It’s your turn to order, and the waiter looks in your direction expectantly. The rest of your party watches as one bead of sweat builds on your forehead.
“Can I have the, um…” You stare at the word gnocchi on the menu, trying to formulate your best guess for how to pronounce it. Guh-no-chee? Nach-eye? You clear your throat. “I’ll have this,” you finally say, pointing to the dish on the menu.
“The gnocchi?” the waiter asks cooly, letting the Italian word roll off his tongue with ease. You nod and let out a sigh of relief. Crisis averted.
English borrows a ton from other languages, and that’s especially true in the food world. Dabbling in these foods might be a new experience for the tongue—both in terms of the flavors on your taste buds and actually uttering the names of the dishes. Case in point: How do you actually pronounce the ‘ç’ in açai, anyway?
Time to stop stumbling over these now-common food terms. Here are the official pronunciations of these 10 foods.
1. Açai: /ah ● sah ● EE/
The açai berry comes from palm trees in Central and South America. It has long been a traditional food for indigenous populations of the Amazon region, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
Today, the açai berry is best known to Americans in the form of açai smoothie bowls. Find out how to make a healthy açai bowl at home.
2. Worcestershire sauce: /WUHS ● tuh ● sher/
There are two key rules to pronouncing this British fermented condiment. First, don’t pronounce every syllable. Second, pronounce the last syllable like you would when saying New Hampshire. Most Americans say /sher/, not /shy ● er/, and good ol’ Worcestershire follows the same principle.
Psst… /WUHS ● ter ● sher/ is also accepted.
3. Bruschetta: /brew ● SKET ● uh/
Whaaaaat? Yep. This popular Italian toast is pronounced with a hard C, as is always the rule when you have a C followed by an H in the Italian language. It comes from the Italian word bruscare, meaning “to toast or burn.”
But, to be 100 percent honest, saying /brew ● SHET ● uh/ is accepted in the United States.
4. Gyro: /YEER ● oh/
Perhaps no food word is debated more than gyro. When you’re referring to a gyrocompass or gyroscope, it’s totes acceptable to say /JEYE ● roh/. But when you’re talking about the Mediterranean pita sandwich made from lamb or beef, the two accepted pronunciations are /YEER ● oh/ and /ZHIHR ● oh/, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
5. Quinoa: /KEEN ● wah/
It’s understandable to fub the name of this seed (yeah, it’s a seed that acts like a grain). In the English language, the qui sound is predictably always pronounced like /kwi/, so it’s tempting to pronounce quinoa like /kwi ● noh ● uh/. Don’t fall for the trap!
Quinoa is a Spanish word, as it is a plant native to northwestern South America. In Spanish phonetics, the string of letters qui is always pronounced like /kee/. Find out how to make a Spanish quinoa pilaf here.
6. Chipotle: /chee ● POHT ● lay/
Ah, stumped by another Spanish word. Don’t feel bad if you’ve been pronouncing this pepper (or the fast casual restaurant) like /chip ● OLE ● tay/. You’re definitely not alone.
Let’s break it down. First of all, the vowel I is always pronounced like /ee/ in the Spanish language. Second, the T comes before the L. You’ve got this.
7. Phở, or pho: /FUH/
This Vietnamese soup made with rice noodles, beef or chicken, and herbs has become increasingly popular in the United States thanks to refugees from the Vietnam War, according to an article in the journal Gastronomica.
The problem is that the “ở” vowel is not a sound that exists in the English language, so it’s not the easiest word for many Americans to get their mouth around. It’s kind of a combo of /eh/ and /uh/.
Whatever you do, don’t say /foh/.
8. Sriracha: /sir ● AH ● cha/
Sriracha—the beloved Thai hot sauce—basically became America’s favorite condiment around 2013, according to its recorded popularity on Google Trends.
If you’re not a master of the Thai languages, don’t be thrown off by that seemingly superfluous R at the start of the word. The official website for Sriracha says the first syllable is simply /sir/. If it helps, consider this: The sauce is named after the district of Si Racha, Thailand.
9. Tzatziki: /zat ● ZEE ● kee/
Considering how much the English language is based off Greek, these Greek foods sure do trip us up. The tz combo is a rarity in English, but don’t overthink it: You can basically pronounce it like a standard Z. If you can muster the courage, you can try to get the /(t)s/ sound, which muffles the T.
The pronunciation is complicated, but the recipe is not. Tzatziki is a simple and healthy sauce made from Greek yogurt, chopped cucumbers, and herbs. Check out how to make a tzatziki yogurt sauce here.
10. Gnocchi: /NYOH ● kee/
Yep, it’s the return of the Italian ch sound. Just like with the word bruschetta, give gnocchi a hard C, like /kee/. These soft dumplings are usually made from potatoes and eaten with a sauce like pasta. (Find out how to make a homemade marinara sauce for pasta here.)
If the /NYOH/ sound is too awkward for you, it’s also acceptable in the U.S. to just say /NOH ● kee/.