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Can I get a side of huitlacoche?
May 20, 2010 10:22 AM   Subscribe

Which foods am I mispronouncing that I don't know about?

I love food, especially ethnic kinds, and I want to be the kind of super-diner who can fearlessly order without stumbling. I grew up in a very multicultural environment, but there are a few things I've eaten all my life that I've never been quite solid on the pronunciation of, like bánh mì. This made me wonder if there are other foods that I think I'm pronouncing correctly, but I'm actually butchering.

I don't feel the need to master an “authentic” pronunciation; I just don't want to get anything blatantly wrong. For example, my Japanese heritage cringes a little whenever I hear someone ordering sake as “sockey” (rhymes with hockey) instead of “sah-keh” (although, I don't mind if someone wants to go to “carry-oh-kee”, since that's become standard in English).

There are always going to be unfamiliar dish names to tie my tongue into knots, but right now, I'd love to nail down the more commonly mispronounced ones and minimize the snickering of my future servers. Thanks!
posted by Diagonalize to Food & Drink (61 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
Pho is pronounced fuh.
posted by nitsuj at 10:24 AM on May 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


Gyro is pronounced "hero"
posted by oinopaponton at 10:26 AM on May 20, 2010


What about gyros? Yee-ros instead of ji-roes
posted by Adam_S at 10:27 AM on May 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


I hear bruschetta [brusˈketta] mispronounced as "broo-shetta" all the time, even by servers at Italian restaurants. Likewise porchetta [por'ket:a] as "porch-etta."
posted by Nothing... and like it at 10:27 AM on May 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


Mojo (as in mojo criollo, a very common Cuban marinade) is pronounced "MO-ho".
posted by jquinby at 10:27 AM on May 20, 2010


Gnocchi got me for a while - nyo-kee.
posted by something something at 10:28 AM on May 20, 2010


I say bon me and they guy behind the counter usually understands me. Sometimes I just say roast pork hoagie.
posted by fixedgear at 10:29 AM on May 20, 2010


The singular is pierog. The plural is pierogi. Not pierogis.
posted by cooker girl at 10:30 AM on May 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


The 43 Most Mispronounced Food Words should get you started.
posted by stefanie at 10:32 AM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


The swiss rosti is better pronounced roschti.
posted by Hiker at 10:41 AM on May 20, 2010


I live in Canadian wine country, and more than half the people here, including people in the business, say "Savignon", instead of "Sauvignon". It is clearly "So", not "Sa". Drives me nuts.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:41 AM on May 20, 2010


The 43 Most Mispronounced Food Words ...er...I see at least 4 in that list that are wrong: Chorizo, Habanero, Coq au vin, Crudite.
posted by bricoleur at 10:44 AM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hors d'œuvre?
posted by Lleyam at 10:53 AM on May 20, 2010


quinoa = kin-wa apparently
posted by dino terror at 10:53 AM on May 20, 2010


Yeah, I have some doubts about that list too, bricoleur. Not to say anything bad about you, stefanie! It's just that some of their pronunciations are a little suspect.
posted by Diagonalize at 10:54 AM on May 20, 2010


Yeah, that 43 words list has a lot of incorrect items. (They really think you pronounce the H in "habanero"?)

It took me a while to find out that "shallot" is pronounced "SHA-lot", not "sha-LOT".
posted by olinerd at 10:55 AM on May 20, 2010


Herbs? Or is it 'erbs only if you are from somewhere specific. Oh! I have heard some people say tor-till-as instead of tor-tee-yas. Aww fuck. I don't know anymore. Say it however you want.
posted by mokeydraws at 10:55 AM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's a fine line, though. You don't want to be like Giada DiLaurentiis and throw a full-on Italian pronunciation at words like "mozzarella" and "rigatoni". People who are familiar with exotic foods are also familiar with their butchered pronunciations, so just do your best, and don't try and strain yourself being too authentic.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:56 AM on May 20, 2010 [8 favorites]


I've had long (not quite heated) discussion over crape vs. crêpe, but no one seems to care about enchilada, spaghetti, or knackwurst, sushi, or many others.

I think many times it's an issue of when does a word become a loan word and enter the second language, and when should it be pronounced in the original tongue. And for some reason, strange because there are so many ancient ones, French words takes longer now to enter English than those of other languages.

(Then of course there's pecan, which is not sound like the thing my grandmother kept under beds back before they got indoor plumbing.)
posted by Some1 at 10:59 AM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


The "t" in "Borscht" is silent. Well, not exactly silent but it comes out as the closing of the "sch" and not an independent letter.
posted by griphus at 11:10 AM on May 20, 2010


Turbot = Turbet or Turbut, not Turbo (like Merlot).
posted by qwip at 11:11 AM on May 20, 2010


Adam_S, there's no right way to pronounce gyro, so the OP and everyone else can say it however they want.
posted by Aizkolari at 11:31 AM on May 20, 2010


"Plantain" is "PLAN-tin," not "plan-TAYN."
posted by feathermeat at 11:39 AM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, I completely agree, Rock Steady. Giada drives me crazy, but a little effort can go a long way, lest you end up with 6000 chicken fajitas and a sausage McBiscuit.

You make a good point, Some1, and it's definitely something I try to keep in mind (hence the free pass on "karaoke"). And my boyfriend would probably drive you crazy with his bizarre hybrid-pronunciation of pecan (puh-CAN? Seriously? PEE-can or puh-KAWN! Pick a side already!*)


* And it should totally be "puh-KAWN".
posted by Diagonalize at 11:40 AM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


I see at least 4 in that list that are wrong: Chorizo, Habanero, Coq au vin, Crudite.

Yes indeed. Chorizo is pronounced Cho-ree-zo or Cho-ree-tho (depending on whether you use Castillian pronunciation or not). It really annoys me when people say Choreetzo or even worse Shoreetzo. The other weird thing about the list is that they've figured out that the H is silent on Horchata but not or Habenero.
posted by ob at 11:56 AM on May 20, 2010


in Horchata but not in Habanero. Ugh.
posted by ob at 11:57 AM on May 20, 2010


Yeah, be sure to read the comments on the 43 words list. They caught those errors and added a couple of new words as well.
posted by stefanie at 12:06 PM on May 20, 2010


griphus: "The "t" in "Borscht" is silent. Well, not exactly silent but it comes out as the closing of the "sch" and not an independent letter."

Weirdly, the Russian is Борщ, which has no sign of a T, and neither do any of the other languages which have a similar name for a soup (according to wikipedia), so I wonder where the T came from?
posted by alexei at 12:14 PM on May 20, 2010


Not food, but Lillet is pronounced Lil-AY, not Lil-ET. Likewise Cachaca is Ka-Shaw-Sa, not Ka-Chaw-KA
posted by Jawn at 12:15 PM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


jicama = HEE-kuh-muh
posted by candyland at 12:56 PM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


A beverage example: the "t" in Moët et Chandon is not silent. Claude Moët's family was Dutch, so the "mo-ay" pronunciation is incorrect.

The peppers are "jalapeño" and "habanero." There's no such thing as an "habañero."
posted by tellumo at 1:11 PM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Bon me" is your best pronunciation bet for bánh mì. If you want to affect a northern Vietnamese accent it would sound more like "bang me"... but that's just awkward. Whichever regional pronunciation you prefer, it's very simple pronunciation-wise. Unless you actually want to pronounce the tones, but let's not get crazy.

Also, if you happen to ever encounter the German dish Spätzle, it's pronounced "shpets-luh."
posted by mandanza at 1:36 PM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Of course we're all too sophisticated to flub this one but it's essspresso, not expresso.
posted by Rash at 1:37 PM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, the singular form of biscotti is biscotto.
posted by Rash at 1:39 PM on May 20, 2010


That 43 list is also missing the important accent syllables for the Spanish words. cho-REE-zo, etc. It's a nice start though.
posted by chairface at 1:53 PM on May 20, 2010


i've given up on ordering brusKetta because i get blank looks from servers.

so while you may be saying it correctly, it doesn't mean you'll be understood.

same goes for gyro/jiro/whatever.

maybe i just live in a podunk place.
posted by sio42 at 2:08 PM on May 20, 2010


Some people say the first word of crème brûlée as cream instead of crem. (Link is to pronunciation.)

Yes, crêpe should be pronounced crep (and not rhyme with cape) but whenever I do so people ask me to repeat myself, so in my experience it's not worth it.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:16 PM on May 20, 2010


Also, the singular form of biscotti is biscotto.

Likewise, there's not really any such thing as a single "panini." It's a panino.
posted by Nothing... and like it at 2:28 PM on May 20, 2010


Weirdly, the Russian is Борщ

Yeah, exactly. I don't know linguist terminology (and also have a St. Petersburg accent, FWIW) but it may be because "щ" ends on a higher pitch than "sch" so it sounds thicker (like a "t") when the air stops.
posted by griphus at 2:37 PM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


This one drives me crazy: it's not tamale, it's tamal (plural: tamales). Tamale is a city in Ghana.

The other weird thing about the list is that they've figured out that the H is silent on Horchata but not in Habanero.

Yep, it's silent in both.
posted by clearlydemon at 3:01 PM on May 20, 2010


Might I strike a contrarian position? Foods undergo a wonderful transformation across cultures. Famously Britain has interpreted Indian cuisine and developed something novel and wonderful. Americans have interpreted Chinese, Italian, and Mexican cuisines and developed new combination and flavors. I dislike the attitude that only the original cuisine is worthwhile and authentic just as much as the ignorance that has some thinking these new cuisines are wholly representative of the originals. I like these cultural exchanges because it creates two cuisines to be enjoyed and celebrated.

Just as dishes are translated, the words assigned to food are translated and altered. There is nothing odd, sinister, or inauthentic about it, it just is. Therefore I much prefer ob's or griphus' answers in this thread that locate the pronunciations (this is how a Castillian would say it) to the answers that assert only one pronunciation is used or acceptable.
posted by Tallguy at 3:08 PM on May 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


On the tail end of what Tailguy said, I argue that PEE-can is perfectly acceptable!

If Paula Deen says it that way, too, it's got to be right, no?
posted by pecanpies at 3:15 PM on May 20, 2010


I was really only joking about the PEE-can/puh-KAWN thing. It doesn't actually faze me. If it's good enough for Paula Deen, it's good enough for the rest of y'all.

And I agree with you about foods being transformed across cultures, Tailguy. I'm of Japanese descent, but I grew up in California, and most of my family is from Hawaii, so I grew up with a fabulous melting pot of foods and cultures. I don't think Spam musubi (Spam moo-soo-BI) is in any way inauthentic because it combines Japanese and American aspects, but I also don't think that calling it "Spam muh-SUBBY" is going to help me much if it sends the server into gales of laughter.

And I don't think there's anything wrong with names being adapted to suit a particular language or dialect, but I also think it shows a certain amount of respect to acknowledge a dish's origins by calling it something that approximates the original name. I certainly wouldn't want someone to decide that my name was Jane simply because they couldn't pronounce Diagonalize, but I could understand if they just wanted to call me Dia. It's a process, and it takes time for these things to settle, and until they do, I'd rather learn more about others than force my ways on them.
posted by Diagonalize at 3:50 PM on May 20, 2010


Weirdly, the Russian is Борщ

Yeah, exactly. I don't know linguist terminology (and also have a St. Petersburg accent, FWIW) but it may be because "щ" ends on a higher pitch than "sch" so it sounds thicker (like a "t") when the air stops.


The English name is definitely a loanword from the Yiddish "בארשט" ("borsht" with a T). For most of the past century, the preponderance of borscht-eaters, -makers, and -referrers-to in the Anglophone world were Yiddish-speaking Jews.
posted by decagon at 3:57 PM on May 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


Gyro: It doesn't matter how you pronounce it. Greek deli owners love to querie you with the opposite no matter what. I walk in and ask for a "Heero" and they say "you want Jyro?" and vice-versa. I can't win.

Poutin. Is it Poo=teen or is it poo-ten?
posted by Gungho at 4:26 PM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Panini is plural, panino is singular. Not really pronunciation, but eh. Comes from having an Italian-major gf in college who worked in a coffee shop where they also sold paninis.

(We don't talk anymore.)
posted by supercres at 4:42 PM on May 20, 2010


Oh nerds. Bad joke AND someone already mentioned it. Naturally I only notice four hours late.
posted by supercres at 8:40 PM on May 20, 2010


Poutin is pou-TEEN, or even pou-TSEEN. No one knows why there has been at T -> TS phonetic shift in Québecois French. 'stsie.

sauté is so-TAY (rhymes with okay), not saw-tay. I hear 'saw-tay' in Canada, where French is one of the official languages, and it's annoying.

Jalapeño is hala-PAY-nyo, not jalapeeno
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:43 PM on May 20, 2010


Chorizo, gazpacho, etc: Z's in [Latin American] Spanish are pronounced like s (or th if you're in Spain).

When I try to ask for flan in a Mexican restaurant, pronouncing it as in Spanish (with an 'ah' instead of an 'ae'), the waiter always asks me to repeat myself. Wikipedia tells me that the word is quite old in English, and originally derives from French, but that the original spelling in English was 'flawn', reflecting [more or less] the way it is pronounced today in Spanish.
posted by Gordafarin at 8:56 PM on May 20, 2010


salmon is samon
posted by clueless22 at 9:44 PM on May 20, 2010


Everyone calls pizza "peets-uh", but my Nona calls it "pitsa". She's from Cividale though, not Napoli. You may want to ask a Neopolitan. If you call it pizza pie you are definitely a silly USA person and it doesn't really matter, foreign movies will be dubbed by local actors for your convenience. But I digress...
posted by Tixylix at 11:53 PM on May 20, 2010


@Tixylix: The proper pronunciation of pizza is PEET-tsa (or /'pit:tsa/ in IPA). There is no 'ih' vowel (as in pit, or mitt) in italian, and there's also no 'uh' vowel (as in butt or hut). Italian is nice because it's spelled the way it's pronounced(for the most part). Every 'i' you see is pronounced 'ee' and every 'a' you see 'ah'
posted by sdis at 12:16 AM on May 21, 2010


Prosciutto is the word that drives me mad - Proh-SHOO-toh - easy right? One person I know, every time, pronounces it proh-scoot-ee-oh. Argh.
posted by featherboa at 5:52 AM on May 21, 2010


Challah.

Chamomile.
posted by werkzeuger at 7:41 AM on May 21, 2010


Jamaica the Mexican drink does not sound anything like the island. Biscotti, if you want to be insufferable a la whoever mentioned Giada and company, has a different o sound than most people say.
posted by ifjuly at 9:32 AM on May 21, 2010


And maybe it's just me, but I constantly forget where the stress ought to be in Calvados.
posted by ifjuly at 9:34 AM on May 21, 2010


Also, not food per se but lots of people mispronounce "Oaxacan" when referring to the cuisine.
posted by ifjuly at 9:36 AM on May 21, 2010


Chamomile.
How is it pronounced? I've never heard it pronounced differently from CAM-oh-meal.

A number of people I know mispronounce 'chipotle' as 'chipolte'.
posted by Gordafarin at 11:35 AM on May 21, 2010


A few good ones here:

Porchetta: por-KETT-ah
Guacamole: huaca-MO-lay
Espresso: ess-PRESS-oh (there's no "ex" sound)
Tagliatelle: tahl-ya-TELL-eh
Gewurtzraminer: ge-VOORTZ-tra-meener
Cassoulet: cass-ooh-LAY
Rillettes: ree-YET
Macaron: mah-cah-ROn (swallow the R at the end; don't confuse it with the coconutty "macaroon," which is pronounced as it's spelled)
Quinoa: KEEN-wah
Nicoise: nee-SWAhs
Paillard: pie-YARD
Paella: pa-EYH-ah
Claret: cla-rett (exactly as it's spelled — this isn't a French word)
Bouillabaisse: BOOL-ya-base
posted by AceRock at 11:43 AM on May 21, 2010


This has all been very reassuring. It looks like I've been generally good with all the food. Less stable on the booze, but I don't drink anyway, so yay! Thanks, everybody!
posted by Diagonalize at 10:29 AM on May 22, 2010


Poutine.

Pronounced Poo-tin not Poo-teen.
posted by chugg at 8:12 AM on May 26, 2010


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