In grade school, I was a voracious reader and I loved books where fancy people ate “hors de vors” before dinner. It was years before my mom told me, laughing, that I meant hors d'œuvre and this was simply “orderve.” Thankfully, I’ve become a bit smarter the older I’ve gotten and the more I’ve eaten. Still not sure I like someone laughing over my pronunciation, however.
Realistically in Kansas City, it’s probably not terribly necessary to know what poutine is (fat hand-cut fries, cheese curds, with hot gravy poured on top) or how to pronounce it (peu-tin, kinda like the Russian president) since we don’t live in Quebec. (However, I just must add I can think of three or four restaurants and a food truck that do serve a mean poutine. But then, I’ve never been to Quebec.)
Back to my point, have you ever felt intimidated, shy, or just plain reluctant to ask what something is in a restaurant? Or worse, have you pretended you know, only to have your pronunciation tell the world, or at least your companions and your waiter, that you really don’t know what you’re talking about? Or even still worse, just not order something for those reasons? Sad to say, I’ve been on this trip with you.
We at The Guide are determined to help you down that path more quickly than I have traveled it. Some words in this article and boxes may make you shake your head, but believe me, we’ve talked to waiters about what they’ve heard and tried not to eye-roll about.
Robert Gutierrez, senior professional staff member at The American Restaurant for the last 16 years, doesn’t ever roll his eyes because he knows how much there is to learn. He says not only is food more sophisticated today and techniques more advanced and often even scientific, his patrons know more – thank you, Food Network. He welcomes questions but when he sees the possibility of someone being uncomfortable with a food or technique, he readily explains. “The server,” he says, “is the one relating to the diner’s needs and desires. I learned long ago, at Jasper’s, to make the customer a guest in my home. I’m their host and it’s my job to make them feel terrific.” Most good waiters should have the same attitude – so ask away, diners.
|Ceviche (sah veet shay) Raw fish marinated in lime or lemon appetizer
But if you still don’t want to ask, you could read. One suggestion is The Food Lover’s Companion by Sharon and Ron Herbst which is available at Pryde’s in Westport – both the book and the store provide a great compilation of food related items. This book has 6,700 words all defined and pronounced for you. Every cook, too, should own it for all its useful information.
Many foreign words have made their way into our eating compendium and I’ll not deny foreign language fluency could help many of us. The French have contributed more than a soupçon (soup-saaw, means a little bit) of terminology. Some of these words everyone knows now, like café which we’ve moved from just coffee to a small place which serves coffee along with other food. Café au lait (kuh-fay oh-lay, coffee with steamed milk) is known to almost everyone originally due to New Orleans’ Café du Monde and later to Starbucks and other coffee shops. Most know a baguette (bag-et) is a long crusty loaf of bread, à la carte (ah lah kahrt) means priced individually and à la mode of course is ice cream but really means “in the manner of.” But quenelle (kuh-NELL, a 3 sided scoop of something soft enough to mold) hasn’t exactly made it in yet. And, let’s be honest, fleur de sel (fler duh sel, flower of salt) sounds so much better than just large crystals of salt, even if they are hand harvested near a sea.
The Italians have sent us many, many terms other than pizza (peet-za) and pasta (pahz-tuh) and spaghetti (spa-getty). (Sorry, I’m really getting into this non-phonetic spelling.) We now know lots of different kinds of pasta besides macaroni. Rissoto (ruh soat oh) is a creamy rice dish that can be adapted a bunch of ways, but if they say they can have it out to you in five minutes, don’t order it. It should be made from scratch each time. Focaccia (foh cau she a) is a white pizza or flatbread. Most of us learned minestrone (minnah-strone-ee) from Campbell’s vegetable soup cuz that’s what it is. Semifreddo (semi-fraydoh), a group of half-frozen desserts, often similar to ice cream (or gelato (ja lot toe) I suppose). Oh, there’s so much more!
I haven’t even gotten to Mexican additions we mostly know like empanada, flauta (flout ah), queso (kay so, white cheese), pozole (pah so lee), tortilla (tor tee ah) and ohsomany more. Then there are words like ghee (khee, clarified butter) from India or borscht (boreshst, a beetroot soup) from Russia. When you start looking, it’s amazing how many foreign words and dishes have become part of our culture.
Techniques, methods, styles are also adding to our vocabulary constantly. Culinary jargon is not just for chefs anymore. It’s our job just to learn some of them, pronounce them correctly, and ask others (or read) if we don’t know. A chiffonade (sheff fa nad) is just thinly sliced shreds of herb leaves. En papillote means your fish usually will come packaged in parchment paper, which keeps it moist. If that poultry or pork has been brined, it just means it has been soaked in water, salt, and possibly a sweetener and herbs. We may not even be talking molecular gastronomy but sometimes the techniques are almost as important as the freshness of your food.
Believe me, this salmagundi (sal muh guhn dee, a mixed salad dish including chopped meat, anchovies, eggs, onions, lemon juice, and oil and whatever else you want) of foods, techniques, and cultures can be such a complete language that even dedicated foodies make errors. So, don’t worry, I guarantee that you are not the only one who doesn’t know, or can’t say, all the terminology.
But remember, we all can: Learn. Read. Eat. Ask. Grow.
We’ve put some words in boxes, normally just giving the most common or most country-correct pronunciations. Would you spell the sounds the same way?
Anchovy (an choh vee) Small silvery fish
Bouillabaisse (boo ya bess) Stew with Mediterranean fish, tomatoes, etc.
Branzino (bran z no) Mediterranean seabass
Calamari (kal lah mar ee) Squid
Ceviche (sah veet shay) Raw fish marinated in lime or lemon appetizer
Escargot (ess car go) Snail
Cioppino (cha peen oh) Italian fish stew with shellfish and tomatoes
Where’s the Beef?
Andouille (an doo ee) Not beef, it’s a spicy, smoked sausage used in Cajun cooking
Beef bourguignon (boor geen yon) French beef stew made with red wine
Carpaccio (car pauch chee oh) Very thinly sliced raw beef served with a sauce or now, anything thinly sliced
Charcuterie (shar coot ter ree) French store or tray of meats, pates, etc.
Chorizo (chor ree zo) Spanish sausage
Foie gras (fwaw graw) Liver of force-fed fattened geese or ducks
Mole (mo lay) A thick, rich sauce
Osso buco (oss-oh boo-co) Braised veal shanks in wine, vegetables, etc.
Pancetta (pan chet tah) Italian pork belly
Pâté (pa tay) Paste or spread made of puréed or finely chopped liver, meat, fish, game, etc., served as an hors d'oeuvre
Tartare (tar tar) Finely chopped and served raw (often beef)
Torchon (tor chon) Towel. Usually refers to how foie gras is wrapped for a bit of herbed aging
Arugula (aah ru goo la) Leafy vegetable with pungent flavor
Cipollini (chip po leeny) Small wild onion
Crêpe (krep) Thin, light pancake
Escarole (es ka roll) Broad leaf endive
Frisée (free zee or frees say) A curly edged form of endive
Gnocchi (noke ee) Small potato or flour dumplings
Hummus (hoo mus) Chick pea paste or dip
Jicama (hick kuh ma) Large tropical root eaten raw or boiled
Kohlrabi (coal rab bee) Cultivated cabbage with bulb on top of soil
Mesclun (mess klen) Salad with young, tender mixed greens
Peppadew (pep pah doo) Sweet but slightly spicy pepper grown in South Africa
Quinoa (keen wah) A seed served like rice
Ratatouille (rat tah tu ee) Not the movie, this is vegetable stew
Thyme (time) A herb
Tomatillo (toma tee oh) Mexican green tomato