15 Culinary Terms That You Should Know (But Probably Don't)

Lauren Powell

The Royal Hotel

While dining out may be one of our all-time favourite pastimes, it’s not uncommon for a complicated menu to stop us in our culinary-loving tracks. Sure, we’re acquainted with most food terminology, but their meaning and pronunciation can often escape us—and it seems we’re not alone.

In fact, according to research by OpenTable, 83 percent of Australian diners feel restaurant menus are more confusing than they need to be, 73 percent have had to ask a waiter or waitress to explain an item on a menu when dining at a cafe or restaurant, and 40 percent feeling uncomfortable when having to clarify an unknown term. In light of this, leading online restaurant reservation platform launched a Menu Jargon Buster to help diners brush up on their culinary knowledge. Scroll down for your ultimate food terminology glossy—and never have to point at a menu again.  

A la carte: A menu where food is ordered as separate dishes as opposed to a set meal.

Aioli: Fragrant type of mayonnaise from Provence; made with garlic, olive oil, egg yolks and lemon juice.

Carpaccio: Thinly sliced raw meat or fish usually served as an appetiser.

Ceviche: A seafood dish popular in the coastal regions of Latin America. The dish is typically made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices, such as lemon or lime, and spiced with ají or chili peppers.

Compote: Fruit cooked in sugar syrup.

Confit: Food that is cooked slowly over a long period of time as a method of preservation.

Flambé: Alcohol is added to a hot pan to create a burst of flames.

Haggis: A Scottish steamed pudding made of finely minced sheep heart, lungs and liver.

Harissa: A North African spice mixture containing chilli, cumin, garlic, coriander and olive oil.

Jus: The natural juices released from a food as it cooks, usually from meat.

Kosher: Food prepared according to Jewish dietary laws.

Meze: A variety of hot and cold dishes, served together at the beginning of a meal in the Middle East, Greece, and Turkey.

Pre-fermented: When baking bread, ingredients are fermented for a long time before mixing all the ingredients to make the final dough, it is a way to get as much flavour as possible out of the ingredients.

Soufflé: A baked egg-based dish with a risen top served as a savoury starter or sweetened as a dessert.

Steak Tartare: Made from finely minced raw beef, often mixed with raw egg, onion, and seasonings. It is then shaped into small cakes or patties.

For more baffling culinary terms and their meanings, head to OpenTable and shop Encyclopedia of Food ($33).

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