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French translations

I´m planning a trip to France next year and am concerned about French menus, not wanting to order something I probably would not eat. Any suggestions about a suitable dictionary or food specific translator?

Posted by
2466 posts

I would not use Google Translate.
Instead, I would get a small French/English dictionary to translate.

Posted by
5319 posts

Google translate can result in some bizarre translations. A recent trip to Warsaw saw a translation for an eggs benedict type dish as something along the lines of egg wrapped in a hospital blanket! No amount of head scratching could determine what the dish might be.

Posted by
15620 posts

If you have specific restrictions, it's best to prepare a list to take with you to show to waiters.

Posted by
8889 posts

You probably only need about 20-30 key words for the main ingredients and the section headings on the menu, unless you are a very picky eater or have an allergy and need to worry about all the ingredients. A one page cheat-sheet should be enough.
Just Google "French menu translation" and plenty shows up.
For example:

Most of it is easy: Boeuf, Porc, Poulet (chicken)
Just remember: La carte = the menu. Le menu = the set meal of the day, usually 2 or 3 courses and good value.

Posted by
4059 posts

"French menu" is its own language and neither a standard dictionary nor an electronic gizmo will understand all the jargon. Technical terms and personal interpretations vary from region to region and chef to chef (and the popular image of a French chef illustrates how idiosyncratic the menus they write can be.) Even some of my French friends can be puzzled at times. I've seen attempts at food dictionaries offered on line but suggest just winging it -- even guessing blind, you get good stuff to eat. Learn a few basic, then dig in.

Posted by
10254 posts

If you find a good source please share. But I think you’ll generally be pleased with the food. If it’s snails and frog legs you want to avoid, they are pretty rare but mainly in tourist places where menus are offered in multiple languages. Sometimes individual fish names don’t translate to something we know anyway. Bon appétit.
Otherwise, here’s your first translation:

French English
La carte —-> Menu
Le Menu—-> Fixed price meal

Posted by
1338 posts

Bets is totally right about the fish names. Usually if there's a word I don't recognize, it's a fish.
I speak French but menus can trip me up.

Posted by
11294 posts

I agree with the comments above that French menu terms can be hard to translate. For instance, without special knowledge (or a dedicated menu translator, not just a standard dictionary), who would guess that "chateaubriand" is a specific cut of beef, prepared a specific way? Bets is correct that fish names can be similarly tricky. Luckily, many items are simpler.

Are you looking to avoid things like kidneys (rognons)? At the beginning of the Lyon chapter in his France book, Rick has a list of some of the more common menu items there that many would want to avoid (calf's head, tripe, etc). As he correctly warns, these items are quite common in Lyon. The good news is that there are other things to get there too, and outside of Lyon they are not as common. It's also very easy to get simple things like roast chicken, steak and fries, etc.

If you really want to understand menus, you'll need a specific menu translator, such as the Marling Menu Master:

Posted by
10254 posts

For now, just keep rognon (and foie, cerveau, museau) in mind.
However, a more recent addition to mainstream menus that is delicious is souris d’agneau which translates to mouse lamb.

In fact, it’s a delicious braised lamb shank. The meat on the shank cooks up into an oval at the top of the bone, resembling, in someone’s eyes, a cute little mouse or computer mouse. In French it sounds interesting, and when it first appeared on menus, the French had to ask waiters what it was, but it’s delicious.

Also delicious, but sounds awful, are joue (cheek) de boeuf or porc—wonderful pieces of meat.

Posted by
12172 posts

I'm just glad I have no food aversions. I usually order a set menu and know what meat is in the dish I order. The styles of preparation, except the famous ones, elude me and I'm often surprised by the dish I'm served.

Posted by
2710 posts

I'm an adventurous eater and hardly ever find something I don't like. In France I've dined well, but, admittedly sometimes I have no clue what I am eating. I specifically sought out a rabbit stew made with prunes in a small cafe when visiting Chartes and was able to duplicate it at home. The only dish I could not swallow was one I was served at a small restaurant is Paris specializing in dishes from Lyon. This was andouilette (look it up). I have to admit, the waiter tried to wave me off before I ordered it but, no, I can eat anything! Wrong!

Posted by
14097 posts

Also know that "tartare" is raw. I was embarrassed for a young American (college age) in a cafe in Paris this fall. She ordered beef tartare (I was surprised at least the people she was with didn't tell her what it was) and was shocked when it arrived. She asked for it to be cooked which shocked the waiter and then she wound up not eating much of it.

I am vegan so pretty picky when it comes to eating. I also don't speak much French but many menus/cartes have enough translation that I can tell if it has something I don't eat. I do have a menu translation book but it has TOO much stuff in it and I can never find what I want. I do better with the menu translator in Rick's guide books. It's fairly simple but enough to help me out. Menus are posted outside restaurants so you can study it before you go in to see if there is something you are interested in.

Posted by
4009 posts

Perhaps I'm a Luddite but why not carry one of those portable french/english dictionaries in your purse or bag. It isn't like the battery will drain. This is what I do when I travel to countries whose language I don't speak proficiently.

Posted by
27275 posts

In my experience, if you're especially interested in menu terminology, you're better off Googling for a menu-specific list of terms rather than using a general-purpose phrasebook. I, too, am all about avoiding things like organ meats. Bless the Germans for usually including "wurst" in their sausage names.

Posted by
426 posts

I am 'pescatarian' (i.e. vegetarian who happily eats fish), and I can almost always find a dish to my taste. But I have to admit that 'salmon tartare' nearly defeated me: I could only pick at it.

Posted by
6586 posts

Salmon tartare -- isn't that sashimi?

A lot of phrase books (old tech) include a "menu decoder" that lists common dishes in the local language and translates them into English. Something like that is easy to carry around and use in restaurants when needed. Look for a good phrase book, which will help in many ways, and such a dedicated menu-translating section.

I wish I had consulted one when I ordered "rognons de veau" in a Paris restaurant, expecting some kind of veal but not these little mushroom-looking things that didn't taste like the scaloppini I enjoy. Being a big boy, I tried them, but, since my mother wasn't there, I left most in the bowl. I'm sure they weren't the first uneaten rognons the waiter had recovered from a dumb American. In fact I wonder how many times those remaining rognons got served to the likes of us before aging out of usability.

Posted by
10254 posts

Exactly why the OP wants help with the food!

The vinegar in the dressing of salmon tartare, or ceviche, is supposed to « cook » the seafoods, or so it is claimed.

Posted by
910 posts

I’ve found that many places have multi-language printed menus, or even straight English ones if they figure out you aren’t a local. Though that won’t help you with the specials on the chalkboard.

Try to learn some of the regional specialties before you go. You’ll have a decent idea of the kind of foods they will likely prepare. If you can, stop into a market, butcher shop, etc. and see what’s called what before it gets cooked. I’ve always found it helps you remember what you’re ordering when you can “put a name to a face” as it were.

Posted by
2565 posts

I think regional specialties are a good idea. What are a couple I should look for?

Posted by
2466 posts

Boeuf bourguinonne - beef stew
Poulet - chicken
Poisson - fish
Blanquette de veau - veal stew
Salade - salad, may contain meat and cheese, eggs, etc.
Omelette mixte - ham and cheese omelette

It depends on the time of year you are going too - regional specialties depend on the time of year.

Posted by
120 posts

"Boeuf bourguinonne" Sorry Chexbres, as I live in Dijon capital of Burgundy, I hope you don't mind correcting you and say it is Boeuf bourguignon ;) As I often see mistakes in various travel publications I had to do it! Of course feel free to correct me when I make mistakes. :)

Posted by
14580 posts

I don't use Google Translate, never have. If it's necessary, I use a small bilingual dictionary, French-English or French-German.

Posted by
692 posts

Reverso is a pretty decent app that takes a word and either gives a translation or gives an example sentence where it's used. If you have a data plan while travelling it is handy.

A generic google search with the word "recette" will bring up a recipe and you'll be able to see the typical ingredients (in French, but often these will be common words).

Even those with a decent French vocabulary can get tripped up by new jargon or specific terms for food . The French also use so many words for types of poultry plus they actually butcher their meats differently, and give them names with no direct translation or are very specific to the cut (bavette, onglet, etc are items any beef eater would treasure)

I think the US also has its share of made up terms or turns of phrase that have evolved over time. (e.g. "Rocky Mountain Oysters")

Sometimes, unless you have an allergy, it is better to suffer through an occasional item that you don't like than miss some wonderful preparations of regional cuisine of some humble, not so generic, items. I, however, draw the line at blood sausage (but I did not mind andouillette, it was well prepared)

Posted by
64 posts

Thanks for bringing up this topic. It is something I had not even considered in all my planning and research. Something else for me to worry about ! (Laughing)

Posted by
1175 posts

We have used "Eating and Drinking in Paris", 3rd edition by Herbach and Dillon for years. The Kindle 8th edition on Amazon is $4.99 and the paperback is $9.95. We have the paperback and it fits easily into my wife's satchel/purse. We are returning to Paris mid December and I've been brushing up on the pronunciations online. I also use for French phrases or menu items that aren't in the Herbach book. Despite my best efforts, I still seem to have my Kansas accent when ordering French food, which always elicits smiles from the wait staff as they immediately switch to English.

Posted by
1825 posts

Google translate works better in theory than face to face with a waiter but eventually we did figure out one or two items. After a couple of lousy meals in Paris I started using Rick's safer recommendations and ate better. Occasionally something would be a surprise but I chalked it up to a learning experience. After traveling for a while McDonald's can be a welcome bit of comfort (I'm not ashamed to admit). Every sandwich I have had from a highway truck stop has been fantastic, even if it's only a slice of cheese and meat on a roll. Burgundy consistently had good food.

Posted by
2048 posts

We also have used the Eating and Drinking in Paris and found it to be great. They have a section on menu translation that we found helpful all over France. It's a very small book which is easy to carry around. I bought a used copy from Amazon very reasonably.