World of food and wine looks at a fascinating variety of customs and traditions in different countries across the globe, describing how the world cooks, eats, and drinks.
More than food in France
People in France consider food a pleasure and cooking an art. A French cook tries to bring out the flavor locked inside each simple vegetable and piece of meat, adding a little of this spice or that herb when food tastes too bland, balancing all the ingredients so no flavor overpowers the other. The French cook knows food also enters through the eyes and assembles the plate so that shapes and colors are arranged in the most attractive way.
Typical French food
The kind of food available in a region depends very much on the geography, so all regions of France have different dishes and cooking styles.
Apples, cream and cheese feature often in the cooking of Normandy -a region on the northern coast with many fields where cattle graze and orchards providing fresh fruit.
The land in Brittany -on the northwest coast- is not fertile. No much grows on Brittany's fields and there are not many plants or grazing animals to use for food. Brittany has acces to an ocean rich in fish and seafood. Cooks in Brittany prepare soups and other dishes using all sorts of seafood, including lobsters, shrimp, mussels, and fish from the close by sea.
The French side of the Pyrenees Mountains in the south of France borders Spain. The cooking of that region would make you think of North East Spain by its use of tomatoes, peppers, and sausages.
Provence -southeast France- touches Italian land and Provencal cooking is influenced by Italy. Olives, as well as many herbs, grow on Provence's smooth hills. In the cooking of Provence, you will find plenty of olive oil and herbs such as basil, thyme, and rosemary- the same ingredients used in northern Italian cuisine.
A French food day
Climate often shapes eating habits. In cold countries, many people eat hearty breakfasts of hot cereal, eggs, bacon, and fried potatoes. But in France, which has a fairly mild climate, breakfast is generally very light. A typical French breakfast might include a pastry and strong coffee or hot chocolate.
In the countryside and small towns of France, the main meal is served around noon. The small meal is usually served in the evening, between 7 and 8 P.M. People who live m the large cities of France often have their small meal in the middle of the day as many western countries do.
The custom in France is to have a mid-afternoon snack of very strong coffee and
a pastry or bread. Brioches are yeast breads rich in eggs and butter. They make delicious snacks and are generally eaten warm with unsalted butter and jam.
A French table
The food served should be the focal point. The appearance, smell, and taste of carefully prepared foods are the main concern of the French cook, keeping decorations and extra dishes on the table to a minimum; less is more in this case. Simplicity will be the rule: simple place settings and cloth napkins -no paper, please- on plain, embroidered, or checked cloths.
A French table will likely display a small collection of condiments consisting of olive oil and vinegar in cruets, French mustard in a bowl with a small wooden spoon to serve it, salt and pepper –often peppercorns in a mill; also salt might come in crystals. Not only such seasonings enhance the meal, but their containers double as table decoration, as well. You will not find a centerpiece made of heavily scented flowers because their fragrance will hide the aroma of the food and diminish the pleasure found in the meal.
Around the French table
Nowhere like in France is eating considered a pleasure. Those who transformed cooking into an art also made a ceremony of dining -and some of their dinning rituals date back hundreds of years. Meal times will find the families gathered around the table, sharing not only food, but also conversation and an account of their day. Afterwards, all family members will carry on their daily routines with the feeling of well-being only well prepared food and pleasant conversation can bring. Anyone will enjoy cooking and eating French recipes and will do so more when the meal is shared with family in a relaxed atmosphere.
You will find two kinds of cooking: haute cuisine, developed by the chefs who worked for the kings and queens of France, and cuisine bourgeouise.
This highly sophisticated gourmet cooking was born in France and exported to other countries when the French revolution finished with the nobiity and the French chefs who createred it scattered everywhere. This is cooking grand style. It involves specific carving and dicing techniques, rich sauces -plenty of cream- and highly crafted garnishes, often using expensive ingredients -truffles, foie gras, exotic fruits or vintage wine.
Complex dishes taking hours of preparation are a feature of haute cuisine. This kind of cooking is still practiced in elegant hotels and restaurants.
This is home cooking. The kind of food preparation practiced everyday on French households -with recipes handed down mother to daughter for generations- or small restaurants in France. This is the one you would associate with home cooking. This kind of cooking offers simple but delicious recipes. Even this kind of cooking can be considered an art.
Brioche with chocolate, chocolat mousse, crepes with strawberries, croque monsieur, croque madame, French style peas, glazed carrots, ham and broccoli crepes with Mornay sauce, hot chocolate, green salad with garlic vinaigrette dressing, pears Helen, potato and leek soup, pork chops Normandy style, quiche Lorraine, salade Nicoise.
Most of the French recipes selected are easy to prepare; an example of daily French home cooking.