#ThatTranslatorCanCook week 50: Croque Madame

For week 50, I made a croque madame. Essentially, it’s a toasted sandwich. A toastie. Or a grilled cheese for any North Americans reading this. But the recipe I chose was no run-of-the-mill toastie, thrown together with a smattering of cheese and a few other paltry fillings. Oh no. This was a delightfully rich treat.

It was filled with béchamel sauce with added cheese (i.e. cheese sauce), along with ham, plenty of grated gruyère, and Dijon mustard. After cooking in a frying pan, you top with more cheese sauce and grated gruyère and grill. Once melted and golden, you top it all off with a fried egg. And there you have it. A rich cheesy delight. Serve with salad so you don’t feel quite so bad.

Interestingly, all the French recipes I found for croque madame were more basic and didn’t include béchamel. But my partner had watched a Bingeing with Babish episode on making croque monsieur and croque madame. These recipes featured béchamel and looked amazing, so I just had to track one down that did too. (FYI, the difference between a croque madame and croque monsieur, is that the former includes a fried egg on top). The source recipe I settled on comes from a Canadian website.


Regionalisms or Anglicisms?

As I've mentioned, my source recipe comes from a Canadian website. And it included many instances where the source text expressed things differently than what (based on my experience), is the norm in recipes written in European French.

C. à thé / c. à table

Normally, French recipes I’ve seen use c. à café (sometimes written as c.à.c.), which is short for cuillère à café – literally ‘coffee spoon’ – it’s a common measure, and represents 5 ml. I remember learning that the French use this a long time ago and being charmed by the notion that it presumably reflected the more traditional drink in the country.

Similarly, c. à table (cuillère à table) is literally ‘tablespoon’ but in European French, this is normally expressed as c. à soupe (soupspoon).

Farine tout usage

The word-for-word translation of this is ‘all-purpose flour’. In the UK, we’re more likely to say ‘plain flour.’ Most French recipes tend to refer just to ‘flour’ (farine) unless a specific type is required.

Étendre 1 c. à thé (5 ml) de moutarde sur les 4 autres tranches de pain

You can translate this as ‘Spread 1 teaspoon of mustard on the four other slices of bread’. And there’s no problem with it as such. However, interestingly, I’ve never seen the French étendre used in this specific context. It does mean to spread, both figuratively and literally. And it’s even used in French recipes, for example when rolling out pastry. But when it comes to spreading mustard onto something, or even butter onto a piece of bread, based on my experience, other French verbs tend to be used. In the case of the former, I’ve seen badigeonner a lot. And for the latter, tartiner is quite common.

That said, while I’ve seen a fair few French recipes, I’m neither an expert, nor a native speaker. Maybe it’s not strange for étendre to be used here after all? Native speakers, feel free to let me know!

So the question is – are these examples of regional differences? Or are they Anglicisms? Maybe they’re both?

As Six Continents explains, in some cases, Canadian French uses more Anglicisms than European French, but on the other, ‘there has been an anti-Anglicism movement among Québécois. In France when you would say faire du shopping, in Québec you say faire du magasinage.

So these could be Anglicisms used as part of Canadian French. If you’re interested in the differences between these language variants, read this post by Word Minds and this post by United Language Group.

Another possibility is that this text is itself a translation from English. After a little digging, I did find that there is indeed an English version of this website and this specific recipe.

So which is it? We may never know… Any French Canadian readers out there, I’d be interested in your thoughts!

The impact on the target text – the importance of text purpose and brief

At any rate, in this case, the text’s regionalisms, Anglicisms, or peculiarities made little difference to how I translated the text (but it is an interesting discussion point!). They didn’t impact the translation because I referred to my target text’s purpose. The fictional purpose of these translations is to provide the average British home cook with easy-to-follow recipes. They may give insight into regional specialties or cultural differences, but that isn’t their self-imposed primary purpose.

On the other hand, there are other occasions where signalling a text's peculiarities or regionalisms in translation would be perfectly appropriate. If, for instance, this were a play, a short story, or maybe even marketing material encouraging tourism to Canada, it might make perfect sense to indicate the text's origins in some way. As with many things in translation, it comes down to the brief, which should include the purpose of the translated text.


I ran into no problems with preparing this recipe. However, I diverged from the recipe by not adding cheese to the béchamel – I figured there was enough cheese involved!

Be forewarned – this is a heavy and rich dish! I ate it with side of salad for dinner.

Recipe ideas and substitutions

Clearly, you could use the English version of my source recipe. Or try one of Bingeing with Babish’s recipes. Or give this béchamel-less lighter option from Epicurous a go.

You could swap gruyère for emmental, or another cheese with a similar flavour. I personally wouldn’t swap it for cheddar (as much as I like it), as the flavour is quite different and I’m not sure it would work as well. You might also have to change the quantities if you did that.

Next time

Two more to go! I’m planning on a main fish dish, and dessert… Guesses welcome!

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