The informant – MZ – is a middle-aged woman originally from France, now living in South Florida. Growing up, her mother was French-Moroccan, and her father was Moroccan-Algerian. She is one of my mother’s close friends. The following is from a conversation in which I asked her to tell me about any French-Moroccan traditions she remembers growing up. Here, she tells me about a French saying/joke her grandmother used to say to her after MZ would ask her what’s for dinner.
“Des briques soufflées à la sauce cailloux.”
Word for word translation:
Blown bricks with pebble sauce
MZ: Back in the old day, the way they would make roof tile is it would be baked in a big oven. So she used to say that she would make oven roof tile with a stone marinade for dinner. I used to hear that all the time, because there would be really nothing for dinner.
Though “Blown bricks with pebbles sauce” doesn’t sound entirely elegant, it seems like, in French, there is wordplay between the bricks, which are baked in ovens, and the food, which would be baked in the oven. The quote seems to be fairly similar to saying, “slim pickin’s,” in English, simply meaning that there is nothing to eat.