French cooking is not very trendy these days. Ask anyone what their favourite cuisine is and eight out of ten will gush about Italian, even though they really mean they like pasta and pizza rather than tripe alla Romana or cioppino, for sure.
French dishes are commonly perceived as too rich, too fussy and too starchy, with the last in the figurative sense not through potato overload. After years and years of ruling the roost, at the turn of the century French cuisine made a rapid move from à la mode into démodée. Who wants steak-frites if you can have ramen? Forget escargots, we’re eating snail porridge now!
But whether in or out of fashion, there are some principles about French cooking and eating that are commendable. Not immovably, as these days both MaccyDs and Starbucks open in Paris and obesity isn’t sadly a foreign notion, but still French kids are much healthier and slimmer compared to the British. That’s thanks to the tradition of proper, two or three course sit down meals even in the schools, and hardly any snacking. The French are also less susceptible to food fads and don’t easily believe that gluten or dairy are evil. Which will also mean they are less concerned about cow farts’ impact on climate change, but on the other hand they care about buying and eating local and seasonal.
Which is why the cuisine is close to my heart and not just because I am such a devoted Francophile. What can be more warming and comforting in winter months than a properly cooked cassoulet, or a generous portion of tartiflette? Perhaps only a bowl of French onion soup, with cheesy croutons.
It’s not just steak: côte de boeuf is the perfect mini-roast for two. And not only frites: try potatoes boulangères with your côte. And you should definitely try to cook your chicken rotisserie style next time, with potatoes roasting underneath the bird.
My favourite vegetable dishes are French too: tian from Provence, made with courgettes and spinach, or an autumnal tian with root vegetables. And even if some French turn their noses at ‘common’ ratatouille, it’s still the best summer dish, purely plant-based or with added chicken.
French bread is not only baguettes, though those are unmatched. Famous Poilâne sourdough or fougasse are worth exploring if you’re a baker. Or try your hand at brioche or croissants, for a joyous breakfast experience.
Desserts can be heavenly, from exquisite dacquoise to rustic galettes, from macarons to simple sablé biscuits. And who doesn’t love profiteroles?
Vive la France! Vive la cuisine française, and if you still think it’s fusty and inferior to Italian, think again next time you reach for a jar of mayonnaise…