Thursday, June 28, 2012

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

Behind the French Menu.
Bryan G. Newman

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Because of an egg, or rather because I was served six fried eggs for breakfast, I decided to take my unpublished book on French food and use it as a source for this blog’s posts.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, the people involved, and, of course, a translation 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.
NB. If you are looking at this post for suggestions on ordering a breakfast in France, there is another post that is more to the point: Ordering breakfast in France with all the French you need to know.

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 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.  I also kept notes on my experiences in Italy, Japan, China, Africa and elsewhere; however there was more than enough for a book on my first love, French cuisine.  A small part of that unpublished book are now posts in this blog.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, but 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 really happened at breakfast:

Œuf au plat - One fried egg.

Photograph courtesy of Brixton. 

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 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.

Photograph courtesy of pixonomy.

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 re-appeared 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.
Photograph courtesy of  Aydin Palabiyikoglu
 "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.
Photograph courtesy of weegeebored
 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 your 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, however, 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.
Photograph by courtesy of Let Ideas compete.
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 breakfast eggs in bad French.
Photograph courtesy of Rev Stan.
The unpublished book Behind the French Menu
 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 blog based on my book on French cuisine had begun.
Bryan G Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2013
For more about the unpublished book that became this blog contact Bryan Newman