Restaurant jargon: gastronomic terms demystified, part 2

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 two of my, er, interpretations of those terms. (For part one click here.) Please add your thoughts to these ….!

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 … at times, anyway…

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. Yuk.

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.

What are your favorite culinary terms?Ratatouille
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.

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 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.

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! 

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: SMercury98 via photopin cc




  1. The ‘market fish of the day’ reminds me of an exercise in one of the German text books I use for teaching, where the waiter says ‘the fish today is very fresh’. This always get us giggling as we’re then imagining what the fish is like on other days 😉

  2. I never knew what spotted dick is, and you’ve enlightened me! Not that I would have the courage to order it off the menu by name. I’d have to point.

    • I know what you mean, Mary. This term always makes me think of some horrible disease … especially as I often work with a group of urological medics who talk endlessly about penile dysfunction!