Tête de veau means “head of calf” in English. So, why would there be a sign offering tête de veau and vegetables in Annecy recently? Because people eat whole heads of calves here in France, as well as in Italy and Germany.
And at just €6, you can see why it’s popular! Well, to be honest, I wouldn’t eat it if someone paid me. However, a couple of stories spring to mind. Back in the year 2000, when I had only just left Australia and had been talked into a quick bus tour of Europe, one of the fellow tour-goers ordered tête de veau when we stopped in Lyon, the culinary capital of France, for dinner. He had no idea what it was, but decided, since we were at this posh restaurant after days of eating boring tour-group food at pre-arranged locations, that anything on the menu must be good and that he would enjoy whatever came out. How bad could it be? The head went back uneaten, and the guy felt too ill (and guilty for contributing to the market of calf-head cooking) that he abstained from food for the rest of the night.
Recipes tend to involve the tongue wrapped around the head (minus the bone by the looks of it, but don’t quote me: I became too queasy just reading about it and had to stop), along with some boiled potatoes, capers and a vinaigrette. Brains are often served beside the meat.
Now, apart from the whole culinary delight thing, tête de veau is also an insult aimed at Parisians. The saying goes (spelling unknown, but it all rhymes with “go”): “Parigot, tête de veau”, so it’s really just a rhyme used by non-Parisians to make it clear they think that Parisians have calves heads. It’s a bonafide insult, albiet light-hearted most of the time. The only reason I found out about this was after a weekend ski contest in Le Grand Bornand for kids from villages nearby. Apparently, Manigod (pronounced “manny go”) did very well, much to the disappointment of the kids from other villages, who started chanting: “Manigod, tête de veau”. Parents were shocked and embarrassed and word got out — all the way down to the Australian (me) who doesn’t even know any truly local kids. Apparently, kids saying it to other kids is less light-hearted!
So, did I buy a tête de veau? No way! I’ll leave that up to the locals.