The Language of Food

Language is a powerful tool we use to tell stories, elicit emotions, and taste the world around us. How we talk about food is almost as important as the food itself! We may feast with our eyes, but language guides how we taste. From restaurant names to menu writing, food critic reviews to tasting notes, everyone uses language to inspire curiosity, educate, and rave about food. 

Language and food are two cultural artifacts that are central to personal identity, and how we connect with each other and bridge between communities. 

This edition of Weekly Bites is all about the relationship between words and food. We’ll look at the current trends in restaurant names, the evolution of cookbooks, and share with you a fun new game that puts together two of our favorite things — food and words. 

Why do restaurant names all sound the same? 

Have you ever struggled to name your restaurant something trendy, without picking a name that sounds like every other restaurant on the block? 

In What Makes a Restaurant Sound Cool, Maggie Hennessy talks all about why most restaurants have almost the same name. 

Restaurant names — like the food they serve — follow certain trends that tend to spread from restaurant-dense cities like NYC and LA to the rest of the country, until it seems like every restaurant’s name follows a predictable pattern. 

Take, for example, the popular restaurant name template that puts two words between a plus-sign (+) or ampersand (&). Names like Salt + Sea, Fire + Plate, Roast & Spit. Those are just some made up examples, but we wouldn’t be surprised if there are restaurants with those names. 

So… why do restaurant names sound so similar? Trends in restaurant names are part of the restaurant’s genre. When you go to a restaurant named Salt + Sea, you’re expecting a certain kind of vibe. You’re likely expecting words like “artisanal,” “small batch,” and “foraged” to appear on the menu. Or, you’re expecting the decor and staff to look a certain way. 

“Isn’t that the ultimate goal?” writes Hennessy. “That by simply seeing or hearing a restaurant name, we diners can grab hold of — and retain — some moment in time, and everything we loved or aspired to. Then, as we repeat the name over and over, it gradually transcends whatever it was intended to mean in the first place, instead becoming part of the language we share with friends and fellow diners.”

There’s a delicate balance when naming a restaurant to dance between making it clear what genre of restaurant you have, while not sounding like every other restaurant in that genre.

The stakes are high. Chef Thomas McNaughton (of FLOUR + WATER), compares the process of naming a restaurant to that of naming a child. 

What are the current trends in restaurant names? We’re seeing a return to more old-school styles of naming, like possessive first or last names (Lucie’s, Delray’s, Matteucci’s). Other restaurants are poking fun at the predictability and sometimes pretension of restaurant names by going with ironic names like Le Crocodile in Brooklyn. 

The cookbook is a story 

Cookbooks are evolving beyond just a collection of recipes to read more like a memoir. 

Food tells a story, so it’s only natural that cookbooks should contain within them stories. Coupled with the increasing importance of the personal brand, cookbook readers want to know more about the stories and people behind the recipes. 

Even a look at the James Beard Media Award Nominees for 2022 show more cookbooks with titles that include phrases like “stories and recipes” or “recipes and reflections”. 

In “Why Is Every Cookbook a Memoir Now?”, Tori Latham explains how cookbooks were always about a desire to connect. Political theorist Kennan Ferguson explains how cookbooks first came to be in cultures where family members moved away and were not able to pass down recipes or techniques in person. 

Chefs and authors are continuing the intimate traditions of cookbooks by including personal stories to share their own past, and hopes for the future.

Hungry for words? Play this game

There’s a new Wordle game out there, and this one is for the foodies. Since January 2022, Wordle has become a daily tradition for many — a way to bond over the simple act of guessing a 5 letter word. 

Now there’s Phoodle, a Wordle game for food lovers. It follows the same premise of Wordle. Simply try to guess the 5 letter word of the day. Phoodle is comprised entirely of food-related words, which should narrow things down a bit. 

Here was our very first Phoodle:

How do you use language to inspire, educate, and taste food? 


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