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Word Wednesday: Misplaced Food

15 March 2006

Lest you begin to think that Word Wednesdays = Excuse to Complain, today I just mention something I’ve noted. It seems that people around the world feel that food terms need to be “placed”, and often, they are placed incorrectly.

For example, French fries. In French, they are just frites [fries]. And in actuality, the Belgians are much more famous for their fries than the French. Every little village had at least one Friture, where you could go pick up fresh, hot, just-fried-in-beef-fat, fries. (The French enjoyed making the Belgians squirm in the 1980s when they would often drop in conversation that friture was the fat used in making fries, and that friterie was the actual term for the place one went to purchase frites. The Belgians huffed, they puffed out their cheeks, stated to everyone around them that the French were insufferable snobs, … and a few years later all the shops names were changed to Friterie.)

Another example: Belgian waffles. Really, we understand where the confusion has come in. Because, again, the Belgians are renowned for their waffles. For instance, there are gaufres de Bruxelles (“Brussels waffles”, what in the U.S. is meant by Belgian waffles)—puffy, large-holed, crispy batter treats. But in Belgium, you have it as a gouter [afternoon snack], with powdered sugar, whipped cream, and fruit. But when one purchases a waffle iron in Belgium, you get a variety of plates, so you can also make thinner, small-holed cookie-type gaufres. And in Liège, during the October Fair, you can buy Lackmans, which are two of the thin waffles, sandwiching a thick sticky apple goo (called sirop de Liège [syrup of Liège]). Mmm, mmm, good.

And let’s not forget French dressing and Russian dressing. Neither of those countries would take ownership of these two mayonnaise-based sauces. But that’s OK. The French speakers of the world have gotten even with the U.S. by calling raw chopped beef combined with (raw) egg, (again, raw) onion, and capers Filet Americain. And I have never met an American who would willingly eat the stuff. Even before mad cow disease.

And just so you didn’t think I was being eurocentric, let me mention to you that if you went to China and asked for “General Tso’s Chicken”, which is a staple in all Chinese restaurants in the U.S., the people would look at you with a blank look on their face. It seems that General Tso was a 19th century warrior, particularly apt at crushing Muslim rebels. And that the dish we in the U.S. relish is not really worthy of a war general. Maybe his peasant foot soldiers ate it, but surely not him.

So where does this all leave us? Nowhere in particular. I just thought is was interesting. And it reminded me that I should ask my mother to bring me back some sirop de Liège sometime soon!

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