Monday, October 03, 2005

Make mine a toastie

I laughed a lot at my room mate when we started university. She'd spent a gap year in Spain (a)learning the language from scratch and (b) acquiring a basic working knowledge of its food. She spent at least ten minutes one afternoon trying to persuade me that a bit of toast wiped with a garlic clove and a few bits of chopped up tomato counted as an exquisite culinary achievement, one highly suited to an Arts undergraduate with pretensions to the finer things in life. That'll be tomatoes on toast, then, I said.

I was reminded of this reading yesterday's Oberver. It seems that one chef and restaurant critic has simply had enough of restaurants jacking up their prices, reviews and own sense of self-importance through their use of language. Specifically, using words from other languages to make the dishes sound more exciting and exotic than they really are.

I take his point, and it would make an interesting language investigation to find out how far this practice has spread. Is it just expensive restaurants or is everyone at it? But it's also worth stopping to consider the wider questions surrounding this language issue.

It's partly an issue of how you see Britain's culinary culture. If you hold the common belief that Britain doesn't have a cuisine of its own, then this constant borrowing of words is a sort of linguistic sense of inadequacy to match its culinary one. If, however, you think Britain's culinary strength lies in its ability to take the best of the world's cuisine and make it its own, then this is a linguistic confidence to match the eclectic nature of the nation's taste. Either way, how you view the food will reflect how you view the language.

I'm torn... On the one hand, I'm a big fan of calling a spade a spade and I agree with the chef guy. On the other, a toastie is NOT a panini! A toastie is made in a Breville from two slices of Mother's Pride with some economy cheddar and a badly sliced onion (ie gorgeous); a panini is an entirely different kettle of fish and therefore sadly inferior. And with so many of the culinary words in English coming from other languages in the first place, it seems a bit picky to spend time worrying about the newest batch.

Check it out.

Garçon! There's a silly French word in my soup

UK food needs English menus

Language about food

Etymology of food

2 Comments:

At 12:56 am, Blogger King Alfred said...

Does the phenomenon always even have to involve a foreign language? As a New Yorker living in VA, I grudgingly permit signs to say things like "New York Style Pizza" (you know, as opposed to Chicago or something), but when they make a point to say "real NY pizza" they usually just kidding themselves (or their customers).

A better example: there's a 1950's-themed restaurant where I used to live where they take a hot dog, put it in a bun, put dog and bun on plate, and pour half a can of Hormel chili on everything, and call it the "Coney Island Chili Dog". They don't even use Nathan's Famous Franks. (And yes, I can tell.)

I guess this is a subset of the practices you posted about: using a word associated with somewhere far away that's associated with food in some way. No one's going to shell out the big bucks for a "Front Royal, Virginia Dog" or "real Oklahoma pizza", so name your grub shrewdly. And caveat emptor: If you expect pizza that tastes like you're on 44th and Broadway, that's where you should be.

 
At 8:13 pm, Blogger ukexpat said...

Is panini singular or should it be panino?!

 

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