Lost in Translation, Worst French Meal

ask for bien cuit
sitting in a pool of blood
worst meal in France
sitting in a pool of blood

To protect the town and the restaurant’s good name, we have decided to make this a general post. To be fair, our language is not the best, and we could have mistakenly ordered an item we were not wanting. This is not a bash of the French people as a whole, just one tiny bad experience among many fine, fabulous ones.

I have been asked to share not just the good experiences while we travel and assimilate to our new environment, but also the bad. This is a not so good experience.

During the last week we run around like mad men looking for the best deals ‘while supplies last’ on the big ticket items for our new accommodation come January 25th. Excited as we are, we have a hick-up with food while travelling about.

We found ourselves 1 hour past lunch with no breakfast, both were starving and getting growly, not just the sound of our stomachs either. Anyone who knows Alfonz and I, know to leave us alone when we are hungry. Our blood sugar drops and we are nasty creatures. Well, we were walking on our blood sugar it dropped so low!

We decided to go to a very busy cafe in a near by town along the Canal du Midi, where we had gone the day before for a coffee. The food looked great, and the line-up was long, mostly reservations, all pretty great inclinations for a good meal to come.

We sat down and listened to the orders being placed around us, Plate du Jour, steak. Sounds good, everyone was eating it, looks good too, a good bet. We will take two please, mine with a cafe au lait and his with a coke. We ask in our broken French. She seemed to understand, pointed at the sign I was looking at the word steak below, and repeated steak, ‘Oui.’


We gnawed at our napkins until the food came, we were famished.

When placed in front of us, Alfonz’s face turned green, and both of us were flushed with embarrassment. Steak? We asked. ‘Non steak, Plate du Jour! Tete de veau ravigotte maison garnie! Veal cheeks in ragu gravy, was the translation on the board behind Alfonz! It looked like fatty raw fish, jello almost with white gravy. I couldn’t take a picture of this without making a scene so I asked on twitter and this picture was send to me.

No he said I asked for well-done steak, he said politely. Sorry for the misunderstanding, well-done steak. S’il vous plait.

Alfonz wasn’t looking well but hopeful they would get it right. Thank god they left the bread, we each ate a piece.

She was choked to take it away from us, but 5 minutes later came our steaks.

worst meal in southern France
cold, and raw; sitting in a pool of blood

It looked good, the fries were hot, but once we cut in, it was raw! Not rare like rare at the Keg, but raw! It was blue inside, in a river of lukewarm blood we simply couldn’t eat. And I usually have a stomach for anything.

I tried to nibble the edges, trying to avoid the raw fat wads on my plate. I smiled politely at Alfonz, looked in to his pleading eyes and asked quietly ‘What do we do?’

‘There is no graceful way out’, he said, ‘I cannot eat this.’


worst meal in southern France
cannot eat the meal

We placed our napkins over the food and kindly asked for our bill. They were insulted, but we tried we really did. I left thinking, they probably think Americans are too good for their food, but it’s not that, our stomachs aren’t used to raw meat. Not to mention 1/2 of it was fat, and stringy bits. I might be able to eat beautiful looking raw meat, maybe even like it, but this was something entirely out of our realm. Sorry France.

We ended up stopped at McDonald’s when our stomachs settled. Thinking, McDonald’s is always fresh even if it is crap. At least we know what we are getting. Today it was particularly unfit. Do not try the chicken, cheese and bacon burger made of dark processed meat. And Alfonz’s was cold to boot. Really cosmic food stars, no luck for the lucky Hamori’s today!?

25 Euros wasted at the first place, the most expensive cup of coffee and piece of bread I’ve had in France, then another 12 Euros at McDonald’s.

I left split pea defrosting for dinner tonight. It is awesome! And it might coat Alfonz’s poor tummy after the crap he ate today! My baby.

All in all, for food, Alfonz and I had a bad day, a really bad day. When we relayed this story to some of our English-speaking friends from England they said it is a common mistake when ordering steak. You must say burned or black when you order, or you will get a blue rare steak, swimming in blood.

We won’t be going there until our French has improved or they forget our faces, whichever comes last, but we can safely chalk it up to lost in translation, end of story!

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  1. Yes todays was good, tomorrows is supposed to be even better. 😉 Things are looking up in the culinary French world for us!!

  2. We had some great meals in the Ardeche region and of course in Paris. As far as cookbooks, off the top of my head I can suggest Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol 1 & 2 by Julia Child, Bocuse’s Regional French Cooking by Paul Bocuse and La Technique by Jacques Pepin.
    I really hope you have a great meal today, fingers crossed, look forward to hearing about it.

  3. Can you point us in the right direction for some great French cuisine? Or maybe a French cook book? Hungarian’s too use up the whole entire animal, with no waste.
    I think the diner we went to had a huge turn over, they were not necessarily perfecting cuisine but blasting it out of that kitchen. Even the fries were cold, and the blood had a layer of fat.

    Tomorrow we are taking the film crew to a local restaurant, and eating whatever the chef makes, cross your fingers for us, I hope to have a spectacular food post over the weekend! I have not lost faith yet! And one day, I will try Tete de Veau but not in a diner, maybe someones home.
    Thank you for the comment!

  4. Sorry to hear you had a bad experience. Don’t give up on the French.
    Tete de Veau is actually the head not the cheeks and it’s traditionally served with a sauce gribiche or ravigote. French food is actually really good when done well and the French way is to use all parts (or as many) possible so there is no waste. Unlike North America, if you go to a French restaurant they will serve their meats “à point” (to the point of perfect doneness) no matter how you ask for it. It’s their way of educating the diner.

  5. We should go there together when you are back, and try the restaurant out. Alfonz is always up for an adventure, and with you we won’t accidentally order innards.

  6. Forgot – “bien cuite” simply means “well cooked”.
    Not many people know that the origin of the term “biscuit” is cooked twice – ‘bi’ twice – ‘cuit’ cooked. 🙂

    Oh is there any way of editing on here? – push the reply button, then see mistakes.

  7. Never had a full meal there (the house of the raw steak!) but a couple of times had a tuna and onion baguette – that was a new one on them having slices of raw onion in your tuna baguette but I find it delicious and they soon got used to that idea.
    Normally go down to the one on the left on the canal bank – that is quite good for lunch, especially on a nice sunny day.
    If you are feeling a little peckish but don’t want a full meal the one next door to it sells tapas (about 2€ each) – the sardine ones are delicious but don’t forget to ask for some bread to go with it to soak up the juices.
    As you leave that village and go down that little new one way street with bollards, there is what looks like a manor house on the opposite corner. According to the notice there are specialists in cassoulet. Often thought about trying it but Mave isn’t keen on that dish, though I think it to be good wholesome food.

  8. My father-in-law makes a mean steak tartar, with spices and zero blood and low fat. And we eat raw fish, sushi, all the time. I think it was a combination of presentation, and temperature.
    It was very busy, and I am sure they were pumping the items out like mad, with little regard for specialty orders, like ‘bien noir’ steak, well done, which now I know should have been ‘bien cruite’, charcoaled?
    Thanks Mike!

  9. I think I recognise that place from the photos – as a rule I always ask for a steak – ‘bien cruite’ even though I like medium steaks – then they usually come out just about right.

    I did make the mistake of ordering steak tartare once – that was a shock!

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