Whether you’re dining in France or in some fancy French restaurant elsewhere, going face-to-face with a French menu is enough to make you rack your brains for all the French you know.
But don’t fret! This article will brush those cobwebs away and help you read a French menu with ease. We will start with a list of 15 common (must-try!!) French dishes you will likely come across on a French menu. Then we will follow it up with French menu terms including cooking methods, food descriptions, photos (because some don't provide photos for each French menu items), and more French food terms.
After reading this article, you'll be well-equipped to decode a French menu like a real pro in French food!
Some Typical French Dishes You’ll Find in a French Menu
Here's a list of some of the common French dishes you’ll likely find in a French restaurant menu. There's a reason they're popular.
1. Foie gras
This iconic French delicacy is not just your ordinary duck or goose liver. It’s specially fattened to achieve that mouth-watering buttery taste!
2. Confit de canard
This specialty of the Gascony region is a wonderful treat. Duck meat is cooked using a traditional process (confit) which includes marinating and slow-cooking in its own fat and juices. Delectable!
3. Poulet Basquaise
A traditional dish considered as the epitome of Basque cuisine, the Poulet Basquaise is made tender and more savory with piperade--a special sauce made of Bayonne ham, tomatoes, peppers, garlic, and more.
4. Canard à l’Orange
Care for some roasted duck in orange sauce? This duck dish is a real French classic!
5. Coquilles Saint-Jacques
Imagine scallops, mushroom and wine combined in such a delightful way. Yes, that’s heaven on earth alright!
6. Salade Nicoise
This protein-packed salad from Provence is made of black Nicoise olives, canned or fresh tuna, boiled egg, green beans, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, baby potatoes, and baby artichokes. There are plenty of variations to this dish, but one thing’s for sure--it’s a light and fresh salad that you’ll quite enjoy.
7. Quiche Lorraine
A perfectly balanced combo of bacon, eggs, and heavy cream, this French classic and creamy and mouth-watering---one you won’t immediately forget!
Made famous worldwide by a popular animated movie, this traditional dish from Nice is packed with fresh vegetables such as zucchini, bell peppers, eggplant and herbs.
This traditional fish stew is a hearty treasure from the South of France. Cooked with a variety of fresh fish and shellfish, it’s something seafood lovers won’t be able to say no to!
10. Vichyssoise Soup
If you’re in the mood for cold soup, this one is your best bet. Made of potatoes mixed in butter and flavored with herbs, it’s a soup perfect for a hot summer day.
11. Boeuf Bourguignon
Originally hailing from Burgundy, an area famous for its cattle and red wine, it’s no wonder that this French classic dish is a hearty beef stew braised with red wine. You can’t say you’ve tried French cuisine without trying this!
12. Coq au Vin
Braised in red wine and added with mushroom, garlic, and lardons, you have the well-loved French dish, coq au vin.
13. Soupe à l’oignon
So comforting and mouth-watering, that’s soupe à l’oignon for you. Another classic favorite, this soup is made of beef stock and onions and some genuine French cuisine magic.
If you’re looking to fill a hearty appetite, the cassoulet is a rich and delectable dish you should try. Made of meats (could be duck, pork sausages, mutton, or goose), pork skin, and white beans and slow-cooked to perfection, this one is a filling dish that will leave you satisfied!
15. Crème Brûlée
For those with a sweet tooth, the beautiful velvety texture and gorgeous burnt color of this lovely dessert is a sight to behold and a wonder to taste.
You can learn more French dishes in the following articles:
Another useful article for ordering in a French restaurant:
The Different French Menu Terms
One of the things that would cause confusion among English speaking diners is the different usage of terms in France and outside of France.
There are plenty of tricky cognates such as “menu” and “entrée”. So before anything else, let’s remove any confusion by looking at the basic words and then agree to use the French context of the terms from here on (at least for this article).
The Different Courses/ Food Categories You’ll Find in a French Menu (La Carte)
For more in-depth discussions related to French cuisine basics, check out these awesome articles:
Take note of these additional tips on ordering off of a French carte
French Terms Related to Cooking Methods
|artisanal||homemade, traditionally made|
|à la broche||cooked on a skewer|
|à la vapeur||steamed|
|coupé en dés||diced|
|coupé en tranches / rondelles||sliced|
|en croûte||in a crust|
|en daube||in stew, casserole|
|en gelée||in aspic/gelatin|
|glacé||frozen, icy, glazed|
|haché||minced, ground (meat)|
|relevé||highly seasoned, spicy|
|truffé de ___||dotted/speckled with ___|
Take note: when ordering meat, you’ll be asked how you want it cooked. Here are some possible answers.
Food Descriptions You’ll Find in le Carte
|aiguillettes||long, thin slices (of meat)|
|aile||wing, white meat|
|___ à volonté (e.g., frites à volonté)||all you can eat|
|cuisse||thigh, dark meat|
|émincé||thin slice (of meat)|
|fines herbes||sweet herbs|
|au pistou||with basil pesto|
|une poêlée de ___||assorted fried ___
|la purée||mashed potatoes|
|une rondelle||slice (of fruit, vegetable, sausage)|
|une tranche||slice (of bread, cake, meat)|
|une truffe||truffle (very expensive and rare fungus)|
More French Food Terms
Now, let’s kick it up a notch with these additional terms that would make you sound like a French food pro.
|à l'ail||with garlic||ah ail|
|à l'ancienne||traditional style||alons-yen|
|à la broche||roasted on a spit||ala brosh|
|à la jardinière||with assorted vegetables||ala jardeen-yair|
|à la normande||in cream sauce||ala normond|
|à la provençale||cooked in olive oil with tomatoes, garlic||ala provonsahl|
|assiette anglaise||selection of cold meats||ass-yet onglez|
|au choix ...||choice of…||o shwa|
|au gratin||baked in a milk, cream and cheese sauce||o gratan|
|bavette à l'échalote||grilled beef with shallots||bavet a layshalot|
|Béarnaise||with béarnaise sauce (sauce made from egg yolks, butter and herbs)||bay-arnez|
|béchamel||white sauce, béchamel sauce||bayshamel|
|beurre d'anchois||anchovy paste||beur donshwa|
|beurre d'estragon||tarragon butter||beur destragon|
|beurre noir||dark melted butter b||eur nwahr|
|Carbonnade||stew made with beef, onions and beer||karbonad|
|carré d'agneau||rack of lamb||karray dan-yo|
|Consommé ||clear soup made from meat or chicken||konsommay|
|contre-filet||beef sirloin roast||kon·tre·fee·ley|
|coupe des îles||vanilla ice cream with syrup, fruit and whipped cream||koop day zeel|
|crème à la vanille||vanilla custard||krem ah la vanee|
|crème anglaise||Custard||krem onglez|
|Crudités||selection of salads or chopped raw vegetables||kroodeetay|
|fait maison||homemade||fay mezzon|
|fricassée f||amb, veal or poultry in a thick creamy sauce with|
mushrooms & onions
|Garni||with French fries or rice and/or vegetables||garnee|
|marchand de vin||in red wine sauce||marshon duh van|
Want more? Check out these articles related to French food:
To sum it all up...
Understanding a French menu (be sure to refer to it now as la carte) and ordering off of the French menu items, takes some practice. But with the terms I just ran you through, it should be a breeze.
If you want more, you can always check out the French Menu Reader available when you get the French Phrasebook.
Here are some FAQs about French Menu
How do you say “menu” in French?
La carte refers to the booklet or paper given by the waiter/waitress, and le menu refers to a fixed-price or set menu. In a French restaurant, you can expect le menu to be written on a board known as l’ardoise, which is either affixed to the wall or displayed in the entrance. Fun fact, the wine may have its own menu known as la carte des vins.
What is the national drink of France?
Red wine, or champagne!
How to say food in French?
La nourriture, or l’alimentation.
What is included in a typical French menu?
A typical French menu tends to categorise their available menu items by course. We have l’apéritif (pre-dinner drink or cocktail), l’amuse-bouche (small snacks), l’entrée (appetizer), le plat principal (main dish), l’accompagnement (side dish), le fromage (cheese), le dessert (dessert), le café (coffee), and le digestif (after-dinner drink).
A few classic French dishes you may find à la carte are le coq au vin (chicken braised in red wine), la soupe à l’oignon (onion soup made with beef stock), and la bouillabaisse (traditional stew made of fish and seafood).