Saturday, January 4, 2014

King Cake (Galette des Rois) and the meaning of "Maladie Orpheline"

A pastry chef selling King Cakes (Galette des Rois).

In spite of having been married to a native French speaker for many years, I'm not fluent in French. But since we raised our children in a bilingual home, my comprehension is usually fairly accurate. All of this is just a roundabout way of admitting that I felt really foolish after incorrectly translating maladie orpheline on Twitter. Here's the tweet:

Best pastry chefs in Paris sell King Cakes to fight childhood illnesses. Jan 4. Place Saint-Germain des Prés: quefaire.paris.fr/fiche/76201_la...

In a hurry to help spread the word about a fund-raising initiative by some of the top pastry chefs in Paris, I didn't take the time to google maladie orpheline. Instead, I rapidly translated it as "childhood illnesses" and waited until my walking French dictionary returned home from work. "I'm confused about something," I told Stéphane as soon as he walked through the door, "Why would orphans be more susceptible to chronically obstructed intestines than other people?" With a baffled look on his face, Stéphane asked why I was suddenly worried about orphans with obstructed bowels. "Because they're selling King Cakes to raise money for childhood illnesses. This year the illness is chronically obstructed intestines," I explained. As Stéphane's attempts to follow my tangled thoughts proved unsuccessful, I went straight to the heart of the matter and asked him to translate maladie orpheline into English. When he told me that he had never heard the term, we googled it. Maladie orpheline means rare diseases, not illnesses that are contracted by orphans or children.

[Edit] Rosemary of Aussie in France provided additional information about maladie orpheline in the comment section: "Maladie orpheline" is a strange term, isn't it? I came across it a long time ago in my translation business. In fact, it is not only a rare disease but a disease for which little research is being done. The "orpheline" in fact refers to the lack of research and not the rareness. 

The sale of King Cakes was so successful that the pastry chefs joked that
 they were going to start selling the crumbs for 2 euros a piece.

After we finally figured out which cause we would be supporting, Stéphane and I decided to get our King Cake (Galette des Rois) a day early. We arrived at the Place Saint-Germain des Prés just in time to buy one of the last puff pastries with a frangipane filling. Rather than wait until tomorrow to see who will find the tiny figurine in their slice of cake, Stéphane and I had a piece with our afternoon tea. Since neither of us found the feve, we still don't know who will be crowned king (or queen!) for Epiphany 2014.

Interestingly enough, French presidents aren't allowed to "draw the kings" on Epiphany. In accordance with etiquette, a traditional King Cake minus the plastic figurine and crown will be served to French President Hollande at the Elysée Palace.

Galette du Coeur donors included: Pierre Gagnaire, Pierre Hermé, la Maison Kayser, Michel Troisgros, Alain Dutournier, le Moulin de la Vierge, Potel et Chabot, Poilâne, Hélène Darroze, la Grande Epicerie, Saint Clair le Traiteur, le George V, Michel Rostang, Lucas Carton, les Bistronomes, Thierry Burlot, Bakery, William Ledeuil, la Closerie des Lilas et Clerardin.

King Cake

10 comments:

  1. We lost this tradition, here in the Province of Québec. My parents used to invite relatives on this particular day and there were two cakes, one with the "fève" and the with the "pois".

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    1. Isn't it a shame when old traditions die away? What was the significance of the pois? It's the first time that I've heard of it. Was one the king and the other the queen? When our two children were small, I used to put an extra bean in the King Cake to keep peace in the house! They only found out a couple of years ago that there's normally only 1 bean.

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  2. "Maladie orpheline" is a strange term, isn't it? I came across it a long time ago in my translation business. In fact, it is not only a rare disease but a disease for which little research is being done. The "orpheline" in fact refers to the lack of research and not the rareness.

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    1. Happy New Year, Rosemary! Thanks for the additional explanation about "maladie orpheline". When I told Stéphane, he said that it makes sense. We spent quite a bit of time discussing why a rare illness would be parentless. Next time we have a question like that, I'll ask you! I'll include the additional info from you in the body of the post. Thanks again!

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    2. Hi
      Orphelin in popular french means "left alone"... like If only one glass is left out of a set of six (because the others were broken or lost) it will be called "orphelin"... So a disease is called orpheline because it's left out... Why? In mot cases it will be because there are very few people with this disease, so it is not worth (what sort of world are we living in?...) spending money on it.
      Hope this helps to undertand what is (sometimes) behind a strange word...

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  3. Interesting fact about the President not being allowed to get the fève (even though he's officially a Prince of Andorra anyway!) And if Stéphane had never heard the term, you can hardly be expected to know it!

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    1. I didn't know that the President of France is also the Prince of Andorra. I love learning bits of trivia like that! Happy New Year! I hope that you'll be in Paris at some point in 2014.

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  4. I love your confusion, it leads you to the most interesting places.

    jxg

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  5. I learned a new phrase from this post too! I also love the fact about the president not getting a fève or a crown with his galette - so important to preserve Republican values, even if the story took place in another country 2000 years ago, and whether the original three were actually kings at all is highly debatable!

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  6. How interesting! Love the info that the French President's King Cake cannot contain a feve. Quite appropriate really I guess! Best wishes, Pamela

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