Why are the French so good at food? I mean, seriously. And why is it so much better than here? A quick hop across the channel- hardly world’s apart culturally or climate-wise!- but the food is simply a million times tastier. So why? I mean, what do they have that we don’t?
And I’m not just talking about the artisan patisseries, boulangeries, fromageries that line every street in Paris and are the centrepiece of each rural village. Even the supermarkets stock the most delicious, fresh, vibrant selection of fruit and vegetables you can imagine. Lettuces so large and fresh that they still smell vaguely of earth, tomatoes so round and red that they don’t even look real. How can they be getting it so right? Supermarket bakeries, which in England toil to produce an adequate granary loaf, are producing row after row of baguette, pain and l’ancienne. And don’t even get me started on the pain au chocolat!
I’ve just come back from a summer of French travels- from my grandparents holiday home in the rural, remote Loire Valley, to a truly cultural, Parisian experience. But, regardless of location- be it the sunny south of France, the bustling city, or the complete middle-of-nowhere countryside, the connecting factor seems to be the quality of the food. It seems to be so much fresher (and, as a result tastier!) than any we get here- far less air miles, and far more vitality. The food feels healthy and you feel healthier eating it. (Apart from the bread, cheese and wine- of course! But even that feels weirdly wholesome- definitely compared to cheap airy white loaves the English adore so much!)
I love the French, and I love being in France- I love how relaxed and laid back everything, and everyone is. People have time for each other. Oh, and I love laying on the beach, swimming, mooching around Parisian shops and dragging my boyfriend to galleries. And of course, I love the food. And the idea that food is important, and should be made time for. Be it meals at leisurely meals at expensive restaurants, picnics on the Champ de Mars, quick lunches at crowded cafes, baguettes, piled high with fromage de chevre, Roquefort and camembert, or pain au chocolat in bed!
Perusing the markets to find the cheapest, and tastiest, fresh produce and handmade cheeses is definitely the best option when in France! Even in the tiniest of towns in rural France, the entire population (be it small) turns out to buy from the local farmers, bakers, chesemakers who line the streets in force. One women was absolutely insistent that we sample (and then buy!) her cheese aged ‘three years in cave.’
Bread is crunchier on the outside and softer on the inside, cheese tastes stronger and has a softer texture, wine is cheaper and far better than any in England. So why? What is it about France that makes their food so good?
I put this down to lifestyle. The French seem to be very good at living- they know the importance of relaxing, of sitting down with friends and family, and eating good food. In France, everything closes in August. Like, everything. This can be annoying if you are a tourist eager to explore the food markets of Saint-Germain (me), but if you are French, it must be amazing. Everything closes, no one has work- it is the ultimate summer holiday.
Walking around Paris, you get the sense that taking time to have a nice meal, a cup of coffee, and a long chat, really is very important to the French. Without fail, the brasseries and cafes whose seats spill out onto the streets, are always crammed with huge men around the tiny tables, sipping their espressos or pints of beer.
We could learn a thing or two from the French- stop rushing around, take time out to eat, drink, relax and enjoy the company of those around us! I think that if we put more effort into enjoying food- and really good, tasty, healthy food- the quality of what we eat would improve. Say yes to the artisan bakeries, freshly baked bread, and locally grown produce. Be more French.
I read an interesting stat last week. Apparently, rumour has it, that the French are going off bread. Yep. Apparently so. The average Frenchman now eats just one third of a baguette a day, compared to three a day in 1900! Apparently pasta is the new carb of choice from Calais to Cannes.
So the French may be saying ‘pooh pooh’ to the baguette, but for me they are definitely still the flavour of the month.