How to Read a French Menu

Menus, Courses, Special terms

French menu
Robert George Young / Getty

Reading the menu in a French restaurant can be a little tricky, and not just due to language difficulties. There may be important differences between restaurants in France and in your own country, including what foods are offered and how they are prepared. Here are some terms and tips to help you find your way around a French menu. Enjoy your meal—or "Bon appétit!"

Types of menus

Le menu and la formule refer to the fixed-price menu, which includes two or more courses (with limited choices for each) and is usually the least expensive way to eat out in France.

The choices may be written on the ardoise, which literally means "slate." Ardoise can also refer to the specials board the restaurant might display outside or on a wall at the entrance. The sheet of paper or booklet that the waiter hands you (what English speakers call the "menu") is la carte, and anything you order from it is à la carte, which means "fixed-price menu."

A couple of other important menus to know are:

  • La carte des vins, which is the wine menu
  • Une dégustation, which refers to a tasting menu, with small servings of multiple dishes (déguster means "to taste")

Courses

A French meal may include numerous courses, in this order:

  1. un apéritif - cocktail, pre-dinner drink
  2. un amuse-bouche or amuse-gueule - snack (just one or two bites)
  3. une entrée - appetizer/starter (false cognate alert: entree can mean "main course" in English)
  4. le plat principal - main course
  5. le fromage - cheese
  6. le dessert - dessert
  1. le café - coffee
  2. un digestif - after-dinner drink

Special Terms

In addition to knowing how French restaurants list their food items and prices, as well as the names of courses, you should also familiarize yourself with special food terms.

  • Le plat du jour is the daily special (literally, "dish of the day"), which is usually part of le menu.
  • Gratuit and offert both mean "free."
  • The waiter will often add the word petit ("little") to his offer: Un petit dessert? Un petit café?
  • When you're full, say : "Je n'en peux plus" or "J'ai bien/trop mangé."
  • See the French restaurant vocabulary for additional terms the waiter might use and what you should say. The terms are paired with sound files to help you with your pronunciation.

Other Terms

There's no way around it: To really feel comfortable ordering from the menu in a French restaurant, you'll need to learn a number of common terms. But, don't fret: The list below includes almost all common terms you would need to know to impress your friends while ordering in French. The list is broken down by categories, such as food preparation, portions and ingredients, and even regional dishes.

                                               Food Preparation

affiné 

 aged

artisanal 

 homemade, traditionally made

à la broche 

 cooked on a skewer

à la vapeur 

 steamed

à l'etouffée 

 stewed

au four 

 baked

biologique, bio 

 organic

bouilli 

 boiled

brûlé 

 burnt

coupé en dés 

 diced

coupé en tranches / rondelles 

 sliced

en croûte 

 in a crust

en daube 

 in stew, casserole

en gelée 

 in aspic/gelatin

farci 

 stuffed

fondu 

 melted

frit 

 fried

fumé 

 smoked

glacé 

 frozen, icy, glazed

grillé 

 grilled

haché 

 minced, ground (meat)

maison 

 homemade

poêlé 

 panfried

relevé 

 highly seasoned, spicy

séché 

 dried

truffé 

 with truffles

truffé de ___ 

 dotted/speckled with ___

                                                      Tastes

aigre 

 sour

amer 

 bitter

piquant 

 spicy

salé 

 salty, savory

sucré 

 sweet(ened)

                            Portions, Ingredients, and Appearance

aiguillettes 

 long, thin slices (of meat)

aile 

 wing, white meat

aromates 

 seasoning

___ à volonté (e.g., frites à volonté) 

 all you can eat

la choucroute 

 sauerkraut

crudités 

 raw vegetables

cuisse 

 thigh, dark meat

émincé 

 thin slice (of meat)

fines herbes 

 sweet herbs

un méli-mélo 

assortment

un morceau 

 piece

au pistou  

 with basil pesto

une poêlée de ___ 

 assorted fried ___

la purée 

 mashed potatoes

une rondelle 

 slice (of fruit, vegetable, sausage)

une tranche 

 slice (of bread, cake, meat)

une truffe 

 truffle (very expensive and rare fungus)

                                 Typical French and Regional Dishes

aïoli 

 fish/vegetables with garlic mayonnaise

aligot 

 mashed potatoes with fresh cheese (Auvergne)

le bœuf bourguignon 

 beef stew (Burgundy)

le brandade 

 dish made with cod (Nîmes)

la bouillabaisse 

 fish stew (Provence)

le cassoulet 

 meat and bean casserole (Languedoc)

la choucroute (garnie) 

 sauerkraut with meat (Alsace)

le clafoutis 

 fruit and thick custard tart

le coq au vin 

 chicken in red wine sauce

la crême brûlée 

 custard with a burnt sugar top

la crème du Barry 

 cream of cauliflower soup

une crêpe 

 very thin pancake

un croque madame 

 ham and cheese sandwich topped with fried egg

un croque monsieur 

 ham and cheese sandwich

une daube 

 meat stew

le foie gras 

 goose liver

___ frites (moules frites, steak frites) 

 ___ with fries/chips (mussels with fries/chips, steak with fries/chips)

une gougère 

 puff pastry filled with cheese

la pipérade 

 tomato and bell pepper omelet (Basque)

la pissaladière 

 onion and anchovy pizza (Provence)

la quiche lorraine 

 bacon and cheese quiche

la (salade de) chèvre (chaud) 

 green salad with goat cheese on toast

la salade niçoise 

 mixed salad with anchovies, tuna, and hard boiled eggs

la socca 

 baked chickpea crêpe (Nice)

la soupe à l'oignon 

 French onion soup

la tarte flambée 

 pizza with very light crust (Alsace)

la tarte normande 

 apple and custard pie (Normandy)

la tarte tatin 

 upside down apple pie