Menus ??

May 27th, 2007, 11:04 AM
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Menus ??

We are planning trip to France. Want to know how others handle the problem of menus. I know a smattering of French and will have my Marling Menu Tranlator. But in the past, where, I know the term for chicken or fish, on the menu, it is discribed in terms I don't know or the process of trying to look up stuff is so time consuming. Any additional tips ???
marcielee is offline  
May 27th, 2007, 11:09 AM
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I'll 'study' the carte that is posted outside and see if I can identify at least 2-3 dishes that I might enjoy.

- Carte is the list of dishes you order 'free will'
- Menu is a more restricted list where you choose from a couple of offerings for each course
- Prix fixe and Formula are also terms for 'menus', I believe
- Plat du jour is the 'plate of the day'
Travelnut is offline  
May 27th, 2007, 12:01 PM
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We used both Marlings Menu Minder and Rick Steves phrase book. Rick Steve's book was more helpful.
dgassa is offline  
May 27th, 2007, 12:03 PM
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I just use the restaurant pages at the back of my phrase book. Close enough.
suze is offline  
May 27th, 2007, 01:32 PM
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First of all be very aware that if you ask for a "menu", the waiter just may disappear and bring you back food -- the "menu of the day" -- as that's what you've just ordered. Make sure you ask to see the "carte" not "the menu".

By the way, one of my favorite pastimes in France is going to food markets and looking at the products and their names spelled out in French. It's a good way to quickly learn that the other word paired with "veau" just may be brains, kidneys, or other parts that you might not want. Once you've seen the parts in the meat market with a sign, the visual is likely to stick with you.
NeoPatrick is offline  
May 27th, 2007, 01:56 PM
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The Marlin is particularly user unfriendly. And if you think of menus at home you know how things are described in flowery language - same in France.
If you are really serious you can find downloadable menu translators, ebook and otherwise, (some free) to play with before you go.
Quite often I will point to the menu and say to the waiter "Qu'est-ce que c'est, monsieur?" We then go through elementary charades and my elementary French. It's fun and it's his job.
Or I point to the menu and say "C'est un poisson?" (as a question) etc.
So if you learn some basics you will get by.
Rule # 1 - It never looks or tastes like you expected anyway.
Have fun.
robjame is offline  
May 27th, 2007, 02:09 PM
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"Rule # 1 - It never looks or tastes like you expected anyway."

Ah, how true, and so sad that so many people often complain about that fact instead of embracing what it does taste like! I sat and listened to a woman next to me whine for an entire meal about how her Boeuf Bourguignon was in one big hunk instead of cut into small cubes like "it's supposed to be". Sigh.
NeoPatrick is offline  
May 27th, 2007, 02:28 PM
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If you are in Paris or other area frequented by travellers, many of the waitstaff would love to try out their English and would be delighted if you asked them questions about the menu. Sometimes when the food comes, you'll wonder - is this finger food or not? Ask away. The French LOVE to talk about food.
Jess215 is offline  
May 27th, 2007, 02:30 PM
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I can fully understand your confusion. But don;t now what will help, since, just like in the US the descriptions of the dish can be so poetic - or so non-descriptie - that the most you really know is the majoringredients.

Unless youu have some specifc allergy I think you should go for the live and learn option - you'll find out the details of what's in it when you eat it.

We have a Berlitz menureader that has many different languges in it - and even describes in detail some of the popular dishes in each country. But - they vary so much from one restaurant to another - that it's useless for details.

I just memorize what I know I don't want (liver, bunny etc) and live dangerously.
nytraveler is offline  
May 27th, 2007, 05:51 PM
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I made a recommendation in a 2004 thread on this subject. Here's an excerpt:

French Food dictionaries

One difficulty with being in a foreign country is deciphering menus. I speak French pretty well, but I'm always happy to be given an English menu in France, because otherwise ordering can become quite an effort.

The problem is that food vocabulary is quite large and specialized. Much of it is not included in ordinary translation dictionaries. It takes a specialized food dictionary for that, and if you don't have one, you're out of luck. It's not nice to have to take a very long time to decipher a menu, and not understanding what you're ordering can have unpleasant consequences.

Fortunately, the best food dictionary for France is absolutely free. I used several food dictionaries on my recent trip, and found the best of the lot to be the one I had downloaded from the Patricia Wells web site:

Click on the link, "Click here for a downloadable version of the French/English food glossary", and then you can download a version in either Microsoft Word or Adobe PDF format. I carried two printed books and another food glossary from the web, and consistently found the Patricia Wells food glossary to be the best of the lot. I recommend it.

You can print it out and carry it with you. In my case, I loaded the Word file onto my Pocket PC, and carried it that way. That allowed me to look up words using the "Find" feature of Pocket Word, without having to scan down through the pages (one problem with a pocket computer is that the screen is much smaller than a printed page.

If you want to see the entire earlier thread, it's at:

Another excerpt:

[I have a ] negative opinion of the Marling Menu-Master, because it's divided by course or type of food. That's what makes it difficult to use. The French Menu-Master (which I have) has the sections, "hors d'oeuvre", "potages", "oeufs", "poissons", "entrées", "légumes", and "desserts". It's very easy to see something on a menu and not have a clue as to which section you'll find it in.

I prefer the book, "Eating & Drinking in France", part of the "What kind of food am I?" series (Herbach and Dillon). It has everything in alphabetical order, so it's easier to use. I carried it from time to time on my last trip, but after a while I stopped, because the Patricia Wells food glossary on my PDA did just as well or better.

When we bought it not long ago, it was out of print, so we bought a used copy. But I just looked it up on Amazon, and it looks as if some incarnation of it has re-appeared as "Eating and Drinking in Paris: French Menu Reader and Restaurant Guide", by the same authors.

- Larry
justretired is offline  
May 28th, 2007, 11:42 AM
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I would buy a small translation book...most cost less than 10.00

There are many dishes that may look familar but aren't what they seem. For instance Riz de veau....veau is veal but riz de veau is sweet breads...something much different. One night we forgot our translation book back at our gite rental and I almost ended up ordering riz de veau. The kind waitress spoke english and asked me if I knew what it was...thought it was veal...glad she took pity on me.

A translation book helps believe me.
CRAZY4TRAVEL is offline  
May 28th, 2007, 11:45 AM
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But weren't the sweetbreads, VEAL sweetbreads?
NeoPatrick is offline  
May 28th, 2007, 12:02 PM
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I'd go along with Jess215. Servers are generally happy to co-operate by explaining things to the best of their ability, and most can manage fairly well.

It helps considerably if you have a smattering of French, so you can ask in French if your sever can explain something in English.

I remember one unfortunate family in a restaurant where the server had no English at all (it was genuine, and she was almost as troubled as the customers). Having reasonable restaurant French, I intervened, and made new friends for the evening. So if the server cannot help, you might busybodies like me to help you out.
Padraig is offline  
May 28th, 2007, 12:03 PM
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And you missed a treat that is not often found in the US
jody is offline  
May 28th, 2007, 02:41 PM
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NeoPatrick...yup...but would like to avoid sweetbreads of any kind (belly, stomach and heart?)....although I did eat gesiers which on one occasion were really good as they were thinly sliced and marinated in some type of balsamic reduction...on the second occasion I took one bite and could not imagine ever ordering a salad with them again. I guess it depends on the preparation.

Liver and kidney I can never stomach...we ended up with pork liver in Umbria by mistake. Another night when we forgot the phrase book back at the hotel. You can not always count on the waiter to explain the menu.
CRAZY4TRAVEL is offline  
May 28th, 2007, 03:12 PM
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Now I'm curious -- do you know what sweetbreads are? While sometimes they are from the pancreas, the more common type are from the thymus gland (throat) -- and are from very young calves.
And unlike most organ meats, sweetbreads are called that for a reason, they are extremely light and mild and delicious. I easily understand why people don't like the taste of kidneys, tripe, or liver, but sweetbreads are in an entirely different category -- taste wise.

If it is the thought of where it comes from I sincerely hope you never eat an omelette. Who wants to eat the dead fetus of a chicken?
NeoPatrick is offline  
May 28th, 2007, 04:19 PM
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I am a pretty adventerous eater so I am willing to try most things. I just memorize the words for the things I don't want to eat, such as brain and kidney, and guess at the rest. I have had a few surprises over the years but they are usually pleasant surprises. It is a lot easier to memorize the few things I won't eat than to memorize all of the items available.
In general I have found waiters very willing to explain the menu when I have asked questions so don't worry overly much. Enjoy he great food in France.
jdraper is offline  
May 29th, 2007, 02:47 AM
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I guess maybe I should have given it a I say...the first salad with gesiers I had was wonderful...the second repulsive. I guess it would depend on how the cook prepared them.

I've seen different definitions for sweet breads so I wasn't quite sure and in the moment decided not to take a chance. I guess I should try and be a little more adventurous...although it sometimes is money wasted if you can't eat what you order.

True about the eggs....
CRAZY4TRAVEL is offline  
May 29th, 2007, 02:59 AM
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"Riz de veau....veau is veal but riz de veau is sweet breads..."

Pay close attention to the spelling on a menu. "Riz" is not to be confused with "ris" (de veau). Since it isn't the same word as rice (even if it is pronounced the same), it is less dishonest than the term "sweetbreads" which sounds like something I would want to order if I was in the mood for a cinnamon roll.
kerouac is offline  
May 29th, 2007, 05:25 AM
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I avoided anything that contained the word cheval or anything similar for years, convinced it was horsemeat. It was years before I discovered that "on horseback" variation which meant there was an egg on top -- no horsemeat involved at all.

Steak Hache a cheval which I always thought must be chopped horsemeat is actually now a favorite of mine -- beef steak tartare with an egg on top. Who would have guessed?
NeoPatrick is offline  

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