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Restaurant primer

A sampler platter of the different kinds of restaurants, cafes, and eateries you'll find in Europe

The generic word for restaurant in most European languages is, conveniently enough, something that looks very much like "restaurant" (a word we borrowed from the French in the first place, where it derived from the verb "to restore," as in " health" and such). Sure, it may be spelled ristorante or restaurace, but you can get the gist easily enough.

Thing is, just like in America where you might specify you want to go to a diner, a deli, a pizza parlor, or a Mickey D's, every region in Europe has its own specialized words for particular types of places where one might find some nosh.

A couple are pretty familiar to us, as we've adopted them into English: bistro, trattoria, cafe, pub. But there are probably some you've never heard of—I'm betting heuriger, tasca, and tavola calda will be new to most folks who haven't been to Austria, Spain, or Italy, respectively—and would not necessarily know they meant "food available inside" unless someone told you so. Well, I'm here to tell you so.

Know Your Food Lingo

Here's a handy glossary of some food-related terms you may come across in Europe. This is far, far from exhaustive; these are just some of the most common eatin' joints (plus a few general terms) you'll run across. The country with which each term is associated appears in parentheses at the end of each listing.

Decoding the Menu

Many guidebooks translate a limited list of local dishes and food names. Berlitz phrase guides have more and the pocket-sized Marling Menu-Masters (Altarinda Books) are particularly good resources for both ingredients and dish names. Alternately, you can take your English-Eurolingo dictionary and look up individual words on the menu.

Most waiters speak enough English to at least tell you what plant or animal stars in a dish. When it comes down to it (allergies aside), you needn't know the official name of the dish or full list of ingredients, just whether it's chicken, fish, pasta, or sheep's testicles.

Have fun, sample the local chow, and be adventurous. Don't go through Europe leaving a trail of chicken cutlets in your wake. Ask what the specialty of the house is. Try the tripe and sample the squid. Let the waiter suggest to you his favorite dish—or trust him to put together the whole meal and surprise you with each course.

The house wine is usually perfectly fine, if not excellent (plus, you can order quarter- and half-carafes rather than a full bottle), or let the waiter help pick out a wine to go with your meal.

Go with the flow: In Bavaria, have beer and sausages; in Italy, wine and pasta. Be nosy, ask lots of questions. Look around the room and politely point and ask what other people are eating if it looks good. For culinary variety, ask if there's a sampler plate of first courses so you can try two or three at once.

If you're friendly and show great interest in the food, waiters (and especially owners) love to show off their kitchen's talents to visitors. The more outgoing and curious you are, the better chance they'll bring out unexpected tidbits for you to try, invite you into the kitchen to meet the chef or down into the moldy ancient wine cellar below, and even join you at the table for an after-dinner drink on the house.


Intrepid Travel

This article was last updated in August 2007. All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2010 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.