Tete de Veau

Tête de Veau signTête 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.


I'm a technical author, journalist and writer from Australia who has been living in Europe since 2000 and exploring the world from there. My passions are writing, snow sports and travel.

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9 comments on “Tete de Veau
  1. Ewww, I’ve never eaten it either. Nor can I do escargots, frogs legs…which is probably daft as I hear great things about those slippery little suckers (guess I’ve seen Pretty Woman once too often!) all the time.

    Have you had Papet Vaudois? I was never brave enough to order it at a restaurant (always sounded too… mushy or something) but I was pleasantly surprised when a friend of mine made it for dinner a while back. I think you need to know how to cook it if you want to become a Swiss citizen and live in the Canton de Vaud!

  2. caroline says:

    hello Wendy !

    on mange aussi des pieds de cochon, des gencives de porc, de la langue de boeuf, de la cervelle, des tripes, des rognons ….

    vive la France!

  3. The calf-head would put me off to, just goe’s to show you, ask about what you are ordering first, even if you don’t speak french you can always try to find out somthing about what you are going to eat, before hand.

  4. Dawn says:

    We call this in England potted meat, i am not sure if you can still buy it but it was the calves head boil, meat was taken off the bone and compressed into a pot. The cheek meat is suppose to be lovely !

    Do the french still eat frogs legs ? if i was to look for them on a menu what would they be called ? I always thought when i was travelling if France i would see alot of French eating snails in the resturants, never seen them yet ! i have seen them in the supermarkets but never fancied cooking them myself, not unless someone has a good receipe ?

  5. Have you eaten in a Bouchon Lyonnais? They have some really gross (IMHO) stuff like Tete de Veau. I can normally only eat one thing on the menu in a traditional restaurant here :salade lyonnaise!

    ‘Now, apart from the whole culinary delight thing, tête de veau is also an insult aimed at Parisians.’ LOL! I hear this a lot when I’m in the car with people and Parisians are doint n’importe quoi on the roads… It’s a funny saying isn’t it?

  6. April says:

    You’ve all come up with things I’ve never eaten (vegetarianism can have its benefits!). Caroline, I’ll leave all those special treats for you to enjoy. Dawn, I think “cuisses le grenouilles” is the French for “frogs legs”, although it seems to me to mean “thighs of frogs” rather than the whole leg!

  7. Vince says:

    I had it at a bouchoun in Lyon and thought that it was divine.

  8. Jerry says:

    So, you are disgusted about the tête de veau! For the case you are not a vegetarian and sometimes eat saussages or hamburgers, did you ever think about what they are made of? As Bismarck said: “There are two things the people should never know: how laws are made, and how saussages are produced.” Now for the tête de veau, at least, you know what it is made of, the meat is thoroughly boiled, and the important about the tête de veau is the sauce, generally gribiche or ravigotte. The real art of cooking is making edible what is dull but available. The “Train Bleu”, the mezzanine restaurant inside the Parisian Gare de Lyon (railway station) was famous for its tête de veau. Unfortunatley, there was a change of ownership -probably one from down under-, the tête, was “cut” -no more available-, whilst their equally famous Baba au Rhum survived the reshuffle. It is no more the Train Bleu of the Grande Epoque but the décor deserves a glance.

  9. Wendy says:

    Bingo, Jerry! I’ve been a vegetarian for 19 years. No fish, no meat and definitely no sausages (I’m not sure I class them as ‘meat’). Le Train Bleu is one place I’ve never had time to stop to eat at. With just the one option for vegetarians (how familiar), I tend to go where I have an actual choice. That’s probably very wrong of me, but hey, I’m not French so I’m used to the tuts of dismay. 🙂

About me

Wendy Hollands writer in Annecy, France

I'm an experienced technical writer based in the French Alps. I enjoy learning French language nuances, winter sports and travel. Drop by wendyhollands.com, my other site.

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