The New Food Glossary

For dinner-table enlightenment, we present some must-know food terms.

What do you call that tiny bite the chef sends out before your meal? How do you pronounce the name of those Canadian fries doused with gravy and cheese? Don’t say a word until you’ve studied this list. (There will be a test.)

Aioli (eye-OH-lee) While the mayo-like sauce may include a variety of herbs and flavorings, its name comes from its essential element: garlic. Steer clear on first dates.  

Amuse bouche (ah-mooz BOOSH) French for “amuse the mouth,” this is the tiny first course chefs sometimes send out to impress their customers. It’s one dish you can feel free to eat in a single bite.

Boursin (boor-SAN) A trademarked name for a soft cow’s-milk cheese now made only in the United States; synonymous with “fancy French cream cheese.” 

Bruschetta (brew-SKET-a) Don’t confuse this Italian term for “grilled bread” with the toppings that come on it—and don’t embarrass yourself in front of your foodie friends by pronouncing a “sh” in the middle.

Duxelles (dukes-EL) A classic filling for beef Wellington, this is a savory mixture of finely chopped mushrooms, shallots, and herbs—and a term that haunts chefs who went to culinary school. 

Gnocchi (NO-key or NYO-key) The name for a soft, pillowy potato dumpling derived from the Italian words for “knuckle” or “knot.”

Gyro (YEAR-oh) This oft-mispronounced Greek lamb-and-beef mixture takes its name from the rotating spit it’s cooked on. Just remember, the “g” is silent, and there’s no “eye” in “gyro.” 

Nage (NAHZJ) Fish most commonly take a “swim” in this French term for a broth enriched with vegetables.

Poutine (poo-TIN) Forget everything you learned in French class. There is no long “ee” feminine suffix attached to this surefire Canadian hangover remedy of french fries, salty brown gravy, and cheese curds. And get your mind out of the gutter. 

Quenelle (can-EL) Once a poached mixture of meat or fish with breadcrumbs, the term now implies any morsel of food manipulated into a fancy football shape on a plate.

Spatzle (SPETZ-luh) Your German grandmother will thank you for pronouncing the “luh” at the end of this name for rustic egg dumplings popular throughout central Europe. 

Zabaglione (zab-bye-OWN-nay) You only need to use half of its letters to pronounce the word for a rich Italian custard of egg yolks, sugar, and Marsala.


Photo of Indigo Duck amuse bouche (from IM‘s Best Restaurants Event) by Jonathan Scott; photo of 317 Burger poutine by Tony Valainis

This article appeared in the May 2014 issue.