10 Foreign Phrases Every Foodie Should Know

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Even the most boring eaters know some foreign words that have worked their way into our food vocabulary: hamburger, frankfurter, à la mode. But those who aspire to call themselves foodies need to know more than just the basics. Whether you just need a refresher on some terms you'll find on menus or you want to learn some phrases to use while eating that will impress any food critics within earshot, these 10 foreign phrases are the place to start.

  1. Al forno

    The term "al forno" is Italian for "from the oven." You'll often see it after "lasagne" or some other types of pasta on menus, meaning that the dish has been cooked in the oven. There are also hundreds of Italian restaurants or pizzerias named Al Forno, indicating that they probably have a wood-burning oven or at least want you to think they do. The beauty of pasta al forno is that the cooking method is very versatile, allowing the cook to use his imagination and a variety of ingredients. If you're ordering something "al forno" from a restaurant, depending on how inspired the chef is, you could be in for a delicious surprise. Or if you're making a pasta-based casserole for guests, you can dress it up by calling it something "al forno." They don't have to know that it just means you made it in the oven.

  2. Cordon bleu

    This phrase, which means blue ribbon in French, is well-used by Americans, but it has many different meanings that a true foodie should know. The history of "cordon bleu" goes back to the days of knights and originally was the highest honor given to French knights under the Bourbons (the kings, not the whiskey). Since then, it has been used to mean any person of high distinction, especially a chef. In 1895, Le Cordon Bleu, a culinary school in Paris, opened its doors and has become one of the most well-known cooking institutions in the world. A cordon bleu is also a dish made of thin pieces of chicken or veal stuffed with chicken and ham and then sauteed. So now you know a cordon bleu could make a cordon bleu, which he learned at Le Cordon Bleu.

  3. Nori

    With the popularity of sushi, every foodie probably has a couple of favorite Japanese restaurants and dishes. And while "California Roll" may be a part of your vocabulary, do you know the Japanese ingredients? Nori is just one term you should know if you really want to appreciate Japanese cuisine. It's what the seaweed paper around your sushi is called. The color can vary from green to purple. The Japanese also use nori as a seasoning when it is finely cut. If you wanted to make your own sushi or rice balls, you can find nori at most Asian supermarkets, either toasted or plain, canned or in plastic. A foodie should also know the difference between sushi and sashimi. The former is sweetened rice with fish; the latter is raw fish fillets and no rice.

  4. Table d'hôte

    This French phrase literally means host's table and is commonly used by restaurants as an alternative to "à la carte" options, where customers order separate items with different prices from a full menu. Table d'hôte refers to a menu where a multi-course meal is offered at a fixed price with only a few options for each course. This is also sometimes called "prix fixe," another French term that simply means fixed price. The "host's table" terminology is thought to come from the idea that this sort of meal resembles a dinner party at someone's house where the host has already decided what will be served to guests. In the U.S., many restaurants switch to table d'hôte for holidays or other particularly busy nights.

  5. Feinschmecker

    Feinschmecker is the German way of saying gourmet, as in a person who has sophisticated taste in food and wine. While gourmet itself is a French, and therefore foreign, word, feinschmecker is so much more fun to say. You could also use the word "gourmand," but that can mean someone who eats gluttonously. "Epicure" is appropriate, as well, but implies a certain snobbery when it comes to food. If you want to call someone a food snob, a fatty, or even just a foodie, use "feinschmecker" so that your intended meaning can go undetected. Plus, it has that quality, like all fine German words, of sounding like a sneeze.

  6. Coulis

    Coulis, pronounced koo-lee, is one of those French words you've probably heard on the Food Network and never bothered to look up. And who can blame you? Those chefs are basically speaking several other languages. Coulis is a thick sauce made from pureed and strained vegetables or fruits. So if you know what a puree is, you're halfway there. It's often used on meat dishes, vegetables, or desserts, and serious chefs may use it to decorate their plates or provide aesthetically pleasing colors. There are tons of recipes out there for different berry and fruit coulis that you could put on the next dessert you create, or you could just impress (or confuse) your waiter by asking about the coulis on a certain dish.

  7. Odori-don

    Unless you're really adventurous, "odori-don" might be one of those phrases you know just so you can avoid ordering it. It's a fairly new Japanese dish, adapted from the traditional dish "ika-don," or squid rice bowl. The difference is that odori-don is a dancing squid rice bowl. Yes, dancing. A small, whole, fresh squid is served on a bed of rice and sashimi. When you pour soy sauce on the squid's tentacles, a reaction between the sodium in the sauce and the squid's nerves causes it to "dance" on the plate, moving its legs up and down. This dish is only served in Japan for now where squid is abundant, but there's no doubt it will soon make its way to top American restaurants where chefs are eager to give customers dinner and a show.

  8. Amuse-bouche

    This French phrase literally means "mouth amusement," which sounds like it could refer to some tongue-tickling food or to the way French people kiss. But it's really the name for small hors d'oeuvres that are meant to whet the palate and make you hungry for dinner. They're much smaller than typical appetizers (normally only a couple of bites) and are often luxurious and indicative of the chef's cooking style. The best part about amuse-bouches is that they are offered by the restaurant free of charge, but since you'll only find them in the classiest restaurants, the complementary bite isn't going to make your bill much cheaper. The term "amuse-gueule" means the same thing, but be careful throwing around the word "gueule" for mouth. It's considered impolite, and saying "ta gueule" is the equivalent of saying "shut your trap" in English.

  9. In vino veritas

    What's a dinner without a bottle (or two or three) of great wine? And what's a wine-filled dinner without some tipsy confessions by the end of the night? This phrase, which is Latin for "In wine there is truth," will be appropriate countless times in your life as a foodie, whether you're poking fun at a friend who's talking too much or you're making light of a deep secret you've accidentally revealed. The same phrase is used in Greek and Chinese, but the Latin one will probably be the easiest to remember after a few glasses of pinot noir.

  10. Bon appétit

    Sure, you already know this phrase. We stole it because there's really no English equivalent. In most other countries around the world, it's good manners to wish someone a good meal when they are eating, even if you're not serving them or eating with them. So while we borrow the French version, "bon appétit," when we want to convey this idea, other languages have their own phrases. The Dutch say, "Eet smakelijk." The Italians have "Buon appetito" and probably a hand motion. In Mandarin, they say, "mànmàn chi," which means "eat slowly." Learn a few of these variations, along with other versions of "Cheers," to pull out at dinner parties and bars like a true foodie.

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