Getting ready to order at a restaurant and not knowing how to pronounce the name of an item is low-key terrifying. For those who like to enjoy food from a variety of cultures, you might find yourself in this situation pretty often. While most restaurant workers honestly don’t care about you butchering the name of a dish, it’s still a good idea to do some homework before jumping in to a new cuisine.

Pho

This hearty noodle soup from Vietnam is so delicious and should be on everyone’s “must try” list. For Americans, only ever reading “Pho,” and with little to know understanding of the Vietnamese language, most people naturally call this dish “Phō” with a long “o” sound.

Bowl of pho, covered with bean sprouts, basil, and a lime wedge
Photo by Lynda Hinton on Unsplash

This is incorrect, sadly, and yes, your Vietnamese friends notice. The name is pronounced like “fuh,” with a short vowel sound. Some believe the origin of this dish and its name come from the French stew pot-au-feu, while others think its name comes from the Chinese word for noodles: fen. Either way, fuh is it’s name, and should be called as such. Pho sure.

BiBimBap

The name of this heavily garnished Korean rice bowl can leave some people perplexed. This is sort of the opposite situation from Pho—most people want to say this dish with short vowel sounds, when it actually uses long “e” sounds: “bee-beem-bahp.” 

Bowl of bibimbap, with an egg, broccoli, and beef visible on top of the rice
Photo by Delaney Van on Unsplash

Quinoa

Quinoa has gotten incredibly popular in the last five years, which means this once obscure food item can now be found on menus on a regular basis. However, the pronunciation has not made itself as widely known. You can throw any intuitive guesses right out the window with this one. 

Close up of quinoa grains, that are red, white, and brown
Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash

This ancient grain originating from Peru is rich in protein, B vitamins, and really interesting pronunciations. Most people try to break “quinoa” into three syllables, but it actually only has two: “keen-wah.”

Gyro

This Greek sandwich (although we may want to argue about whether it’s technically a sandwich, but we’ll save that for another article) gets its name from the Greek word for “spin.” Don’t call it a “hee-ro” or “guy-ro.” It’s pronounced “yee-ro.”

Gyro sandwich wrapped up with white paper, can see tomato, onion, and sauce at the top of the wrap
Image by Blackyfedora from Pixabay

The plural, gyros, is pronounced “yee-ros.” Many non-Greeks make the mistake of referring to a bunch of gyros by the singular, for some reason. Who knew quasi-sandwiches could be so complicated?

Macaron

Here’s a situation where somehow the name of a completely different cookie has taken over and is used incorrectly. These colorful French treats are not maca-ROONS. A macaroon is a fluffy, coconut based cookie. 

These are actually “mah-kuh-rohns” (emphasis on the short vowel sound again). 

Light pastel pink, orange, and blue macarons arranged in a semi-circle
Photo by Chelsea Audibert on Unsplash

If your fear of not knowing the names of certain foods is holding you back from trying them—push that shame aside and just go for it. Like that old song says: To-MAY-to, To-MAH-to!