French Menu Terms

Instructor: Serina Rajagukguk

Serina has a bachelor's degree in French language and literature, as well as a master's degree in Political Science from a French University.

Ordering food at a French restaurant can be confusing. In this lesson, we'll go through menu terms and special quirks, so you can order like a French person the next time you're eating at a French restaurant.

From the ménu or à la carte?

There are two types of food-ordering you can do when eating out at a French restaurant.

- From the ménu: The majority of restaurants in France offer ménu or ménu du jour (menu of the day), which is not a list of dishes and their prices, but a special bundle offer which allows you to get multiple courses at a lower cost. Despite this advantage, ordering a ménu or ménu du jour means you have limited choices. The other drawback is: the majority of restaurants don't offer them on weekends. They're usually written on a blackboard (ardoise) or on the menu (la carte) on a special page.

- Ordering à la carte: La carte is what you call the menu in English: a list of dishes available and their prices. The advantage of ordering à la carte is you get the complete liberty to compose your meal. However, it will be more expensive than ordering a ménu du jour.

The Courses

Speaking of the courses in a French meal may take a long time because, in a formal occasion, the number could reach seven or eight courses! But in everyday life, here are the courses you can expect to see in la carte.

Apéritif

An apéritif is a drink that the French take before eating a meal to whet their appetites. Accompanied by small snacks such as peanuts or mini pretzels, an apéritif can be alcoholic or virgin.

Just after sitting down at a French restaurant, the waiter will ask you: Vous désirez un apéritif? (Would you like an apéritif?)

You can answer: Oui. Je prends un martini/vin blanc/coca/jus d'orange, s'il-vous-plâit. (Yes, I'll take a martini/white wine/coke/orange jus, please).

Entrée

After your drink, it's time to eat your entrée or entry. It could be a soup, salad, or tartines (toasts). Some restaurants also serve pieces of jambon (smoked ham) or saumon fumé (smoked salmon) with bread as an entry into the meal. Don't expect to see a big plate, though, since you'll need to save some space for le plat principal (the main course).

Plat principal

This is where you will get a big plate full of good French cuisine. For the main course, a French restaurant usually serves fish (poisson) or meat (viande) accompanied by pasta, rice, french fries, or vegetables. More often than not, you can ask to change the side dishes. In some restaurants, you can also order a big plate of salad as a main course. Soups are a commonly-offered main course in the winter.

Fromage ou dessert?

After the plat principal, the waiter will ask if you'd like to get a plate of cheese (fromage) or order a dessert (dessert). This doesn't mean that you can't get both! There are more than 300 types of cheese in France, but usually the restaurant serves four to five kinds along with some baguette (a French bread) and a small plate of green salad with its dressing.

For the dessert, you will have many choices that sometimes it's hard to pick. The most commonly-offered desserts at a French restaurant are: fondant au chocolat (chocolate cake with melting parts inside), tarte aux pommes (apple pie), mousse au chocolat (chocolate mousse), glace (ice cream), crêpes (crepes) with many topping choices, and profitéroles (French pastries with cream filling and chocolate sauce).

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