Photo Credit: Spencer Davis via Unsplash

Take the waffle off the menu

By Anne Hornman

Your handy guide to decoding difficult menus.

Going out for dinner in Glasgow is a pleasure. The West End especially is booming with fun restaurants. Big or small, cheap or more expensive. As a broke student going out for dinner is not a common experience, but it certainly is something we all do much more than we care to admit – especially to our parents, to whom we always complain about being too broke. Have you ever been to the Ubiquitous Chip? I haven’t. But what a name, right? I literally had to look up what “ubiquitous” means. I’m still not sure to be perfectly honest. But this sensation of being confused about big words in restaurants is not unusual. Have you noticed how complicated the vocabulary on menus is nowadays? I’ll be looking at the list of choices and feel like I’m doing the reading for a class I’m six lectures behind for. Google now helps me more for choosing what to eat than actually finding a restaurant to go to! Let me give you an example.

If you’re browsing the menu for Number 16, you might find yourself confused as you read “pan fried fillet of hake, leek and mussel chowder, confit potato, samphire”. I personally don’t know at least three of the words in that sentence. Or, let’s go back to The Ubiquitous Chip, for example, and peruse their menu. This time I was baffled by “smoked haddock and langoustine tail gratin, garlic crostini”. After googling some of the terms I found that langoustine is a type of lobster, gratin is a way of baking something by adding a browned crust on top, and crostini is a “crusty bread brushed with olive oil” says Kate on “Cookie and Kate”. So my question is, to what extent is this just me being uncultured? I’m not an avid seafood eater, so I wouldn’t have known that a langoustine is a lobster, but I do like bread and I did not know what a crostini was. Or maybe I just don’t go out to dinner enough, because once I’ve ordered something with a name I don’t know, I’ll surely remember what it is.

Are the restaurants trying to confuse us? Is this their way of creating their target audience? Is it fashionable in the food and beverage world right now to use big words? I think it’s a combination. The style of a menu, and the vocabulary used to describe the food must be part of their marketing plan and branding. So much thought goes into every detail in these restaurants; in an attempt to create a unified experience. So when you’re visiting an expensive restaurant, you’re bound to find big words on the menu. Or, if you’re going to a restaurant with a specific culture behind it, you’ll find words you don’t know because they’re from a different language. I found it so sweet that at Brel (on Ashton Lane) they call chips (or fries) “frites” as a nod to their Belgian style menu. You’ll find the same at any Thai, Indian or Italian restaurant. It’s part of the culinary experience, and I think it shows that the restaurant put thought into the wording of their menu. Finally, I would think that the use of more complicated terms on menus encourages the guests to ask the waiter/waitress what it means, which in turn creates a more personalised experience at the restaurant.

In any case, if I’m ever confused again at a restaurant I’ll know that both my palette and my knowledge of culinary language are in for a treat.


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