Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The home of the brave

There is nothing more dangerous than a little bit of knowledge. This truism has been the bane of many intrepid diners at foreign restaurants.  Trusting to their memory of their high school foreign language studies, people bravely order dishes with foreign names without asking for explanations and are rather surprised by the contents of the plate they receive, occasionally positively.

French restaurants are an infamous minefield for the uninitiated. As Disney so wonderfully demonstrated, ratatouille is made from eggplants and tomatoes without any rodent protein source. For that matter, if a dish has a farce, it is not a quaint version but instead contains a stuffing, generally with breadcrumbs or rice. One of my old favorites, a pomme de terre en robe de chambre, is not Mr. Potatohead wearing a bathrobe but instead a standard baked potato. As foreign tourists quickly learn when traveling in the summer, la glace is creamy ice cream, which admittedly can be a bit shiny.

Alas, tourists to the United States are not immune to this issue. In Colorado, prairie oysters do not come from the sea but are instead bull testicles. For that matter, sweetbread, a delicacy to Persians among others, is neither sweet nor doughy; it is brains, generally of sheep or cows. Foreigners may think shepherds pie is a desert. However, it is actually a main course made of potatoes and ground beef, rather delicious in fact. Finally, the contents of a baked Alaska seem rather unclear to the unfamiliar but should be rather satisfying as what could go wrong with a brownie and ice cream combination?

Hebrew also has its red herrings. The innocent that orders a סטיק לבן [steak lavan], white steak, does not receive beef but pork. חלב דגים [halav dagim], fish milk, is not a dairy product but instead fish sperm. (I have never tried it and am not so sure I would). מעורב ירושילמי [me’urav yerushalaimi], a Jerusalem mix, is quite tasty but does not hint at its contents: grilled chicken, liver, spleen and heart with onions. Watch out for compote: Israeli compote is cooked fruit served in a liquid, a syrup, while English compote is more of a jam.

These are only a small sample of potential mix-ups for the unwary. Like in most matters, a good sense of humor easily overcomes any sense of dismay. You could say that blind ordering can be best way to discover new foods.

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