In honour of Bastille day (the 14th of July), today’s post is all about fun French food facts!
French terms are thrown around the dining scene all the time, but nobody ever explains what they mean – or where they come from!
Having lived in France before, I’ll take you through some popular French foods: how to pronounce the words properly, as well as some fun facts that could surprise you!
Français fact: Ever been to a fancy French restaurant, and they bring out cute little snacks before your meal? They’re complimentary (or so I’d like to think) and are meant to tease your appetite. The words amuse-bouche literally mean amuse-mouth: a way to entice the palette before the main show!
Français fact: Baguettes are pillars of French family life. This loaf of bread has a characteristic long, thin shape and is eaten at almost every meal. The word baguette can also refer to an orchestra conductor’s baton – but more importantly to Hong Kongers – chop sticks are called baguettes (plural) in French.
3. café au lait
Français fact: Coffee with milk is called a latté in Italian, and a café au lait in French. Lait means milk, by the way 😉
Pronunciation: kohm-poht (silent ‘e’)
Français fact: If you see a dish on the menu “served with fig compote”, for example, what does that mean? It’s kind of like jam – but not really! Compote is made by slow-cooking fruit with sugar syrup. Spices are often added while the mixture slowly reduces to a sticky, sweet concoction. It’s a popular companion to foie gras and the origin of the word is from compost (like at the farm)… yummy(?!)
5. crème brûlée
Français fact: The best crème brûlées are served thin. What do I mean? The bowl it’s served in shouldn’t be deeper than a few centimetres. A bigger surface area, and a shallower depth = a better balance of crispy burnt sugar, and delicious vanilla-flavoured custard. As for the words? They mean burnt cream.
Français fact: Ever noticed this famous French pastry looks like a crescent moon? It’s not by accident: the word croissant has multiple meanings, the most obvious being “crescent” – and trust me when I say, a good one is hard to find! The best have a buttery richness; aren’t chewy; are wonderfully flaky on the outside; and moist on the inside.
Français fact: Yes, the French eat snails – but only specific varieties are fit for consumption. The most popular way it’s served, is with pesto and garlic. They are a bit rubbery and take a while to break down while chewing, so if you’re faint of heart, beware!
8. foie gras
Pronunciation: fwua grah
Français fact: It sounds fancy, but it means fatty liver. Not as nice in English, I know. While the way foie gras is made has been an animal rights issue for decades (duck and geese are force-fed to make it), it remains a staple on fine dining menus all over the world. My illustration above shows two of the most common ways it’s eaten: cold as a pâté (similar to a block of butter), or hot (fried) in its original form.
Français fact: A “thousand layers” is that crispy, flaky dessert where many, many layers of thin puff pastry sheets alternate between layers of cream. It’s often topped with sugar icing and is totally irresistible.
10. petits fours
Français fact: Petits fours are very similar to amuses-bouches, except that they come at the end of the meal. Petit four means little oven. Is that cute, or what?
11. salade niçoise
Pronunciation: salahd knee swaz
Français fact: Nice (pronounce “niece”) is a wonderful coastal town in south-eastern France, and its culinary style is typically Mediterranean. Salade niçoise has a lot of goodies: tuna, egg, green beans, olives, anchovies, onion, potatoes and tomatoes. A native of Nice is referred to as a niçois (male) or niçoise (female), in the same way someone from the US is called an American. It’s sad that most outside of France don’t know where this salad calls home, so next time you dig in: remember Nice and thank those French foodies for this classic tuna salad.
12. le sniff
Last, but not least, what’s up with that weird custom that goes on in French restaurants? You know, when the waiter pours a little bit of wine into a glass (but only one person on your table – usually the one paying, lol) and waits for you to smell it. The purpose is to make sure you’re satisfied with the quality before serving the whole table. It’s only really acceptable to reject the wine if it’s “corked” (bouchonné), which means the cork has contaminated the wine. This is something you can smell and taste immediately, hence the tradition. How do you know if it’s corked? It smells like cork, and will mess up the wine’s aroma, and flavour.
Thank you for reading, if you’d like to see more educational posts like this one, please let me know in the comments 🙂 – and one more thing to say before signing out: VIVE LA FRANCE!