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IDIOT’S GUIDE: How to order in French

If you’re neither a Francophile nor a French speaker, you’ve probably had trouble at least once when ordering French cuisine in French. We’re of the strict belief that confusion should never be a tongue-tying barrier between you and food, so here’s a user-friendly guide to ordering French like a native:

The French are known for their bread, cheese, and wine, so let’s start there.

Cabernet Sauvignon. Or ka-behr-NAY soh-vihn-YOHN: A rich red wine mixed with spice.

This wine is made from grapes that originate from Bordeaux in the southwest of France and are now grown in most wine-producing countries. It is a heavy, full-bodied wine with high levels of tannin, which can come from the skin of grapes and the wood from the barrels the wine is aged in. A lot of tannins means an intense bitter flavor and that the wine should not be paired with food like vegetables or fish because they will not counterbalance the strong bitterness. What you want to pair Cabernet Sauvignon with is food bursting with rich flavors – steak and duck make the cut, as does dark chocolate. By itself, Cabernet Sauvignon is a heady blend of spice, plum and currant flavors, and can sometimes feature a tinge of cedar, tobacco and anise notes.

Moving on to bread, which also an option to pair with wine:

This is Fougasse, a lattice-shaped/tree-shaped flat bread associated with Provence in Southeast France.

That is, Foo-GAHSS. Not too tricky, right?

It is known to be the French version of Italian focaccia and has a diverse cultural background: in ancient Rome, panis focacius was a flat bread baked in the ashes of hearth, later evolving into other flat breads like fouaisse in Burgundy and fougasse of Provence.

Bakers can afford to be creative with this because many and perhaps any topping can be added to it. Cheese, semi-roasted tomatoes, olives, toasted walnuts, bacon, and herbs like thyme and rosemary can be added for a savory good time. The way the dough is slashed can also be customized in dozens of ways, which makes for a fun weekend project.

Now, meet one France’s most famous and old cheeses: Roquefort! Pronounced ROHK-fohr, it is a sheep’s milk blue cheese of the Occitan region in Southern France. Doesn’t that sound delicious?

Roquefort is a moldy delight made from unpasteurized ewes’ milk and aged in the natural caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. This exclusive cheese is produced by only 7 companies, all of which are located in the aforementioned village. It tastes very salty, tangy and creamy and has distinctive dark green veins in white cheese.

A close equivalent would be the Italian cheese, Gorgonzola. What Gorgonzola may not have on Roquefort is the hypothesized health benefits of moulded cheese, favorable toward cardiovascular health due to its anti-inflammatory properties. It doesn’t hurt to have some moulded blue cheese once in awhile, so eat up, mes amis!

Coq Au Vin is ‘KOK-oh-van”, a recipe from Burgundy, France involves cooking chicken in red wine (usually Burgundy wine). The chicken is marinated before it is cooked with onions, garlic and mushrooms. And now you know how to order a potentially awkward item.

Also known as the Napoleon because of an early French association between the mille-feuille and Naples, making it a neapolitan pastry, we have mille-feuille. Pronounced “MEEL-foy”, it means ‘a thousand leaves’. This dessert consists of layers of puff pastry dough and cream filling (sometimes vanilla or custard) topped with white icing and a drizzle of chocolate.

Salade Niçoise is a very substantial salad that can be enjoyed as a main dish. Recipes vary but can include tomatoes, tuna, eggs, anchovies, bell peppers and lots of olive oil. Better learn to say this right, as “NEE-swah”, or the snooty Vandergelds in White Chicks will try to make fun of you for it. 

Next we have Vichyssoise! Say:Vee-shee-swahz. A creamy soup made of puréed onions, potatoes, chicken stock, it is often served chilled and topped with chopped leeks. Made famous among Americans by Julia Child on her show.

And since we’re on the topic of soups, here’s one last one–Bouillabaisse (pronounced “BOO-yah-behs”). Tomatoes and saffron make the savory base of this seafood soup which is garnished by a distinctive splash of rouille. Shellfish, squid, shrimp, clams and other fish are cooked together.

When all else fails, ask your serveur (whom you should call ‘Monsieur’), how to pronounce the name of the dish you desire – he will be more than happy to help you on your culinary journey.

-Min Yi Tan

Cover photo source.

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