Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ordering Eggs for Breakfast in France . My Personal Trials and Tribulations.

Behind the French Menu.
Bryan G. Newman
Updated September 2017

Eggs for breakfast in France.
Photograph by courtesy of shok.
Because of an egg, or rather because I was served six fried eggs for breakfast, I decided to take my notes that I hoped would one day become a book on French food and use it as a source for this blog’s posts. In these posts, I try to show the enjoyment that goes with authentic French cuisine, along with some of its history and the people involved. Of course, I have included translations and commentary for relevant French menu listings. In my posts, I also make occasional suggestions so that others may avoid similar distractions to those I occasionally encounter.

N.B. If you are looking at this post for tips on ordering breakfast in France, there is another post that is more to the point: Ordering Breakfast in France; the French Breakfast Menu.
As long as I can remember I have loved French cuisine and for even longer I have had a terrible memory for names; unfortunately, that includes the names of some outstanding French dishes.  I partly solved that problem years ago by keeping notes with the names and translations of dishes that I had truly enjoyed.  Later I would add comments on the way a dish was served along with any revelations encountered when ordering the dish a second time.  I also kept notes on my experiences in the USA, Italy, Japan, China, and elsewhere. However, there was more than enough input for a book on my first love, French cuisine.  A small part of that unpublished book is now accessible as posts in this blog.

A memorable, though less than world transforming confusion at breakfast, in a French café, brought about this blog on French foods, and specifically this post. I had ordered fried eggs many times in France.  Now I learned, the hard way, that there is, in France, a right way and a wrong way to order two fried eggs.

Now to the story of what actually happened at breakfast:
Œuf au plat - One fried egg.
My French may be lacking, I may have ordered my breakfast incorrectly, but tell me what purpose does serving anyone six fried eggs for breakfast make?   To read about my experience in ordering two fried eggs read on.  Those six fried eggs were the raison d’être, the reason for, or the reason behind, this blog's existence.
Two fried eggs for breakfast in Paris.
Œufs au plat -  Two fried eggs.
I entered a small and seemingly charming Parisian side-street café while preparing myself mentally for my first breakfast on this trip to Paris. I knew that I would enjoy a mouthwatering breakfast of perfectly fried eggs accompanied by a fresh baguette and butter.  All would be followed by a perfect croissant and a café au lait.  I chose a table, sat down and without waiting a seemingly pleasant waitress appeared, said bonjour and presented a breakfast menu, with an English translation. What could go wrong?   In many French cafés, I have ordered two fried eggs, they are almost always on French menus as Œufs au Plat, and, so they were in this café. Five minutes later the waitress reappeared, and without too much thought I ordered deux œufs au plat.  I have made that same order many many times in France and have always been served two fried eggs.  Now, however, was the time for my educational update on the correct usage of the French language.  Within five, minutes  I was served with two plates, each with three fried eggs?
Querying the serving of six fried eggs when I had ordered deux œufs au plat resulted in the following explanation from a suddenly stern waitress. Minutes before she had greeted me pleasantly enough; but now I realized that she had obviously got out of the wrong side of the bed that day:  She said, in French:
Remember the waitress.
"Œufs au plat translates as fried eggs, that is the plural, and everyone knows that. Œufs are the plural, œuf is the singular!  Therefore, when you ordered deux œufs au plat that clearly showed me that you wanted two portions, four eggs in all.  If all you had wanted was one portion, then you should have ordered the exact menu item, specifically Œufs au Plat, omitting the word deux which means two.” 

Trois œufs au plat - Three fried eggs.
What could I say?  I said: " !&*#^#”,"  though I did say it under my breath.    The stern waitress continued: “Everyone in Paris also knows that in this café when you order two fried eggs you will be served three eggs: that is three for the price of two. You have received two portions of three fried eggs, exactly as ordered.”
Here, I was in the center of Paris, in a small café that seemingly everyone in Paris, except me, knew?   This café is obviously popular as it serves three fried eggs when two are ordered. However, here the waitress thinks an order for one person consisting of six fried eggs is normal and not to be questioned. That is as maybe, nevertheless, in this small café with maybe ten tables, at breakfast time only two other tables were occupied.  Apparently, all the other citizens of Paris had early morning appointments elsewhere.  There, at 8:30 in the morning, I was faced with the absolute clarity of the French language, and a decidedly stern waitress. I made the necessary mental adjustment and ate the six excellently fried eggs.   She, the waitress, stood across the room with arms crossed. She was clearly ready to bring up the hundred year’s war, the martyrdom of Joan of Arc and several hundred other historical French-English grievances if I did not eat my eggs.
Maybe it was this café?
It is obviously popular and well known to all Parisians.
On the up side, the eggs did come as I had expected, perfectly fried with two portions of freshly sliced baguette and butter on the side. The moral of this story is that if you are in France and watching your careful, learn better French, and think about counting your eggs before they are fried.
Eggs being fried for those who order their eggs in bad French.
My notes on menu translations and dining experiences had long been used to jog my memory when I recognized a dish but could not remember its translation.   With my notes at the ready, I could translate any dish's name and note how it was served. I could offer my knowledge to friends, business colleagues, and family, or with whomever, I was dining. After this experience and a few others, I realized that out there in the world there may be others who might end up with six fried eggs for breakfast.  I decided to make sure the news got out and so the process of writing a book began along with a blog on French cuisine. 
A few examples of eggs on a French breakfast menu:

Œufs au Plat – Two fried eggs.
Œufs au Plat au Bacon Two fried eggs with bacon.
Œuf au Plat Accompagnée de ses Frites Maison – A single fried egg accompanied by the house’s special  French fries, chips.
Œufs Brouillés – Scrambled eggs.
Œufs Pochés, Lard  Grillé – Two poached eggs and grilled bacon. (In French lard and bacon are used interchangeably and both mean bacon).
Œufs Sur le Plat – Two fried eggs; the same as œufs au plat.

Œufs au Plat au Bacon  or Œufs au Plat au Lard
 Two fried eggs with bacon.

For the full breakfast menu see the post: Ordering Breakfast in France; the French Breakfast Menu.

Connected Posts:



Behind the French Menu’s links include hundreds of words, names, and phrases that are seen on French menus. There are over 400 articles that include over 2,500 French dishes with English translations and explanations.  Just add the word, words or phrase that you are searching for to the words "Behind the French Menu" and search with Google or Bing.
Bryan G Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2013, 2017.

For more about the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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