Your Guide to Flawless Ordering in Any Language

Your dining dictionary

Have you ever wanted to order the mille-feuille for dessert but were too embarrassed to attempt the pronunciation so sheepishly pointed at the menu instead? Our handy guide will help you overcome ordering awkwardness and say those food words that are a real mouthful.

The vibrant purple berry, ubiquitous in smoothie bowls from Bondi to Brazil, is pronounced  “ah-sigh-ee”.

The diction dilemma that started it all. “Could I have the… foe? Fur? Noodle soup, please!” The actual pronunciation is “fuh”, and it’s said to derive from the French “feu”, which means flame. Traditional pho has tender beef strips, a protein that wasn’t common in Vietnam until French colonial rule; it’s suggested that the word (and dish) pho is an adaptation of the French beef stew pot-au-feu.

This Calabrian spreadable salami (it’s more delicious than it sounds) is popping up on menus all over town, much to the horror of the dialectically challenged among us. Repeat after us: “en-DOO-ya”.

Frequently bungled to rhyme with “side”. Turkey’s answer to the pizza, pide, is pronocuned “PEE-day.

Boeuf Bourguignon
Meaning beef Burgundy, it’s the French dish that Julia Child laboured over and perfected in her magnum opus Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Say it with us: “beuhff bor-gee-nyawn”.

Let’s settle this once and for all. The delicious Italian tomato toast is “broo-SKETT-ah”. Anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t know their oxheart from their San Marzano.

In Brazil, cold, limey caipirinha is required drinking. Muddled lime and sugar are topped up with ice and cachaça – delicious but deadly. Ask the bartender for a “kai-pah-ree-nyah”.

While we’re in Brazil, it’s worth knowing how to pronounce the national spirit, cachaça, made from fermented sugar cane juice: “ca-shah-sah”.

In Spanish, a double “l” signifies a “y” sound. So when you’re in Valencia ordering its world-famous rice dish, don’t ask for the “pay-ella”. Instead, request the “pai-eh-yah”, por favor.

And while we’re on it… quesadilla, the delicious, Mexican tortilla-with-cheese is pronounced “keh-sah-dee-ya”.

The same rule applies here: “tor-tee-ya”.

 It’s early, you want that coffee quickly, we get it. But it’s not “ex-press-oh”, it’s “ess-press-oh”. And make it snappy.

The dark, deep-flavoured sauce that hails from Mexico and is sometimes prepared with chocolate doesn’t share its name with a small, subterranean mammal. Rather, molé, pronounced “moll-ay”, comes from an indigenous word for “mix”. The sauce contains any number of ingredients – usually 20 or more – including chilli, cumin, anise, tomato and achiote.

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These fried choux pastry fritters originated in New Orleans, where they’re liberally sprinkled with icing sugar and served with coffee. Ask for “ben-yay” and you’ll be rewarded.

This delicious Greek fast food has endured many mispronunciations since it migrated to the English-speaking world. The pronunciation of the meat-wrapped-in-pita isn’t “jy-row” or “jee-row” but “yee-ross”, and it’s Greek for “spin”.

Prixe fixe
Any French bistro worth its steak tartare offers a “pree-fihcks” menu. It means “set price” and it usually includes two or three courses.

Croissant – The French really have a lot to answer for. This most ubiquitous of pastries is also the most abused, nominally speaking – the French say “kwah-SAHN”.

Bream – This is one of those words that’s pronounced differently from how it’s spelled for reasons it would take an etymologist to figure out. The tasty fish is called a “brim”, and if you pronounce it as it’s spelled, rhyming with “dream”, you’ll likely find yourself admonished by pedants on all sides.

It’s “vin-uh-GREHT”, which is really just a fancy French way of saying salad dressing.

This is raw mixed vegetables, usually cut into batons and served with a dipping sauce. Crudités (“kroo-di-tays”) is – you guessed it – a French term that means “raw things”.

Not to be mistaken for macaroons, which are, confusingly, also biscuits, the macaron (“ma-kuh-rohn”) is made with almond meal and egg white for a meringue-like consistency. They have a crisp outside and a soft, moist inside and they’re usually sandwiched around a ganache, jam or buttercream. A macaroon (“mah-kuh-roon”) is dense with desiccated coconut and deliciously chewy.

Foie gras
It’s French for “fat liver” and that’s literally what foie gras is: the liver of a goose or duck that’s been fattened up by force-feeding. It’s ethically dicey but it’s considered a delicacy in France where it’s often served as pâté on toast. If you’re planning to order it, ask for “fwah grah”.

In French, “au gratin” refers to any dish that’s topped with a crust – usually cheese and/or breadcrumbs – and cooked until browned and bubbling under the grill. Most often you’ll see potato, but leeks, pasta and celeriac are common au gratin (“aw grah-tahn”) too.

Moët & Chandon
To sounds like a true sophisticate whose coupe is always filled with the French stuff, you need to pronounce the “t” in Moët. Many people don’t, probably because it sounds more French that way, but actually, Moët is the name of one of the Champagne house’s founders – a Dutchman, whose name is pronounced ‘mm-wett” and not “mo-way”.

Translated to English, mille-feuille means “a thousand layers”. This French puff pastry dessert is like a really, really fancy vanilla slice – say “meel foy”.

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It’s “ed-ah-mah-may” – and be sure to squeeze the tender beans outs of the pod rather than eating it whole.

Dulce de leche
This milk-based caramel originated in Argentina, where locals use it on everything – as a toast spread, a cereal topping, in between cake layers and as an ice-cream flavour. Or, you know, straight out of the jar. It’s not something you can avoid if you’re in South America – nor should you. Just make sure you request “dull-seh de leh-cheh”

This flaky, shell-shaped pastry with leaf-like layers from Campagnia has a name that looks bewildering to the anglophone eye. An “s” before an “f”? Crazy. Actually, the “sf” sound is just that: say “sfohl-ya-TEL-lee”.

You might be tempted to order your salade “nee-swah”, but in fact, the “s” should be audible – so “nee-swaz”.

A specialty from Marseilles, this seafood stew can stump the non-French speaker. Say “boo-yah-behss” and you’ll have them fooled.

This French staple is a rich, concentrated stock or soup that’s been so well clarified that it’s clear. It’s often served as an entrée and it’s said “kon-suh-may”.

Here’s a rule for life: don’t get your pronunciation of Italian foods from Italo-American TV shows. For example, Tony Soprano and co frequently requested – “pro-shoot”. They meant “pro-SHOOT-toe”.

People often refer to this spicy sausage as “chor-eet-zo” but in fact, the “z” sound is soft in Spanish, so “chor-ee-so”. If you want to get really Spanish about it, say “chor-ee-tho”.

Steak frites
Steak and chips, that’s all this dish is, but somehow, the French manage to elevate it to fine dining. Request your “steck freet” with a side of béarnaise (bay-ar-nez) sauce.

You can sort the dilettantes from the serious whiskey-drinkers by asking them to pronounce some extremely Scottish brand names. Case in point: Laphroaig, the venerable Scotch brand from the south coast of the Isle of Islay. Say “lah-froyg” to show you know your stuff.

Spanish wine is grown in the autonomous communities of La Rioja and Navarre and the Basque region of Álava is called Rioja. Many English speakers say “ree-OCK-uh” but in Spanish, “j” is an “h” sound – so “ree-O-ha”.

Boeuf en daube is a classic Provençal dish of beef braised in wine; say “dobe” as opposed to “dawb”.

“Soh-tay” rather than “saw-tay” is the correct way to pronounce this French cooking technique.

An ethereal whipped dessert of egg yolk, wine and sugar: simple, right? Unlike the name. Say “zah-bahl-YON-neh”. 

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