Ordering food when dining out has become quite the challenge today. Boosted by various TV cooking shows and best-sellers from internationally renowned chefs, the gourmet-food trend has now reached unprecedented heights. Every second person now likes to describe themselves as a foodie and that has encouraged restaurants to add dishes to their menus that only cooking experts have heard of or others that are simply impossible to pronounce since they are either classic French dishes or they were inspired by the exotic cuisine of some faraway country. While that has managed to make the dining out experience for many Americans incredibly rewarding and interesting, we cannot overlook the fact that deciphering restaurant menus can be rather challenging.  No matter whether you are eating at some fine place or in your local restaurant or gastro-pub, chances are you will struggle to read and to pronounce the available food options that you are being offered. Worry not, because we will provide you with a quick cheat sheet that contains all the basic gastro-lingo and terms that you will need the next time you decide to dine out.  


Get ready to practice your French

The world’s first fine restaurant opened doors in France in the late 18th century. But even prior to that, this European country was widely known for its exceptional culinary traditions. In the 17th century, a French chef published a cookbook that laid the foundations of modern-day cooking techniques. Therefore, it is no surprise that so many dishes continue to be written in French on many restaurant menus.

Italy is another country that has influenced today’s restaurant industry. So, aside from having to practice your French, you may also need to say a few Italian tongue-twisters when you go out for a bite.

How is it cooked or served?

When you order a dish that contains meat such as a steak, you may be asked whether you would prefer to have it:


  • Saignant (rare);
  • À point (medium-rare);
  • Bien Cuit (well-done);


Bleu is similar to Saignant and in many US restaurants the two words are used as synonyms although the former stands for “very, very rare” and the latter for “rare.”

saignant steak

Pictured: Saignant steak

If you prefer Italian food, you will see that the pasta is served either al dente or soft. Al dente means that the pasta will be served firm. Stick to this option if you want to have a more traditional pasta dish because that is how most Italians prefer to have this type of meal.

Other must-know gastro terms

Many restaurants have a section of À la Carte items on their menu. Those are food options that are priced separately. If you see table d’hôte, this means that you are looking at the fixed price multi-course options.

Another interesting term you may see is À la mode. In English, it is translated as “fashionable” but in the world of food and dining, it can stand for a number of different things. In the United States, it mainly stands for a dessert that is served with ice-cream. Some restaurants use this phrase when they want to denote that their beef dish is served with a lot of brown gravy.


Trendy dishes that are hard to pronounce

The dish What is it? Correct way to pronounce it
Poke A fish salad that is part of the traditional Hawaiian cuisine. POH-kay
Worcestershire An English sauce that is also known as Worcester sauce. WUSS-ter-sheer
Açai Berries that grow in the Amazon rainforest and are considered to be incredibly healthy. uh-SY-ee
Pommes Frites Better known as French fries in the U.S. pum-FREET
Macarons A confection that consists of two flat cookies that are sandwiched together with

a filling (usually a jam or a ganache-based filling).

Steak Frites A more sophisticated way to say steak and fries. Stake freet
Crêpes Thin pastry – can be savory or sweet. It’s not the same as a pancake. Krep
Shakshuka An Arabic dish of poached eggs served in a sauce made of chili peppers, onions and tomatoes. shak-SHOO-kah
Takoyaki A popular Japanese snack. tah-koh-yah-key


How to order food you cannot pronounce

Even if you do your very best to memorize to perfection the above-listed terms, the way they are pronounced and all of their ingredients, you may still end up in a restaurant that has a menu that you struggle to read. Do not be too hard on yourself if that happens. These days, it is simply hard to keep up with all the new and exotic meals that restaurants add to their menus. However, if you are on a business lunch or if you are at a dinner with a really good-looking date you are trying to impress, you can use some easy tricks to avoid feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed when you are ordering your food.

If you do not know how to pronounce a certain dish, just order it by its number. Another thing you can do is to simply ask the server for some assistance. That is a must if you have a food allergy. To make your call for help seem subtler, just ask your waiter to recommend you something that will match your taste.

Even when you feel confident about how to pronounce a certain dish on the menu, do not force an accent when ordering it. That is not likely to impress anyone on your table. Instead, it may make you sound like a snob.