The French are justifiably famous for their food. I mean, who doesn’t love a good croissant, right? Here are 9 reasons we should eat like the French.
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1. Le petit-déjeuner (breakfast)
We might as well start at the beginning. When I first heard that a typical French breakfast consists of a tartine (French bread sliced lengthwise with butter and jam) and café au lait (coffee with milk) I knew I had found my people.
I’ve never cared much for breakfast. Give me a cup of hot tea (with milk and sugar) and a piece of toast and I’m happy. So I’m totally on board with the toasted bread and hot, milky beverage thing.
2. Le déjeuner (lunch)
Most American school children are lucky to get 15 minutes to gulp down their (often barely edible) lunches. This habit seems to follow most into adulthood. Over 60% of American professionals eat lunch at their desks rather than taking a proper lunch break. The French, on the other hand, are known for their 2 hour lunch breaks.
When in Paris a few years ago, we thoroughly enjoyed those lengthy, 3-course lunches, complete with a glass of wine. In fact, the meals took so long we often weren’t hungry for dinner until quite late. Which is a good thing since the French tend to eat dinner later – around 8 p.m.
3. Le goûter (afternoon snack)
Generally speaking, the French do not snack. They focus on three regular meals a day. However, they do make one exception. Le goûter is a planned afternoon snack around 4 p.m. Dinner is rather late and since children eat with their parents, they need a little something to tide them over. Le goûter consists of something sweet, such as a piece of bread spread with Nutella, pain au chocolat or a pastry.
Adults often get in on the action, too. Think of it as the French equivalent of the British afternoon tea. At around 4 p.m. the cafés of Paris fill up with adults ordering cups of espresso and a sweet treat. My personal favorite is a piece of baguette, buttered and topped with grated chocolate, then briefly run under the broiler to melt the chocolate. Delicious!
4. Le dîner (dinner)
Many years ago I read the book “Scruples” by Judith Krantz. This was my introduction to “typical” at-home, French dining. The courses served as described in the book were:
-a thin, delicious vegetable soup
-soft-boiled eggs in the shell
-a large green salad with one thin slice of cold ham for each of them
-bread and cheese
After the salad plates were cleared, fresh plates were put on the table and Madame placed a small platter in front of her own place. On it was displayed a small cheese sitting on a mat of woven straw and surrounded charmingly with fresh leaves. The Comtesse judiciously cut herself a slice and passed the platter to Billy. Billy cut herself a slice exactly as large as Madame’s, too intimidated to take more. The bread was finally passed and a round crock of butter; a very small crock, although a pretty design was stamped into the butter. The cheese was not passed a second time.
-dessert was a bowl of four navel oranges (one each)
-coffee served in demitasse cups
Eating at the table with the entire family is still a very important part of the French person’s day. The meal is generally served in several courses:
-plat (main course)
If the family had large, 3-course lunches (not unusual, even for school children), dinner may be a lighter and simpler affair. But it is still eaten à table (at the table) in a leisurely manner.
5. Le pain (bread)
One simply cannot discuss French meals without extolling the virtues of their bread. I truly feel sorry for anyone who is gluten-intolerant, especially if they travel to France. On our last day in Paris we ate one of those long, three-course lunches, finishing rather late in the afternoon. We simply could not eat a regular dinner that night.
However, around 10 p.m., while sitting at the bar of what had become “our place” we realized we were a bit hungry. David ordered a dessert. I, however, asked our server (with whom we had become so friendly over the week that we ended up doing shots with her that last night) if it might be possible to just get some bread and butter. “Mais, oui!” A glass of wine and a portion of a delicious baguette with butter served as my last “dinner” in Paris. And it was perfect.
I don’t know what makes French bread so delicious since it’s only 4 ingredients – by law – but it’s unlike anything I’ve tasted in the United States.
6. Le vin (wine)
At first it seemed almost illicit to drink wine with our lunches in Paris but it didn’t take long for us to get the hang of it. The inexpensive table wines we drank with all our meals in Paris (well, except for breakfast) were delicious and less expensive than a Coke.
Of course, France is known for its superlative wines and many are quite expensive. However, we also enjoyed the table wines very much. We have a friend who owns a wine shop and we asked about these inexpensive wines. His wine expert said we wouldn’t be able to purchase them here in the United States because most of them are blends from small, local wineries which don’t produce enough for export.
With a little trial and error, however, it’s possible to find good wines at an affordable price here, as well. Two hour weekday lunches with wine are probably not going to happen here, though.
7. Les sauces (sauces)
I’m a sucker for a good sauce. Butter, wine, cream…what’s not to love? It’s well worth your time to learn how to make a few traditional French sauces. A good sauce can elevate something as simple as fish or chicken to gourmet standards.
8. Le fromage (cheese)
Add a delicious cheese or three to the aforementioned bread and wine and you’ve got yourself a real treat. How many cheeses are there in France? Well, it depends on who you ask. But suffice it to say there are more than enough to keep one’s taste buds busy for a very long time.
9. Repas tranquilles (leisurely meals)
Finally, my favorite. One of my biggest pet peeves is being rushed through a meal. I’ve always been a fairly slow eater. My grandparents used to love to tell the story of what came to be known as “The 100 mile hamburger”. Apparently it took me 100 miles to eat a fast food burger they purchased for me on a road trip.
Way too often in American restaurants, the server will be whisking away plates and asking if we want dessert when I still have half my main course on my plate. Not so in France. In many restaurants there is only one seating for dinner. That, plus the lack of expected tipping means there is no incentive for a server to rush patrons through a meal. This makes me happier than you can imagine.
So there you have it. Nine reasons to eat like the French. Which is your favorite?
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