Restaurant jargon: gastronomic terms demystified, part 1

What are your favorite culinary terms?I love eating out – don’t you? But so often we can be disappointed by the realities emerging from the yummy-sounding jargon on the menus. Here is part one of my, er, interpretations of those terms. Please add your thoughts to these ….!

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.

Bombay Aloo
More like a Bombay Goodbye, assuming it’s spicy enough. However East Indian culinary connoisseurs are perpetual optimists and reckon that, if they say Aloo often enough, Westerners will begin to cope with the flames and share the fiery enjoyment.

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 cynical.

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.

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.

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.

What are your favorite restaurant terms … and why? Please share! (More next week…)

Some tasty further reading: (instant downloads)

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well
“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write
The MAMBA Way to make your words sell“…how to think your way to superbly successful sales writing

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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