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Bon appétit: The words you need to decode a French restaurant menu

There's nothing like savouring a delicious meal in a proper French restaurant... but unfortunately menus in France tend to come with their own set of linguistic challenges. Here's what you need to know to eat like a local.

Bon appétit: The words you need to decode a French restaurant menu
Photo: AFP
One of the great things about eating in a French restaurant is that there are so many different parts to the meal. 
This is how they'll be listed in your menu:
un apéritif – a pre-dinner drink which is usually a cocktail or glass of champagne 
un amuse-bouche or amuse-gueule – small snacks to go with your apéritif
une entrée – appetizers/ starters
le plat – the main meal
accompagnement – side dish
le fromage – cheese
le dessert – dessert
le café – coffee
un digestif – after-dinner drink which is usually a liqueur or strong spirit like brandy.
18 ways your eating and drinking habits change when you live in France
Photo: Jorge Royan/Flickr
Types of menu
Often in France you'll be presented with different kinds of menus within the main menu which is called 'la carte'. These are the ones you need to know:
menu/prix fixe/formule – fixed price/set menu
This can be the most fun way to get to know a restaurant. You'll be given a few options to choose from for each course and then a fixed price which often includes a coffee (and sometimes even a glass of wine). 
à la carte – from the menu
This is when you choose individual items from the full menu which will also be priced individually.
menu dégustation – a tasting menu made up of a variety of small portions of a variety of dishes. 
plat du jour – the day's special 
assiette/planche – assiette and planche are used interchangeably to mean a plate or board of foods to nibble on such as cheese or cured meats.
For many, one of the great pleasures of a holiday to France is sitting down to a mouthwatering steak and glass of red. 
These are the words you need to know to make sure that your steak arrives just how you like it: 
saignant – rare (and they mean it — “saignant” literally means “bleeding”)
à point – medium rare 
bien cuit – well done
… and for the very brave among you, you can order a steak bleu — literally meaning blue — for an exceptionally rare piece of beef. 
Photo: AFP
It isn't only ordering a simple steak that can turn into a somewhat complicated affair when in France. 
Here's some other meat-related vocabulary you wouldn't want to be in a French restaurant without. 
viande – meat
boeuf – beef
entrecôte – tenderloin steak 
faux-filet – sirloin steak
tartare de boeuf – this is ground beef with seasoning, served raw
porc – pork
agneau – lamb
mouton – mutton
veau – veal
cheval – horse
taureau – bull
lapin – rabbit
poulet – chicken
dinde – turkey
canard – duck
confit de canard – cured duck leg cooked in duck fat
magret de canard – roasted duck breast, usually served sliced
caille – quail
volaille – fowl
Photo: Roger W/Flickr
Cooking / preparation methods
It's one thing to know what you're ordering but you'll probably also want to know how they're planning to cook it. 
artisanal – homemade, traditionally made
à la brochecooked on a skewer
à la vapeursteamed
à l'etoufféestewed
au fourbaked
biologique, bioorganic
en croûtein a crust
en daube in a stew, casserole
Photo: Cody and Maureen/Photo
fait maisonhomemade
fumé smoked
glacé frozen
hachéminced, ground (meat)
poché poached
relevé spicy
trufféwith truffles
Photo: AFP
Of course ordering your drink the way you want it is often as important as getting the meal right.
Let's start with the only drink that's always acceptable to have while you're eating your meal in France: 
vin rouge – red wine
vin blanc – white wine
vin rosé – rosé wine
eau – water which comes 'plate' (flat) or 'gazeuse' (fizzy) and in case you've had problems with the 'de' and 'le' in the past, you can order water by saying, “Je voudrais un carafe d'eau”.
For your cocktails:
avec des glaçons – on the rocks 
pur, sec, sèche – straight
And of course, don't forget to say, “Santé!” or “A la votre!” before taking a sip.
Getting the bill
addition – bill
pourboire – tip
espèces – money
carte bancaire/carte bleue – bank card
pourboire – tip

Member comments

  1. UNE carafe d’eau. If you can’t remember whether carafe is masculine or feminine (which it is!, not le carafe ever)then just say “est-ce que je peux avoir de l’eau s’il vous plait – en carafe! Or Chateau la Pompe…

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