The Marling Menu-Master
My friend Luis just brought me a present from Paris: "The Marling Menu-Master for France: A comprehensive manual for translating the French menu into American English." A longtime interpreter for UNESCO who has lived in Paris for 37 years, he loves these little books and has them in every language they publish (French, German, Spanish and Italian).
Over a glass of rouge, he sat me down and explained how the French guide works. It's divided into sections -- hors d’oeuvres, potages, oeufs, poissons, entrées, légumes and desserts. At the back of the book is a fold-out “practice menu.”
It’s not that Luis doesn’t know the terms: He sometimes has trouble explaining what the word means in English. He looks up rillettes and reads “a cold paste made of diced pork meat and fat cooked gently in lard, and then pounded into a paste, cooled, and served in a small stone jar. The most famous rillettes come from Tours and Le Mans.” “Have you ever read such a clear definition?," he asks me.
This tiny book packs a lot into its 112 pages, but it doesn’t have everything. When I tried to look up religieuse (nun), Luis’ favorite pastry, I couldn’t find an entry. But then I got lost reading about nèfle, a wild European tart plum-like fruit, i.e. medlar, and pastèque (watermelon). Never knew the word for that. But I do know topinambour, Jerusalem artichoke.
Look up ris de veau (sweetbreads) and you’ll find 23 preparations listed by name and a good dozen for rognons (kidneys, normally veal).
Useful, and fun to rifle through the roster of classic French dishes, many of which aren’t much seen any more. The book by William E. and Clare F. Marling was first published in 1971 and has since been republished eight more times. My edition, which I’m assuming is the most recent, is dated 1996.
A reminder: “Prices listed in the text and on the practice menu are not actual ones.” For one thing, they’re in francs, not euros.
The Marling Menu-Master (published by Altarinda Books, La Jolla), $11.95.
-- S. Irene Virbila
Photos: The Marling Menu-Master for France. Credit: S. Irene Virbila/Los Angeles Times.