How to Read a French Menu and Order Food Like the French
Talk in French
Shares

How to Read a French Menu and Order Food Like the French

Shares

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, 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 popu;ar 

1. Foie gras

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

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

Poulet basquaise au jambon de Bayonne

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

confit de canard

Care for some roasted duck in orange sauce? This duck dish is a real French classic!

5. Coquilles Saint-Jacques

COQUILLE SAINT JACQUES MORILLES

Imagine scallops, mushroom and wine combined in such a delightful way. Yes, that’s heaven on earth alright!

6. Salade Nicoise

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

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!

8. Ratatouille

Ratatouille

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. 

9. Bouillabaisse

bouillabaisse

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

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

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

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

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.

14. Cassoulet

cassoulet

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

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: 

50 Fabulous French Foods for All Occasions

10 Uncommon French Pastries You Probably Haven’t Tried Yet

Another useful article for ordering in a French restaurant: 

Eating out in France: The Ultimate Guide to Ordering Food like a Local

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).

Basic Terms

  • check
    La carte – this is what English speakers know as “a menu” or the booklet or piece of paper handed to you by the waiter/hostess.
  • check
    Le menu – what English speakers know as the fixed price menu or a set menu.  It’s a set price for two or more courses. This can be a less expensive way to order your food. It is also known as  la formule. The term “prix-fixe” is ironically not used in France.
  • check
    L’ardoise -- this literally means “slate” and refers to the boards used to write down the specials or the set menu selections for the day. These are the ones displayed in the entrance of the restaurant or on a wall.
  • check
    La carte des vins -- the wine menu
  • check
    Une dégustation / Menu dégustation – a tasting menu. It contains an array of small portions of several dishes served by the restaurant. It comes from the verb ‘deguster’ which means ‘to taste’.
  • check
    à la carte – stand-alone or single items that you order off the menu, each with its own price.
  • check
    plats du jour -- daily specials offered by many French restaurants in France; literally "dish of the day”
  • check
    Assiette - refers to a plate of something such as fromage (cheese) or charcuterie (cured meats).

The Different Courses/ Food Categories You’ll Find in a French Menu (La Carte)

  • check
    un apéritif - a cocktail; a pre-dinner drink
  • check
    un amuse-bouche or amuse-gueule - small snacks
  • check
    une entrée - this is what is referred to in English as “appetizers” or “staterts”
  • check
    le plat principal - the main dish or what English speakers know as the entrée
  • check
    Accompagnement – side dish
  • check
    le fromage - cheese
  • check
    le dessert - dessert
  • check
    le café - coffee
  • check
    un digestif - after-dinner drink

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

  • check

    For a more affordable meal, check under the menu section of the carte and you’ll see different choices (combinations) available for various fixed prices

  • check
    The set food choices in le menu or formule consists of an entrée, a plat and a desserte followed by the price.
  • check
    You may have the option to choose between:
  • Entrée + plat
  • Plat + dessert
  • Entrée + plat + dessert
  • check

    You might find some additional notations like (supp. €2) or (+€2). This refers to the extra charge for choosing that particular dish. 

French Terms Related to Cooking Methods

affinéaged
artisanal homemade, traditionally made
à la broche cooked on a skewer
à la vapeur steamed
à l'etouffée stewed
au fourbaked
biologique, bioorganic
bouilli boiled
brûléburnt
coupé en désdiced
coupé en tranches / rondellessliced
Cruraw
cuitcooked
en croûtein a crust
en daubein stew, casserole
en geléein aspic/gelatin
farci stuffed
fondu melted
frit fried
fumé smoked
glacé frozen, icy, glazed
grillé grilled
haché minced, ground (meat)
maison homemade
poêlé panfried
Poché poached
relevé highly seasoned, spicy
séché dried
truffé with truffles
truffé de ___dotted/speckled with ___
Rôtiroast

Take note: when ordering meat, you’ll be asked how you want it cooked. Here are some possible answers.

  • Saignant - rare. WARNING: This literally means “bleeding” so don’t complain about getting a bloody meat afterwards.(sahn-yahnt)
  • A point – medium(ah pwanh)
  • Bien cuit – well done(byen kwee)
  • Brûlé – burnt.  I’m adding this option here but nobody orders this normally. I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want to do, too! (broo-lee)

Food Descriptions You’ll Find in le Carte

aigresour
amerbitter
piquantspicy
salésalty, savory
sucrésweet(ened)
aiguilletteslong, thin slices (of meat)
ailewing, white meat
aromatesseasoning
___ à volonté (e.g., frites à volonté)all you can eat
la choucroutesauerkraut
cruditésraw vegetables
cuissethigh, dark meat
émincéthin slice (of meat)
fines herbessweet herbs
un méli-méloassortment
un morceaupiece
au pistouwith basil pesto
une poêlée de ___assorted fried ___
la puréemashed potatoes
une rondelleslice (of fruit, vegetable, sausage)
une trancheslice (of bread, cake, meat)
une truffetruffle (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'ailwith garlicah ail
à l'anciennetraditional stylealons-yen
à la brocheroasted on a spitala brosh
à la jardinièrewith assorted vegetablesala jardeen-yair
à la normandein cream sauceala normond
à la provençalecooked in olive oil with tomatoes, garlicala provonsahl
assaisonnementseasoning; dressingassezonuhmon
assiette anglaiseselection of cold meatsass-yet onglez
au choix ... choice of…o shwa
au gratinbaked in a milk, cream and cheese sauceo gratan
bavette à l'échalote grilled beef with shallotsbavet a layshalot
Béarnaisewith béarnaise sauce (sauce made from egg yolks, butter and herbs)bay-arnez
béchamelwhite sauce, béchamel saucebayshamel
beurre d'anchoisanchovy pastebeur donshwa
beurre d'estragontarragon butterbeur destragon
beurre noirdark melted butter beur nwahr
Carbonnadestew made with beef, onions and beerkarbonad
carré d'agneaurack of lambkarray dan-yo
Consommé
clear soup made from meat or chickenkonsommay
contre-filetbeef sirloin roastkon·tre·fee·ley
côteletteChopkotlet
coupe des îlesvanilla ice cream with syrup, fruit and whipped creamkoop day zeel
crème à la vanillevanilla custardkrem ah la vanee
crème anglaise Custard krem onglez
Cruditésselection of salads or chopped raw vegetableskroodeetay
entrecôte rib steakontr-koht
fait maisonhomemade fay mezzon
fricassée famb, veal or poultry in a thick creamy sauce with
mushrooms & onions
free·ka·sey
Garniwith French fries or rice and/or vegetablesgarnee
marchand de vinin red wine saucemarshon 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 it, 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.

About the Author Frederic Bibard

Frederic Bibard is the founder of Talk in French, a company that helps french learners to practice and improve their french. Macaron addict. Jacques Audiard fan. You can contact him on Twitter and Google +

follow me on: