The world of food has it’s own language. Many examples are really just the original name of a dish in it’s own language, such as Coq Au Vin, or Cassoulet. On the other hand some of them seem to have retained their names in other languages to hide what they really are from unsuspecting diners, like foie gras or tripe. A third category of words are completely made up, like Canola oil, typically made from the aforementioned rapeseed. Canola oil derives it’s name from Canadian oil, low acid, pretty sneaky eh?
Or everybody’s favorite mystery meat Spam, which is just a shortened version of spiced ham.
It is difficult to find any rhyme or reason for why some names stick and others don’t. Coq au Vin translates roughly into rooster in wine, seems like there are many ways to rename that one. Wine braised chicken perhaps? Makes you wonder if it is anything more than restaurants wanting to keep some mystery around a very simple dish.
Cassoulet is named after the pot it is cooked in, a cassole. Nothing all that fancy about it. However pork and bean casserole just doesn’t have the same cachet does it?
Foie gras certainly sounds much better than fatty liver, the last time I prepared it I explained it to someone by using myself as an example. Somehow eating my liver was less appealing to them than that of a duck. It was still delicious.The ducks, not mine.
Tripe is another one of those delicacies that hides nicely behind it’s Italian or French name. Stomach lining does not sound appetizing at all but it is enjoyed throughout most of the world in various forms. Why they bother to call green tripe (used only as an animal food) tripe instead of stomach lining is a bit of mystery. Dogs certainly don’t care.
It’s not always foreign words that are used to hide a dishes true origin. Rocky Mountain oysters are probably the best known example in the US. You might also find lamb fries depending on where you are. Regardless of what they are called, or what animal they come from (bulls vs sheep), they are still just testicles.
They are actually on my short list of things I have to try at some point. I’m sure with enough beer I can muster the courage.
Some other well known foods masquerading under innocuous sounding names are calamari, venison and veal. All of them are commonly used to describe a food that might otherwise turn people off. Squid, Bambi and baby cows have a tendency to send some people running for the door.
Fruits and vegetables aren’t immune from this culinary bait and switch either. Sea beans are not beans at all, more of a salty marsh grass, but that sounds a whole lot better than glasswort. And those adorable Kiwi fruits, named after the flightless bird, began their lives as gooseberry’s and took a turn as a melonette’s before landing on its adorable current name.
So before you dig in to that next plate of food with a name that just sounds appetizing, think about what that name may be hiding, or don’t, sometimes it is better not to know.