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#ThatTranslatorCanCook week 3: Breton Buckwheat Galettes (Galettes de Sarrasin/Blé Noir)

This week, I went from the south of France to the north west, Brittany. This region has rather a lot of regional specialities, but perhaps one of the most widely known, is the galette.

In Brittany, the galette is a savoury* crêpe made with buckwheat flour. When done well, they are salty, crispy, and packed full of flavour. Typically it is accompanied by apple cider drunk from special bolées (similar to teacups).

However, as with many traditional dishes, it seems there are many regional variants and personal preferences (find out about variations in this article – in French). For instance, my chosen recipe added an egg, which apparently stops the galettes from sticking to much and gives a darker colour.

A picture of a packet of French buckwheat flour

While they sound simple, galettes can actually be fairly challenging. Buckwheat, which is a grain rather than a variety of wheat, is gluten free. The lack of gluten means no elasticity, which results in a batter which is notoriously difficult to work with. Also, buckwheat flour has a very short shelf life, just two months apparently. (Although I must admit I used the rest of a pack from Christmas and it was fine. Maybe I was just lucky.)

*I believe it is occasionally eaten with sweet fillings as well – please feel free to correct me anyone.


The recipe I chose was written on a blog. Consequently, in addition to the recipe itself, there were some tips, advice, and commentary. This included some colloquialisms and gave an insight into the blogger’s writing style. So, I wanted to try and portray this as much as possible in my translation.

Translating idiomatic language and a play on words

Que ça saute ! This expression is nice little play on words. It appeared at the very end of the recipe, and was sort of a command, encouraging people to use the recipe. It could be translated with ‘make it snappy’ ‘jump to it’, ‘chop, chop’ or similar. However, in French you also use the verb sauter to refer to flipping crêpes. So, how to retain the sense of ‘hurry up and make the recipe’ and the play on words in English?

A few suggestions below:

  • 'chop, chop' - this could work well if any slicing or chopping was involved in the recipe.

  • 'get cracking' - if eggs (or another ingredient which needed to be cracked) were a major part of the recipe, ‘get cracking’ might be appropriate.

  • ‘have a flipping good time’ or ‘get flipping’ - either of these change the meaning, but do retain the play on words.

I ended up going for the somewhat bland ‘So what are you waiting for? Get cooking!’ The disadvantage with this that we lose the humorous element.

What about you, any other suggestions?

Ensuring the recipe sounds appealing

Since recipes need to be appetising, you need to use words which have positive connotations and sound appealing in the target language. But what is appetising in one language (and culture) is not necessarily so in another. For instance, décoller soigneusement – which in this case is referring to the edges of the galette – could be rather directly translated as ‘carefully unglue.’ But I argue that referring to galettes as ‘gluey’ is not very appealing in English.

What’s more, this action is not normally expressed in these terms, so using them would draw additional attention to them.

To use a more common term, and one which sounds more appealing, I chose ‘carefully lift the edges of the galette.’ Another option could be ‘unstick’ and this would be a common translation for décoller. To me, for some reason, this doesn’t sound unappetising.

Adapting cultural references – when a soup spoon is a dessert spoon

A soup spoon. I know what one is. Though I can’t say I have any in my London flat. And it’s not something I would expect to see in an (English) recipe as a unit of measurement. It did appear in my French recipe however.

In the same vein, in French you would refer to a cuillère à café, or a coffee spoon (or simply petite cuillère – small spoon), rather than a teaspoon. Presumably, these terms reflect the common drink the spoon was used for in French and English cultures respectively. This makes sense, given how food, culture, and language are at times almost inextricably linked.

So, do the French have more soup than the English? Or are they more likely to have soup spoons in their house? I’m not sure on either count.

But, as a measurement, presumably the exact quantity was not that important, or a standard, more uniform, measurement would have been used, such as '15 grams'. Given this, I decided to mention a dessert spoon in my target text, which is much more commonly used in English recipes.

Localising ingredients

Sel de Guérande (Guérande salt)

This famous Breton salt was recommended by the recipe's author. This is logical, given the recipe was on a site called recettes bretonnes (Breton recipes). This sea salt from the Guérande salt marshes is still harvested by hand! (Find out about its history and learn some great French expressions related to salt.) I used some chunky rock salt I had to hand. But I think Maldon salt would probably be a good local equivalent here in the UK.


As with crêpes or pancakes, the first one was a mess – a sacrifice to the pancake gods. (Read the theory on why the first one is always a dud). But after a while, I got into the swing of things and started turning out some pretty decent ones.

Some did tear, but after reading numerous articles about how even the pros struggle with this tricky batter, I was feeling proud of my results. That said, I think I should have increased the heat to get crispier, darker galettes.

In terms of fillings, I made the classic complète, which is cheese, ham, and a fried egg. It was salty, buttery, crispy perfection on a plate. (If anyone is worried for my health with all this talk of butter, don’t worry, as you can see, I also had salad on the side.)

A picture of my galette complète, with salad on the side.

I also slowly sautéed some courgettes and cherry tomatoes, with a generous helping of pepper, which went particularly well.

As the recipe made so many, I spread them over two meals (which is probably a bit of a no-no for purists…sorry, guys). The second time around, I made a fondue de poireau (leeks, sliced thinly and cooked over a low heat with plenty of butter until they’re pretty much melting – some add crème fraîche or mustard, in addition to salt and pepper).

What next?

I’m planning on making something sweet, most likely classic biscuit or cake.

103 views2 comments


Hannah Lawrence
Hannah Lawrence
Sep 17, 2019

Thanks for your comment Irene, that's really interesting to know!


Irene McClure
Irene McClure
Sep 17, 2019

Hi Hannah - I love the look of this galette and will get round to trying to make some one day! I was interested in the soup spoon/dessert spoon issue as I've come across this before. Thought you might be interested in the info in Julia Child's book (Mastering the Art of French Cooking) which says a tablespoon is equal to one and two-thirds of a centilitre while a "cuillère à soupe" is one and a half centilitres. Meanwhile, a dessertspoon is 1 centilitre. So they are in fact three different things! A teaspoon and a cuillère à café are equivalent, both measuring 1/2 a centilitre. Fascinating the things you learn eh?!

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