Restaurant jargon: gastronomic terms, er, demystified

Updated February 8th, 2020. I love eating out – don’t you? But so often we can be disappointed by the realities emerging from the yummy-sounding jargon on menus. Here are, er, my interpretations of some of the more commonly-seen terms. Bon appétit.

Restaurant jargon: gastronomic terms demystified

Coq au vin: an old cock boiled up in some red wine. Would your cat like it as much as this one does?

Aberdeenshire steak
Extracted from a real Scottish cow, and not a Clydesdale horse, either. Honest. Not even nowadays. We hope.

Alfresco dining
Eating out on the restaurant’s patio in a howling gale in approaching zero temperatures, comforted by what’s laughingly known as an overhead patio heater that uses up enough unnecessary energy to fuel a factory and only manages to warm up your hair.

Amuse bouche
Very small, very intricate little bits of a chef’s fantasies which wouldn’t satisfy a mouse’s hunger but nonetheless took the chef hours to create. Also known as canapés. Either way, an expensive way to spoil your appetite for more important food to come.

Artisan bread
Bread that has been made by well meaning amateurs wearing hefty hand-knitted clothing and sweaty sandals. Eat it at your peril.

Au gratin
Any dish which has been smothered in cheese in order to cheer up its otherwise bland or boring nature.

Baked Alaska
Just like the US State of Alaska, a dessert that seems impossible and is … apart from very rare occasions when it does actually work.  Sarah Palin, eat your heart out.

Bang Bang Chicken
A chicken recipe that includes a small, but significant pinch of gun powder with every bite.

Blade steak
Cut of steak that offers great taste, provided that you own an axe and can use it to cut the steak up into the very small bite-sized portions required to chew it and get it down you.

Restaurant jargon: gastronomic terms demystified

Strongly spiced Indian food is an acquired taste.

Bombay Aloo
More like a Bombay Goodbye, assuming it’s spicy enough. However East Indian culinary connoisseurs are perpetual optimists and reckon that Westerners will begin to cope with the flames. Some day.

Butterfly chicken
A romantic-sounding euphemism for a chicken – often a small one, albeit dead – which has been whacked with a hatchet followed by a claw hammer in order to flatten it out for prettier cooking and serving. Any resemblance to a butterfly is entirely coincidental.

Anything with sugar in it that has been heated to the point where it turns brown. Just one bijou stop from catching fire and burning the restaurant down.

A sauce for pasta made from carbonized fossil fuels, thereby giving an earthy, chunky flavor.

Chilli jam
Jam into which someone has accidentally dropped a vast quantity of chilli powder and wishes to justify its presence. Not for spreading on toast for breakfast unless you want to start the day with a small nuclear explosion.

A cute-sounding name for a spicy, smoked pepper that, when half-way down your throat, makes the effects of ready-ignited jet fuel seem smoother than a spoonful of honey.

Coq au vin
OK, we’ve heard all the jokes about this being a 69 derivative in the back of a van. True meaning? An old cock boiled up in some red wine. That’s what happens to these roosters when they jiggy-jig for too long in the back of unsuitable vehicles.

Crème brulée
Delicious dessert when it has been done to a turn, but beware the harassed sous-chef with the blowtorch who incinerates not only your dessert but most of the kitchen at the same time.

Crispy duck / Peking duck
Since when has a duck been crispy? Oh, OK – when someone cooked its fatty skin and unfortunately soft flesh to b*ggery and pronounced the result a gastronomic delight, especially when smothered in sticky sweet sauce and served in a wrap with sliced green onions, cucumber, etc. Result? Delicious. Yum. Hey, life’s like that.

Croque monsieur
Monsieur might well have croqued his teeth on this one, but it’s tasty all the same. AKA toastie (UK) and toasted ham and cheese sandwich (everywhere). Just don’t toastie too much or you’ll leave fractions of your jacket crowns behind in the croque.

Crunchy salad
Sloppy and/or wilted salad leaves and other salad ingredients with a few bits of broken glass added to ensure a truly crunchy eating experience.

A powerfully alcoholic post-dinner drink given to diners to ensure that either a) they digest their food adequately or b) get so utterly sh*t-faced that they don’t care if they digest or turn into zombies.

Dim Sum
A Chinese meal plan for dim-witted tourists who visit China and think they’re being really exotic when they agree to have green tea instead of coffee with their cooked English breakfasts.

Dry-aged steak
Steak which has been chopped off the animal (and in current times, we hope that was a cow) and left out to dry like pemmican rather than stuffed into a plastic bag in a freezer and defrosted just in time to be cooked for the diner.

What are your favorite culinary terms?Duck liver parfait
Parfait of duck or other unfortunate creature is its flesh and innards having been cooked and then blitzed in a powerful blender resulting in stuff more squishy than what we wean our babies on. Usually solidifies a bit so you can cut it up and spread it on toast.

A nice name for a slice of meat (usually cooked) as thin as the restaurateurs can get away with without being accused of serving carpaccio, bresaola, or just being ****ing tightwads.

A foodstuff which strongly resembles the droppings of the Falabella miniature horse. Fortunately these very small horses probably do not appeal to recent UK food producers as making them into gee-gee-burgers would not be cost-efficient.

Free range chicken
A chicken which amazingly has not been brought up to live alongside its colleagues in containers the size of shoe boxes, but is allowed to live and peck around in an area around 20 percent larger. Wow. “Range free” is supposed to mean they get an area around 30 percent larger … wow, wow.

Free range ham
Ham which has been allowed to wander around a range despite having been processed. Given that it needs to be cut from a pig one wonders how it manages to manoeuvre without legs and other basic locomotion necessities. An interesting dilemma for philosophers to ponder while they eat their ham sandwiches.

Flank steak
A North American cut of beef which is perilously close to the animal’s rump. Thinking in terms of the animal’s point of view, I would suggest a place that means a close proximity to its *sshole. Not for the meat-eating faint hearted.

Flash fried
Food that happens to get cooked to a turn in the kitchen when all the stove elements have caught fire. A lucky turn, as you might say.

Foie gras
Greasy liver of poor birds who have been stuffed – literally, forcibly down the throat already – with nutrients in order to provide us with some tasty paté. A technique which would be more appropriately and successfully used to stuff policies down the throats of idiotic politicians, although personally I would no sooner eat their chopped up livers than stick myself in the eye with a red-hot poker.

Garlic Naan
Something most Naans in Britain, North America, the Antipodes etc. might disapprove of given the unpopularity of garlic in their days, but hey – this is the 21st century and Garlic Naan is yummy. (Note to all Naans, Grans, Nanas, Grannnies, Grandmas, etc: you should try it.)

Gastro pub
A pub in which diners have managed to survive the eating experience despite a severe threat of gastroenteric disease due to their food being defrosted and microwaved by a bunch of hairy-*ssed bartenders.

Salmon which has been sliced thinly, immortalized in lemon juice and battery acid, and then stamped on hard in a gravel box (an old theatrical prop) in order to create a fine, delicate hors d’oeuvre.

Hors d’oeuvre / canapé
One way or another, a nice way of saying some yummy treats the size of matchbooks (remember those?) which chefs agonize over while preparing,  but consumers swoosh down in one gulp … especially when they have had a few bevvies … and totally ignore. Life’s a bitch.

Restaurant jargon: gastronomic terms demystified

Infusion: not to be confused with the medical type.

A 21st century way of describing a stock or other means of delivering interesting flavors into something that otherwise would be unutterably boring and tasteless.

Instant Pot
A glorified pressure cooker that’s very handy if you need to renovate your kitchen and can’t face pulling the old one out yourself: simply fill with popcorn kernals, switch to ‘high’ for 60-90 minutes then evacuate the building. Fast.

Jerusalem artichoke
An artichoke devoted to British loyalism, as captured in that wonderful song championed by the British Womens’ Institute. Despite this type of vegetable being a prize *sshole to peel, it has earned its place in British veggie culture. Enjoy: just beware of its tendency to cause, er, wind. BIG wind.

Market fish of the day
A wonderful enticement to tuck into some fresh fish just dragged out of the North Sea, the Irish Sea, the Atlantic, Pacific or wherever. Unfortunately we’re more likely to be looking at how fresh the market was (hopefully today or yesterday?) and to hell with when the fish were caught.

How your steak should be cooked if the waiter remembered to tell the kitchen what you wanted, they remembered, and no-one’s cellphone went off in the interim.

Medley of fresh vegetables
A gathering together of all the leftover fresh veggies from yesterday, the day before, and perhaps the day before that provided that they are not festering or covered in green mould.

Minute steak
Ostensibly a steak that should be cooked to perfection in one minute, but also a get-out clause: if you pronounce the word in its alternative fashion … for a steak that’s so small it only takes one minute to eat, never mind cook.

Oyster Mushroom
A nice, kind, tasty type of mushroom that suffers a little bit from a gender identity crisis … well no, probably more of a species-identity crisis. We live in such complex emotional times.

Pan fried
Oh, so terribly unfashionable … stick it in a pan with a bit of oil and fry it? Yikes! So, so, tasty though …

An unfortunate word that means nice things in Italian but not-nice things in English. A hugely popular accoutrement to many dishes, but one which I think, personally, sucks. Sorry to be a pesto.

A strong, powerful garlicky sauce – often used as a soup accompaniment – that really packs a punch. Popular in the south of France. Not to be pissed about with (or called a pesto).

Pommes allumettes
Don’t try to light a cigarette with one of these because it won’t work. They will light up your dinner though, especially with chicken or steak. Big, fat, greasy, stuffy English chips … eat your heart out. These dissolve on your tongue and then with a delicious crunch they caress your tastebuds as they flow down into your stomach and make you just as fat as any other chip/fry does.

Quaint English term for place where local villagers went to drink beer and shoot the breeze. Now a place where they still do that but because a) they can’t smoke and b) they can’t drink more booze than the legal driving limit, enticements like food and stuff have been introduced to keep attendance up. Nowadays most of the oldies stay home, smoke, and get rat-*ssed on much cheaper beer.

Commonly pronounced “quickie” by the likes of dubious English speakers e.g. George W Bush et al, contrary to public opinion this dish is not an explosive aphrodisiac but merely a pastry-held concoction of eggs and cheese plus a few paltry bits of vegetables and/or meat. Consume at your peril.

Describes a degree of cooking meat which, because few restaurants are capable of delivering it properly, is so called because it’s very rare to have a decent rare steak.

Restaurant jargon: gastronomic terms demystified

Ratatouille: a preferred culinary choice amongst discerning laboratory rats

A favorite vegetable dish among the upper crust of white laboratory rats whose every culinary whim is catered for by adoring scientists while they simultaneously pump the poor little b*ggers up with isotopes, hallucinatory drugs, vast quantities of carcinogens and other yummy delights.

Rump steak
Would you like to eat a thick slice of your rump, let alone that of a cow? Just think where it has been. Not the most distinguished of the beef cuts. (Apologies if your rump is, indeed, superbly tender and well-aged.)

Rustic bread
Bread which has been baked in an aged metal container which passes on the quaint color and iron-filled crunchiness of good, old-fashioned rust.

A sexy-sounding way of describing food which has been pan-fried at too low a temperature and so emerges cooked, though looking somewhat anaemic.

Salsa Verde
A romantic Italian term for an otherwise respectable sauce which has been left out at room temperature for rather too long and has now begun to generate mould.

Shaved Parmesan
Italian cheese which has been showered, shampooed, shaved, deodorized and amply sprinkled with a powerful Armani after-shave. A popular addition to many Italian dishes.

Skate Wings
Slices of rather tough leather normally attached to figure skates and ice hockey skates which are assumed to increase speed and accuracy on the ice rink. Can also be cooked and served with, predictably, a small water ice / sorbet.

A method of cooking whereby you shrink-wrap your food and place it in a pot of simmering water for about three years. Sure comes out nice and tender.

Spotted dick
An English pudding made from flour, raisins and other ingredients, kneaded and shaped into a thick roll, baked, and then can be sliced up, especially by lady chefs with a sense of humor. Not to be served to men who brag a lot about how big theirs is.

Spring Roll
A sweetmeat intended for young couples to take on romantic picnics in the late Springtime when the ultimate objective is to have a roll in the (early cut) hay.

An even more polite way of describing food which should be pan fried (see Sauté, above) but has only just been warmed up enough to sweat a bit.

A certain part of a young animal’s anatomy which is much valued for its smooth, tender texture and subtle flavor. Most gastro-gnomes will tell you that this body part is the thymus gland, but don’t you believe it. Especially if you get two pieces on your plate, it’s probably some poor creature’s b*lls.

Toad in the hole
An enigmatic English dish consisting of a small amphibian creature which has disappeared down a drain pipe but been hooked out again and cooked to perfection in tough pastry that makes concrete look appetizing.

A small but incredibly expensive counter-top food factory that peels, chops, cooks, serves and digests your entire meal in under 60 seconds, spitting out a convenient suppository for you to use. Great time-saver!

A Greek appetizer dip consisting of yoghurt, cucumber, garlic and herbs, designed to challenge English-speaking tourists to pronounce the name after a few drinks without making absolute tw*ts of themselves.

Vegetarian/Vegan choices
Boring, glutinous risottos made with chopped-up vegetable peelings from the resto’s kitchen, hashed up with some canned beans with a few pea shoots sprinkled on top – that’s hoping you appreciate the effort to comply with ‘this modern fashion.’ (Let’s be grateful so many restaurants are shaping up at last…)

Slinky, slimy pasta that looks and behaves like worms. If you’re not fond of eating offal, creepy crawlies and dubious Italian delicacies, give this stuff a miss.

A powerful Indian spice-set which warns westerners that, shortly after consuming these dishes, they may need very close proximity to a bathroom. Get the last three letters, OK? A no-brainer.

Warm salad
A salad which should combine refrigerator-fresh ingredients along with freshly cooked additions, but which in truth consists of a bowlful of stuff that has been left out on the counter incubating bacteria for the previous few hours.

Hot sauce from Japan that knocks your tonsils so far down your throat you’ll need a fire engine to spray them with cold water when they emerge from your rectum.

Well done
A compliment you make to your chef when your steak has come back from the grill or BBQ blackened and almost incinerated, but just about edible. Warning: don’t eat too much burnt sh*t as some say it’s carcinogenic.

Wilted spinach
Spinach which has been stuffed in a pan and humiliated by a bit of heat so it shrinks to a fraction of its original size and status. Shame on you, spinach wilters.

A delicately-flavored dumpling which, when presented, looks alarmingly like what I was talking about in Sweetbread (see above). If you’re particularly concerned just eat them and enjoy without worrying about their origins. (If you’re a woman, though, think “the last time a man gave you grief…”)

What are your favorite restaurant terms … and why? Please share! 
Restaurant jargon demystified

Some tasty further reading:

How to be a savvy restaurant reviewer: the secrets of a restaurant critic by the late Sam Worthington. A great little gift for anyone (or you?) who wants to deliver total value in their Trip Advisor and other reviews. Covers the whole event experience as well as individual elements: the book was written by Sam who had vast experience on either side of the restaurant fence, i.e. as a chef, restaurant owner and publican as well as being one of the world’s top culinary reviewers for many years.
You can also read his series of articles about restaurant reviewing here on HTWB.

photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via photopin cc
photo credit: aussiegall via photopin cc




  1. Artisan breads… Reading that on the menu gets right up my nose. Great list Suze, can’t wait for next week’s contribution.

  2. I have wondered about Chilli Jam…. LOL 😉

  3. Haha I laughed out loud at Gastro Pub and Falafel!

  4. The “falafel” one was especially amusing. 🙂

  5. When did “gravy” become “jus”??

    • Not sure, Jane, but I suspect “jus” is just a fancy way of saying “we didn’t have enough Bisto or cornflour to thicken it up so we’re calling it a frou-frou French name instead.”

      • Now, jus I interpret as some left over liquid with a spoonful of something completely different stirred in – so blackcurrants in chicken stock boiled up….

        • Here’s what Wikipedia says, Lynn … “‘Jus’ means the natural juices given off by the food.[2] To prepare a natural jus, the cook may simply skim off the fat from the juices left after cooking and bring the remaining meat stock and water to a boil. Jus can be frozen for six months or longer, but the flavor may suffer after this time.[3]
          American recipes au jus often use soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, white or brown sugar, garlic, onion, or other ingredients to make something more like a gravy. So-called jus is sometimes prepared separately, rather than being produced naturally by the food being cooked. An example could be a beef jus made by reducing beef stock to a concentrated form, (also known as Glace de Viande) to accompany a meat dish.
          Jus can also be made by extracting the juice from the original meat and combining it with another liquid e.g.: red wine (thus forming a red wine jus).
          A powdered product described as jus is also sold, and is rubbed into the meat before cooking or added afterwards. Powdered forms generally use a combination of salt, dried onion, and sometimes sugar as primary flavoring agents.”

          So you’re right about that type of “jus” … but it does seem to be open to wider interpretation! Maybe where “jus” truly differs from other gravies and sauces is that its consistency is more runny?


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