French lesson: Increase Your Vocabulary

French Food: Crêpes

Crêpes are a favorite French treat throughout the world, but eating one hot out of the pan in France is a unique experience.  Crêpes themselves can be found at small stalls and restaurants throughout France, so you’ll have no trouble enjoying the specialty while you’re traveling through the country.

I am, if nothing else, a food lover.  A crêpe is one of my favorite French snacks because it can be ordered with either sweet or savory toppings.  If you’re not familiar with this delectable treat, think of the thinnest possible pancake: soft enough to roll and light enough to fill with delicious ingredients of all kinds.

Choosing the right crêperie

Look for the base price of a plain crêpe to be between 1 and 2 euros. Prices do range depending on where you are — in Paris they range from 2 to 3 euros or higher (with toppings); in the small town I lived in I could get a crêpe nature for under a euro.

My favorite crêpe-on-the-go is citron-sucre (lemon/sugar), but many small crêpe stands don’t carry the necessary lemons. A small stand or café will only have 3 or 4 available toppings (sugar, nutella, butter, or jam, usually).

A limited selections does not mean the crêpes will be inferior; quite the contrary, in fact. At a larger stand with a wider variety of toppings, crêpes are often made in large batches ahead of time and kept warm to meet a higher demand. At a smaller stand, you can watch your crêpe being made in front of you, so you know it will be fresh.

At an outdoor market, you’re much more likely to see larger crêpe stands that offer a variety of fillings, including savory ingredients like cheese and meat. Sit-down crêperies offer the widest selection of sweet and savory toppings, and the quality of the crêpes is likely to be high when they’re made by a professional chef.

Having a crêpe stand does not a crêpe expert make. If you care about the quality of your crêpe (and I do), it’s a good idea to watch one or two being made before ordering.

Look for the correct tools: a ladle to pour the batter on the flat, circular griddle, and a special flat tool (pictured above) to spread the batter. Someone who knows what they’re doing will use one simple wrist motion to spread the batter in a circle to the edges of a griddle. One with less expertise will put too much or too little batter on the griddle, creating either something closer to a pancake or a crêpe with holes. I like pancakes, but not when I ask for a crêpe.

Once you’ve seen one or two crêpes prepared well, you know you’ll get a quality product from that vendor. From there, I encourage you to be adventurous with your toppings. The more places you go for crêpes, the more sweet and savory ingredients you can sample!

Read on for a translation of common toppings and advice on ordering a crêpe.  Bon Appetit!

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Sweet Crêpes

One common mistake that English-speakers make is in the pronunciation of the word crêpe. Americans, especially, tend to pronounce the word “crape,” which will give you away in a second if you’re in France.

Read on below for a translated menu and the correct pronunciation of crêpe and all the possible toppings.

Crêpes Sucrés

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Sweet Crepes
Je voudrais une crêpe…*

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I would like a …. crêpe.
nature

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plain
beurre

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butter
sucre

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sugar
confiture

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jam
nutella

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nutella
crème de marrons

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chestnut crème
miel

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honey
banane

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banana
citron (sucre)

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lemon
noisettes

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nuts
amandes

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almonds
noix de coco

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coconut
chocolat (noir)

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(dark) chocolate
compote de pomme

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apple sauce
fraise

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strawberry
framboise

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raspberry
glace

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ice cream

*Technically, certain toppings take the preposition à — such as crêpe au sucre or … au chocolat — whereas others don’t take a preposition at all — like crêpe nature and … nutella.  This is a grammatical detail that is important for people wanting to speak fluent French, but you will certainly be understood (and save yourself some confusion) if you just drop the preposition in this context.

Keep in mind the fact that you can ask for more than one topping, for a small additional charge.  Certain toppings, however always come in pairs.  Lemon, for instance, never comes without sugar, and certain toppings are often paired on a menu, like banane et chocolat.

Many sweet crêpes menus also list liqueurs as toppings (especially in combination with ice cream). Here’s a list of common alcoholic toppings.

Liqueurs Liqueurs
Calvados

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Apple Brandy
Grand Marnier

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Bitter Orange/Cognac Blend
Rhum

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Rum

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Savory Crêpes

Crêpes are not just sweet! You often see crêpes salées (savory crêpes) available at street vendors, and you will certainly see a full menu of savory possibilities at a sit-down crêperie.

If you happen to be in Brittany, you will likely see vendors of and menus for galettes. A galette is a regional specialty, but it is much like a savory crêpe. You should definitely try one if you’re in the right place!

Crêpes Salées

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Savory Crepes
Je voudrais une galette…*

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I would like a galette with…
nature

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plain
jambon

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ham
fromage**

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cheese
œuf

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egg
saucisse

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sausage
champignon

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mushroom
épinards

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spinach
oignon

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onion
légumes

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vegetables

*If you’re not ordering a galette, you can use the same phrase listed on the sweet menu.
**Sometimes they list a specific kind of cheese like emmantel (swiss), gruyère or chèvre (goat cheese) in place of writing fromage

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