The French don't play around with their food.
In fact, the legendary quote “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are,” was first said by the Frenchman Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, lawyer and politician who gained fame as a gastronome, back in 1825.
Brillat-Savarin was not talking about the link between junk food and an expanding waistline, he was talking about the art of eating – a pleasure that according to him could only be maximised in company of others.
Eating remains a highly social activity in France today (gulping down a baguette in front of your computer to save time during lunch is seen as a quite barbaric, Anglo-Saxon thing), and one of the best ways to make new French friends is to join them for dinner.
But, before you do, it might be worth learning a few ways to compliment your host's cooking. The French language, of course, has many alternatives for that. Here's a few.
1. C’est excellent
C'est excellent means 'it's excellent' and is a surefire way to reassure your host that their cooking skills are top-notch. Use it in any setting, formal or colloquial, with French in-laws or colleagues. There's really no getting it wrong with this one. Vous ne trouvez pas que c'est trop cuit ? Ah, non, c'est excellent ! -You don't find it overcooked? Oh, no, it's excellent!
2. C’est fameux.
Literally translated to 'it's famous', c'est fameux means 'it's excellent' or 'remarkable' when used about food. It's a somewhat old fashioned expression so you could be gently mocked for using this at the local bar while nibbling fries surrounded by close mates. If you are heading to a more formal dinner party with white table cloths and potentially snobbish attitudes, this could however be a good way to linguistically blend in: Comment trouvez-vous les canelés ? Ils sont fameux. – How do you like the canelé cakes? They are remarkable.
3. C’est délicieux / c’est un délice
'It's delicious' or 'it's a delight' is two different ways to say the same thing: Ce gâteau est un délice – 'that cake is delightful' or 'delicious'. Use it on anything, it's not just for sweets, although it does ring well when talking about dessert. Oh-là-là, cette tarte au citron est vraiment délicieuse ! – Oh my, this lemon tart is really delicious.
4. Je me régale !
Je me régale ! – I am loving this (dish)! – is the linguistic version of rubbing your belly. Se régaler means 'taking pleasure' and the expression says something about how you yourself feel about the meal in front of you, rather than pointing out that it is objectively exquisite. Imagine a child eating ice cream: eyes transfixed by the bowl, chocolate sauce spread wide around their cheeks, complete silence except for the spoon that is moving mechanically and efficiently back and forth.. Having achieved that state of someone qui se régale – who's enjoying themselves – is a massive compliment for the chef.
Contrary to in some countries, orgasmic-sounding noises such as mmmm and are not off the table in France. If a dinner party is full of mmm-ing guests, it means the food is so good that it merits vocal appreciation even before you're finished chewing and swallowing. If you want to show that you are enjoying the taste of a dish, mmmmm is a good way to go (just don't overdo them), by itself or as a supplement to any other expressions on the list.
6. C’est vraiment bon / très bon
Both of these mean 'it's really good' and either is a safe bet in any setting when you want to be complimentary, but not seem like you're overdoing it. Say a course is just average – definitely not Michelin star material – a relaxed c'est très bon, je trouve – 'oh no, I find it very good' – is a decent way to express gratitude. However, if you're the one cooking and someone says it's très bon, do not take it as an insult. Saying something is très bon is absolutely a compliment, it's just a slightly less enthusiastic way to go if you worry about going overboard.
7. C’est trop bon / super bon / ultra bon
When you’re in an informal crowd and loving the dish, you can say wow, ce plat est ULTRA bon – 'wow, this dish is SO good'. This is quite a youthful way to say you're liking what you're eating, so save it for the younger crowds.
8. C’est une tuerie !
C'est une tuerie literally translates to 'it's a killer' and it's a way do express that something is really good, like your tastebuds died and arrived in heaven. Ce pain au chocolat est une vrai tuerie – 'This chocolate pastry is a real killer'. This is quite colloquial so don't use it in very formal settings, save it for dinners with friends.
9. Miam !
'Yum!' There's not much explaining needed for this one. Use it like mmmm and feel free to combine it with other expressions on the list.