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What's in a name?

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Stefan Gates Stefan Gates | 13:31 UK time, Tuesday, 11 October 2011

 Why has French food conquered the world? Don’t get me wrong, I love the French, but I think Italian food tastes better, Japanese is more refined, Spanish is bolder, British has more character and Scandinavian is more… herring-based.

The first theory is the reliable boring one: that the French systematised, codified and formalised cooking. Starting with Varenne (1615-1678), through Careme (1784-1833) and then the big daddy of finger-wagging food rules, Escoffier (1846-1935). They wrote down the way that food should be cooked in a comprehensive and formal manner so that standards were set and French food culture could be disseminated across the world. Sure, there were great cookbooks written everywhere, but the French set up systems that could be copied and replicated.

However, I reckon that the French originally had the same kind of food as us - they just gave it better names. They came up with poetic, delicious-sounding dishes and this gave their culinary reputation a head-start that they built on. Just open up Larousse or Saulnier’s Le Répertoire de la Cuisine and it all becomes clear:

Oreilles Sainte-Menehoud (grilled pigs’ ears)
Abatis Bourguignonne (fried offal)
Sole Bonaparte (poached sole)
Paté chaud d’Anguilles à l’Anglaise (eels with boiled eggs)
Oeufs Lully (eggs ‘n’ ham)
Caillettes (faggots)
Paupiettes (stuffed tripe)
Cotes de porc Grand’Mère (pork burgers)

The English language just can't compete, can it? And so we'll never really be able to prove our food supremacy to the world with Toad-in-the-hole, no matter how utterly delicious it is.


Look out, Arnie's been at the Stella again...

Quiz time! Which of the following is a real British dish and which has been completely made up for comedic purposes? (The noble among you will not use Google!)

Brain cakes
Calder cup
Goose stubble
Glasgow magistrates
Swan chips
Assembly biscuits
Mussel spheres
Bath quincies
Sheeps pluck


Answers below....


  1. Whim-Wham (redcurrant fool)
  2. Leach lumbar  (gingerbread cakes)
  3. Clapshot (turnip and potato mash)
  4. Brain cakes (well, it's obvious, isn't it?)
  5. Glasgow Magistrates (salted herrings)
  6. Cock-ale (cockerel boiled in ale with raisins and spices)
  7. Furmentie (rice or barley pudding)
  8. Sheeps pluck (pot roasted sheeps’ offal)


Notable wrong answers
The Calder Cup is a Canadian hockey tournament
Mussel spheres were served at El Bulli
Stubble goose (one who grazed mown hayfields) was traditionally served at Michaelmas

What ridiculous food names have you come across?  Are we far too literal nowadays to evoke the whimsy and imagination of old food names?


  • Comment number 1.

    I have heard of a British dish called Rumbledethumps but am not really sure what it is! Quite a crazy name...

  • Comment number 2.

    French food conquered England because when Escoffier moved to the Ritz he brought a whole brigade of French chefs with him, who then moved on to work in other hotels. This influence meant all fine dining restaurant menus were printed in French. So much so that the trade magazine - Caterer and Hotelkeeper - had articles in both English and French from its inception right up to the 1920s.

  • Comment number 3.

    Let's not forget that if it wasn't for the Tuscan Catherina di' Medici bringing her kitchen brigade from Italy to France, the French would not have been so inspired to, as you say but not in my opinion, "conquer the world". I would never tire of eating Italian food but French, after a few weeks...Bof!

    Let's not forget Hachis Parmentier, (wondering if you would eat it or smoke it?) a French version of Cottage Pie.

    Here's one from my area, Singin' Hinny.


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