charcuterie ham and pickles. (See Raclette recipe here.) Ragoût stew Ratatouille a vegetable stew made with zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes. (See ratatouille recipe here.) Rillettes meat which has been seasoned then slow-cooked and submerged in fat for several hours. The rillettes are spread on bread and eaten (usually as part of a charcuterie platter.) Riz rice (eg. “ Riz au Lait” meaning rice pudding) Rouleau roll Roux roux is made with flour and butter of equal parts, blended and cooked together to make a paste. It is used to thicken sauces. S
Saignant bloody; meat that is lightly cooked or rare (Other options are “ bien cuit” meaning well-cooked or “ à point” meaning medium.) Salsifis a root vegetable called salsify that is commonly eaten in France Saumon fumé smoked salmon Saussison a dry cured sausage Socca a type of flatbread from Nice (see Socca recipe) Sommelier a member of the restaurant wait-staff who picks the wine and advises clients. Sous vide a French cooking technique in which food is placed in a plastic pouch (or glass jar) and cooked in a water bath for a long time. Surgelé frozen T
Tartare raw meat or fish that has been chopped or shredded into small pieces. (See Salmon tartare recipe here.) Tarte flambée A thin pizza that is a specialty in Alsace along the French-German border. Usually made from fromage blanc or crème fraîche, thin-sliced onions and lardons. Also sometimes called Flammkuchen or Flammekueche. Tartiflette a traditional scallop potatoes dish from Savoy, France, made with reblochon cheese, lardons and onions. (See tartiflette recipe here.) Tartine Spread (eg. chocolate tartine) Terrine paste made of ground meats and organ meats, similar to Pâté, that has been cooked in an earthern dish. Tranche slice Tripes animal guts (lining from the stomachs) of various farm animals Truffe truffle Truite trout U
Un/Une one (French joke: if you are not sure if it is “ un baguette” or “ une baguette“, just ask for “ deux (2) baguettes“!) V
XXL Restaurants in France do not serve xxl-size food portions. If you are really hungry, you should order entrée-plat-dessert (starter-main-dessert) Y
Zzzzzz that was a lot of food, time for some zzzz’s!
If you enjoyed that article, you may enjoy reading more about the ingredients in a classic
French pantry. A bientôt!
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