Ne pas savoir à quelle sauce on va être mangé

Hachis parmentier

This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to food. Read the introductory Edible Idiom post, and browse the list of French idioms featured so far.

This week’s expression is, “Ne pas savoir à quelle sauce on va être mangé.”

Literally translated as, “not knowing what sauce one is going to be eaten with,” it means that one’s prospects are uncertain, not very good, and entirely outside of one’s control. (Any resemblance to global events is purely coincidental.)

Example #1: “L’usine vient d’être rachetée par un groupe étranger et les ouvriers ne savent pas à quelle sauce ils vont être mangés.” “The factory was just bought out by a foreign corporation and the workers don’t know what sauce they’re going to be eaten with.”

I find this an extraordinarily eloquent idiom — I picture a soup plate in which tiny humans wriggle as a giant ogre tries to decide between ketchup and béchamel –, so vividly it conveys the idea that the subject’s fate is submitted to the decisions, or interests, of a much more powerful force: he’s beyond wondering whether or not he’s going to be eaten, that’s already settled, now it’s only a matter of finding out how exactly.

It is often used to illustrate situations that oppose employees and employers, or citizens and government, but it can also be used more lightly:

Example #2: “C’était la première fois que j’allais chez l’acupuncteur, alors je ne savais pas à quelle sauce j’allais être mangé.” “It was my first visit with an acupuncturist, so I didn’t know what sauce I was going to be eaten with.”

Listen to the idiom and examples read aloud:

Note that the core of the idiom is “à quelle sauce être mangé”. It can appear in slight variations, such as “A quelle sauce nos enfants vont-ils être mangés ?” (What sauce will our children be eaten with?), or “Je me demande à quelle sauce je vais être mangé” (I wonder what sauce I’m going to be eaten with).

  • A comment on your sidebar – I loved the Rory Stewart book. Great read!

  • This one sounds really funny to me – what sauce they were going to be eaten with. :) It’s so interesting to hear these expressions that sound so different from culture to culture.

  • Your series on French idioms is fascinating. I look forward to every one. I particularly like the image you associate with this one.

  • wow i can totally relate to this!! now this is an expression i can use en ce moment…c parfait. merci

  • Susan

    How you tease with that pretty picture of something (a custard?) sitting gently atop something else (a sauce?) Oh please do tell us what it is.

  • I actually quoted you and your idiom in my latest post, and linked to yours ;) merci, I really really enjoyed this one!! Bisous chantal

  • Jason

    Second selena’s comment on the Rory Stewart book. Should have been required reading for all Americans starting 9/12/2001. PS. Love the idioms too – they reveal so much about a culture – almost as much as understanding the humor.

  • Aiyana

    Oh, how excellent! It is indeed a very evocative saying. Such a devious idea, too!

  • I love the edible idioms, I makea point of dropping them into my conversations to impress my (French) neighbours with my wit and savoir faire with their language. BTW Poppy seed cake v.good

  • I love this series. I read a lot of food blogs, but recipe after recipe can get pretty boring, and these are great!

  • All – So glad to hear you’re enjoying the series! These entries are a lot of fun to write.

    Selena and Jason – Rory Stewart’s is without a doubt one of the best books I’ve read this year. I finished it a few days ago and haven’t been able to start anything else, my mind is still so absorbed in it.

    Susan – I didn’t mean to tease! It is actually a picture of a savory dish: a duck parmentier (a sort of shepherd’s pie) I ate at Astier, a bistro in Paris.

  • Your writing is fascinating. It keeps one engaged without a moment of boredom.

  • Tarfman

    This reminded me of this hilarious picture. The guy really looks like he is wondering with what sauce he’s going to be eaten!

  • This is simply wonderful. Im really looking forward to the next one!

  • Merry Christmas! … That the joy of Christmas and the best recipes can be repeated every day in the new year.

    Virtual Chef

  • Un blog de la cuisine francaise avec explications des expressions idiomatiques!–oh, mon Dieu, je crois que je vais morir de joie! Salut! Ton blog est tellement delicieux!
    Boy oh boy–a blog dedicated to French cooking served with a sidedish of French idiomatic expressions–I think I’m going to die from joie de vivre! Your blog is truly delicious!
    By the way, do you like Mexican food?

  • Beautiful food, photos and culture… and French lessons too! I love your site :)

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