Beef or chicken?

It’s a question we’re faced with every time we fly long haul. But have you ever thought about why a cow is beef and chicken is chicken?

Zurich has been treating us to beautiful autumn days, but there’s no denying that the days are getting shorter, the nights cooler and shops are clearing space for zimtsterne and stollen…. the Christmas period is approaching (earlier every year, it seems) and we’ve been translating a few Christmas and New Year menus for our clients in the gastronomy business.

Wild game

Hirschpfeffer, Rehragout, Wildgeschnetzeltes – game is big on the menu and as delicious as the dishes sound, they’re surprisingly difficult to translate. The problem lies in definition: what is game? What is the difference between Hirsch and Reh? And why does English have different names for the meat and animal? Well, it turns out the story goes back to the Norman conquest of England, when a dialect of Old French replaced Old English as the language of the ruling class. So farmers called their animals by their English names, but aristocrats’  cooks used  French words for the meat. Hence:

Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 10.17.23

Animals that were farmed later, like turkey and chicken, do not share this history.

Going to market

German is simpler in comparison:

 Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 10.21.15

But German terms are much more specific: it distinguishes between Rehfleisch and Hirschfleisch (both venison in English) and Hasenkeule and Kaninchenkeule (commonly referred to as leg of rabbit). The French seem to take it even further: the hen is a poule, the cock is the coq, a female chicken between three and ten months is a poulet and a cockerel is a coquelet!

Dished out

Incidentally, Christmas dinners in the UK are usually confined to poultry or roast beef. I was surprised to find out that carp is an important part of Christmas meals in Germany and the Czech Republic, while Scandinavian countries prefer ham. Funnily enough in Japan, where Christmas isn’t a national holiday, the Christmas menu of choice is strawberry shortcake and Kentucky Fried Chicken. But hey, it’s still September – we have a while to plan the menu yet.

Titelbild via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

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