22 October 2023

Lost in translation

A much-loved Montmartre café-bistrot has recently re-opened.
Au Rêve
89 rue Caulaincourt 75018



Tis true that daily specials when recited in French by a haughty Parisian waiter sound so much better than in English. In a sketch about dining at a French restaurant in New York comedy duo Key & Peele do a brilliant send-up of a French waiter describing each dish in intimidating thickly-accented gibberish, which leads to dire consequences.

This is not about those bizarre menu translations from French to English that Paris restaurants are notorious for, leaving bewildered customers trying not to laugh. This is about how a menu, melodic in French, can become banal as soon as it is reduced to English. Instantly, a dish can lose any allure it might have had and even come off as, well, unappetizing. Compare:

- Suggestions du Jour -
Entrées: Salade des gésiers ou Velouté de pommes de terres-carottes et ses croûtons
Plat: Rumsteak de boeuf avec sa sauce poivre et gratin dauphinois individuels
Dessert: Crême brûlee

- Suggestions of the Day -
Starters: Gizzard salad or Potato-carrot soup and croutons
Main: Rump steak with pepper sauce and individual potatoes au gratin
Dessert: Burnt cream

Even so, in France one can rely on quality of ingredients and preparation to trump translations, and are sure to please. For an establishment to pass muster locals demand fresh, seasonal, traditional dishes made in the traditional way. Baguettes will be from a reliable boulangerie and cheeses from raw milk. Pasteurised cheese please? “Go to the supermarket!” And desserts, like everything else, will be faits maison (made in the kitchen) or outsourced to a quality pâtissier. GMOs don’t get a second thought (they're not allowed in the EU) and the only place lab-grown foods, and this includes fake meat, have at the table are as a topic of conversation.
Italy has just passed a law - the first in Europe and hopefully France is not far behind - prohibiting encroaching synthetic foods, upsetting NGOS that stand to make handsome profits from products untested for long-term health impacts, taste and quality. When it comes to food, these are the concerns that consume French consumers.

As long as our gizzard salads, rump steaks and burnt cream remain as untouched as possible, we really don’t care what they sound like in English. And neither should you. Bon appétit! - BPJ

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