Language difficulties can prove at best, a problem when ordering from a menu in other countries. At worst, it can be dangerous, frightening or nauseating.
On one trip we confidently ordered from a French menu. Cervelles d’agneau. Fine! We knew that agneau was lamb, so how bad could a cut of lamb be?
When the fried brains arrived, my partner blanched. He’s not an offal-eater. Luckily I am, so we switched.
But I was the unlucky one in France (why is it always France we get caught?) hmmm - gotta learn the language, I guess.
Here is an extract from my book Pardon My French where, in the west of France, my menu-French was just not up to it!
‘At Coulon it becomes vital for us to eat soon before it is too late to find a restaurant open. Today we don’t want to picnic. This is our last Sunday in France and I have my heart set on lunching in a restaurant, somewhere memorable. The water’s edge it has to be, and when we sight La Pigouille, with its apple-green shutters and awnings, it seems to have everything I want. Unfortunately on joining the queue, we are told, brusquely, it is absolutely full, and to try again in half an hour.
These restaurants are doing a roaring trade in lunch and boat tour packages. Apart from that, the weather is showing off the Marais at its loveliest and you’d be mad not to want to dine outside by the canal. Further down the barge path, shortly we come across another restaurant, La Passerelle, equally well-located. Also full. However, there is one empty table for two in the corner of the terrace, beside the footpath.
“That’s ours!” I say.
As we approach the waiter, he begins to shake his head until I point it out, and he nods. We’re in! What’s more the blackboard offers a generously priced Menu du Terroir (regional food menu). There is local ham, and fresh Atlantic-caught fish, a plate of regional chevre with salad, and a terrine of myocastor. I query this last one, but the waiter shrugs and makes 'small-animal' running movements with his hands. I ask if it might be rabbit, and he shrugs.
It is only much later that I Google it and discover I have consumed coypu, a small rodent. Yes, I know, I’m pretty shocked to learn this too. It is not consumed in most other parts of Europe (they all say it is harmful – whatever that means) yet is considered a delicacy in Central and South America. It lives in marshy areas, so it is certainly regional here, and looks like a water rat. Too much like a rat, I decide when Google helpfully directs me to a photograph.
I have a Fawlty Towers flashback, channelling Manuel. ‘Eees haaam-ster!
I thought I was well up on food names but this one has caught me. Silly, but I feel quite nauseous for the rest of the day after I find this out. All I can say is, it ‘terrined’ very nicely and tasted enough like rabbit to fool me!’
If you thought this blog had died and gone to blog-heaven, it hasn’t.
It has merely stalled because we’ve had a huge assignment, visiting 200 Sydney cafes for an exciting app. Find Sydney Café Culture on the iTunes App Store.