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Decoding French Menus

Regardless of where you go to an ethnic restaurant (in America, or not), sometimes decoding the menu can be a little tricky. This guide is meant to help decode some of the items you'll find on a menu at a restaurant in France to make sure you don't order something with onions if they're not something you like, etc...

As we've stated many times previously, I'm anticipating some problems when I plan to go eat out at restaurants with friends. I'm doing everything I can to not so much "get around" my problem, but to prepare to the best of my ability to be one step ahead of it. That means printing out quick-reference cards to hand to my waiters to essentially help them help me order something that won't make me ill later on, and having a basic knowledge of what sorts of cooking methods I need to steer clear of. Here's a quick reference not only for me to refer to later, but for any Celiac (coeliaque en français) looking to stay well in Paris, and still enjoy some really good food. Remember: These menu meanings and suggestions only HELP you figure out what you're eating. Some of the methods flat-out mean flour, or fried, but some don't necessarily have flour anywhere in the meaning. They might still have a flour-based sauce, so it's always a good idea to ask before you consume.

What you see on the menu: à la Lyonnaise
What does it mean? Served in the style of Lyons
Will I order it? Yes!
What do you get? It's served with onions. This usually doesn't mean flour! I'll be on the look out for any sauces that get paired with the dish later, however.

What you see on the menu: à la Meunière
What does it mean? Served "in the style of the Miller's wife."
Will I order it? NO!
What do you get? The dish is dusted with flour, sautéed in butter, then served with lemon juice, browned butter, and parsley. I've made Sole Meunière at home with gluten-free flour before, and it's delicious, but unless the chef will use cornstarch or gluten-free flour in this application (and this one is an easy substitution), I won't order it.

What you see on the menu: à la Grand-mère
What does it mean? Served in the style of grandma.
Will I order it? Yes!
What do you get? It's served with onions, mushrooms, potatoes, and bacon. Comfort food at its best! If I see a particular sauce with it (more on those later), I might not order it, or I'll ask for a substitution, but this is right up my alley, ESPECIALLY when I've had a rough day.

What you see on the menu: béchamel
What does it mean? Béchamel sauce (one of the five "mother sauces").
Will I order it? NO!
What do you get? It's a white sauce that's made with a flour-based roux. For those of you that don't cook, this is where things are about to get a little confusing... A roux is a thickening agent used to thicken sauces, and it's what the sauce starts with. It's not as simple as a cornstarch and water slurry that you put in towards the end. That roux is made with the flour. That's why we can't have it. While delicious, Celiacs can't eat it. It's not something a "normal" chef can make special for you either. It's not an easy substitution. If you happen to go somewhere that specializes in gluten-free eating (like my kitchen), you might make it out of this one with a very happy upper GI tract, AND very happy taste buds, but I'd recommend you stay clear of this very tempting menu item.

What you see on the menu: à la Florentine
What does it mean? Served in the style of Florence
Will I order it? NO!
What do you get? Served with spinach and mornay sauce. While I love the spinach, the mornay sauce doesn't love me. We'll get into that sauce next.

What you see on the menu: sauce mornay
What does it mean? Mornay sauce
Will I order it? NO!
What do you get? Mornay sauce is a white sauce that starts out as a Béchamel. It's made with flour (a big no-no for people like me), and it starts with a roux. This Mornay sauce is a Béchamel until you put Gruyère cheese in it, which makes it a Mornay, and of course, delicious. So my friends, if you are like me, and you can't have flour, do not touch anything with mornay near it.

What you see on the menu: à la Diable
What does it mean? Devil's style
Will I order it? Yes!
What do you get? Served with a spicy sauce flavored with mustard, vinegar, or peppers. I'll ask questions to see if there's any flour near the dish (sometimes a cream-based sauce might be paired with the dish to combat the spice, and that could be lethal), but these are usually safe.

What you see on the menu: à la Dijonnaise
What does it mean? Dijon
Will I order it? Not without asking questions!
What do you get? Mustard sauce! I found a recipe that had a Dijonnaise sauce that had some flour in it! It's always better to ask questions than to be sick later!

What you see on the menu: Bourguignonne
What does it mean? Burgundy
Will I order it? Not without asking questions!
What do you get? Prepared with red wine, mushrooms, bacon, and onions. Sound like Julia Child? It SOUNDS safe, but most recipes for this call for a few tablespoons of flour, which might make me a little sick to my stomach. For those of you that are more sensitive than I am, things will be worse!

What you see on the menu: Bretonne
What does it mean? Brittany
Will I order it? Yes!
What do you get? This can mean one of two things... it's either a dish served with white beans (good), or a dish made with white wine, carrots, leeks, and celery. Both are usually prepared without flour.

What you see on the menu: Bordelaise
What does it mean? Bordeaux
Will I order it? Yes!
What do you get? Something bordelaise is usually going to be a meat dish, because a bordelaise sauce is a brown-colored sauce made from wine, shallots, and bone marrow. Sometimes you might find a chef that will use flour to thicken this (or will use flour on the meat), so it would be smart to ask to before ordering, but the sauce itself usually doesn't have flour.

What you see on the menu: Arlésienne
What does it mean? Arles
Will I order it? Yes!
What do you get? Food with tomatoes, onions, potatoes, rice, and sometimes olives! This is a very provençale kind of dish, lots of fresh flavors. If there's going to be a sauce on something like this, it's one you can see through, which means it won't have flour (more on that later).

What you see on the menu: Anglaise
What does it mean? English style
Will I order it? That depends...
What do you get? Seeing anglaise on a menu means a few different things depending on where you see it. Sometimes it means "prepared with little embellishment," and in that case, it's probably safe. I'll often order my food in a restaurant here "bare naked." It'll get a little shock value out of a waiter or waitress, but it gets my point across. If my food is "bare naked," it won't have seasonings on it, and if there's no seasoning, there definitely won't be any flour... or flavor... At any rate. Sometimes it means food that's been dipped in bread crumbs and fried, and then I can't eat it, unless those bread crumbs happen to be gluten free, and they usually aren't. If you're on a dessert menu and you see crème anglaise, that means you're getting a sweet, white (usually vanilla) egg and dairy based sauce that's covering your dessert. That dessert itself usually isn't gluten-free (crème anglaise usually covers things like bread pudding), but the sauce itself is! If you're lucky enough to get it on top of some really good glace (ice cream), you'll be one happy Celiac.

What you see on the menu: Ancienne
What does it mean? Old style
Will I order it? Not without asking questions!
What do you get? This type of food usually refers to braised meats and fricassees. This food dates back before the "invention" of haute cuisine, so it's usually a little "heavier," and meatier. I don't usually see any recipes for braised meats and fricassees that call for flour, but when I do, it's only a small amount, usually to thicken any type of sauce (if you've deglazed the pan you braised your meat in, for example). Again, ask your questions before ordering.

What you see on the menu: Milanese
What does it mean? Milan
Will I order it? NO!
What do you get? Anything milanese is dipped in an egg mixture, then in a mixture of bread crumbs and cheese, then fried. Delicious, most definitely, but not for a Celiac. The chicken parmesan that's popular at my college would technically be considered a kind of milanese, and I can't have that. Unless the restaurant you're eating at has gluten-free bread crumbs, stay away from the milanese, no matter how delicious it may sound.

What you see on the menu: Provençale
What does it mean? Provence
Will I order it? Yes!
What do you get? Similar to the arlésienne we mentioned earlier, this is packed with delicious vegetables. Usually served with tomatoes and garlic, and even the occasional olive, or some eggplant and anchovy, this is something that's usually light and generally safe for a Celiac, but you might want to ask just to be sure.

What you see on the menu: Parisienne
What does it mean? Paris (You knew what the name of my blog meant, right?)
Will I order it? Not without asking questions!
What do you get? Fish or chicken garnished with mushrooms or asparagus, usually with a white wine sauce. Any recipe I find online for this calls for cream of mushroom or chicken soup, which you can find gluten-free, but most commonly comes with a type of food starch that Celiacs cannot consume. Of course, this shouldn't be an issue in France, where all food is made fresh! Needless to say, it might be smart to ask just to be safe.

What you see on the menu: Alsacienne
What does it mean? Alsace (as in Alsace-Lorainne)
Will I order it? Not without asking questions!
What do you get? Does that region of France make you think about some history classes you may have taken in high school? With this meal, you get sausage and sauerkraut as a garnish, which is no surprise as the region it's named after kept getting passed between Germany and France during the period of WWI and WWII. Sausage and sauerkraut definitely sound safe, but you never can be sure what's in that sausage, so it's better to ask. It definitely sounds delicious, though!

What you see on the menu: Américaine
What does it mean? American
Will I order it? Not without asking questions!
What do you get? A dish with this description gets a white wine sauce with brandy, shallots, tomatoes, and garlic. No idea why this makes it American, but that doesn't really matter. The sauce sounds like it should be clear, but I'll ask to make sure it's not thickened with flour, just to be safe.

What you see on the menu: Velouté
What does it mean? One of the "mother sauces."
Will I order it? Yes!
What do you get? This is a stock-based white sauce. It's made from chicken, veal, or fish stock, and will sometimes have cream or egg yolk added to it. It'll be safe to ask what's been added to this mother sauce to make it "what it is" (that's the idea of a mother sauce, it's a base) on the menu to make sure it's safe for a Celiac, however.

What you see on the menu: Espagnole
What does it mean? Another "mother sauce."
Will I order it? NO!
What do you get? This is the brown version of béchamel. It's another roux sauce, though meat-based. Because of that roux, I can't and won't order it, and it's not a simple switch to make it order-able.

When it comes to any type of sauce, one basic rule I like to use is this: if it's opaque (you can't see through it), it's probably not safe for me to eat (unless I know it's been made with cornstarch or gluten-free flour), but if it's clear, I'm safe. I feel I've hammered this in a lot, but definitely follow this rule: if you're gluten-intolerant or you have Celiac Disease, and something is made with a roux, DO NOT EAT IT. Most pastries are off limits as well (but you probably already knew that). The point of this post was to help figure out where gluten was hiding where it wasn't obvious, not where it's blatant. For those of you that skimmed the first part of the post and got confused as to why I was telling people to swear off French bread crumbs as though they're the plague... If you are NOT gluten-intolerant, and you CAN eat bread, please feel free to pig out on all of the bread, flour, pastries and other wonderful gluten-laced items France has to offer. This guide was aimed at those of us that are not allowed to be as "liberal" with what we put into our mouths, but I thought it might be helpful to anyone who wanted a little help decoding a French menu.

La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le goût de ce qu'elle sont. -Curnonsky

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