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Euphemistic Food Names

I was talking with a friend about various foods where the name doesn’t give you a clue as to what they are. In fact, if the true name was used, many people would probably never eat it. So we came up with a list of some of the things that we liked to eat but might not want to if a more descriptive title were used. I know some names started from another language, but why do some foods keep a foreign name and others don’t? The list starts benign but gets exotic quickly

Calamari – why don’t people just say squid? Octopus is never afraid to say what it is on a menu
Sweetbread – sounds like a dessert but its neither sweet nor bread
Uni – would you really want to order something called sea urchin gonads?
Rocky mountain oyster – see uni

What other names hide the origin of the food that you like to eat?

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  1. Hah! Funny you should mention calamari. About 25 years ago I was at an Italian restaurant with my extended family, and not knowing what calamari was, ordered it because I liked the name. The calamari arrived and looked like deep-fried pasta rings, so I dipped one of those suckers--so to speak--in the marinara and took a bite. Just as I was swallowing, a cousin said, "Hey, Perilagu, I didn't realize you liked squid!" Man, I was fit to bust.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Perilagu Khan

      But you loved it, right?!?!? :) Calamari (the ring type) was probably the first 'different' food I ever ate. To me it was mostly about the texture and the breading. I now prefer the tentacles and the whole ones, especially stuffed.

    2. My kids had a similar discussion years ago, and thenceforth beef was "cow" (I know, I know, but it is what it is), and pork was "pig" and venison was "deer." All for verisimilitude in that we call chicken "chicken."

      Personally, I'm okay one way or the other as far as euphemism or not goes. I generally know what I am eating. I do know a lot of folks that need the euphemism, though. A family member loves my "giblet" gravy at Thanksgiving, but would gag if that same gravy were described as being made with gizzard, heart and neck.

      1 Reply
      1. re: cayjohan

        My boyfriend is a hunter. One fall early in our relationship, I mentioned that I was making venison something-or-other, and he said, "What is venison?"

        It's just "deer" around here. Apparently I'm a fancy-pants. :p

        Giblet turns me off just as much as anything. Maybe if I tried your gravy I'd be converted, but I have yet to touch any of those bits. (Boyfriend, on the other hand, just bought three packages of gizzards yesterday....)

      2. Boudin noir (of which I happily ate hundreds of pounds as child)...more kid-friendly title than blood sausage.

        9 Replies
        1. re: pinehurst

          In a similar vein, I've always thought headcheese would get more cred if it didn't have such an unfortunate name. Even the term "brawn" doesn't seem more appetizing, nor the relatively obscure (but known to my regional ethnic group) "syltty" or "sylte" or the like.

          Such a good cold cut; such an off-putting name to many.

          1. re: cayjohan

            TRUE. Headcheese is lovely, and you're right.

            1. re: pinehurst

              Here in New Zealand, what you call headcheese we call brawn, and blood sausage is black pudding. Great euphemisms both.

              In a form of reverse euphemism, there is a popular slice made with raisins sandwiched between pastry that we call 'fly cemeteries' because it looks like a pile of dead flies!

              1. re: Billy33

                In what way is 'brawn' a euphemism? It's an old English word, derived from a German word for 'flesh, muscle'. Headcheese looks like an imitation of the French name.

            2. re: cayjohan

              Well said! My dad loved it, and I was a late convert due to nomenclature issues. On the other hand, "pickled pigs feet" turned out to be completely, absolutely literal. And vile, in my view.

              1. re: monfrancisco

                But call them "pickled trotters" and they sound cute! ;-)

                1. re: monfrancisco

                  A favorite restauranteur makes all manner of things from 'pig parts," including feet. Most recently he made cotechina stuffed in pig feet skin. Fabulous.

              2. re: pinehurst

                Boudin is simply its name in French. Are you from North Andover, Mass.? Aren't there a lot of people of French origin there, once working in the mills?

                1. re: lagatta

                  Good point, but the literal translation gives no hint as to what "mystery" ingredient is.

              3. Not a food I like to eat, but I'd point out that a dish of "milt" is much more appetizing than a bowl of fish sperm. From my own tradition, I'm a fan of chicharon bulaklak (trans. "pork rind blossoms"), the mesentery surrounding a pig's intestines.

                1. This is the opposite, maybe, but-- Bakers' chocolate. As a greedy little kid, I figured that must be the good kind. Of course, my mom was (momentarily) baffled when she went to make brownies and a square was missing. And it only happened once.