It's not French cuisine - it's French produce that's incredible.
Sat, 6 July, 2019
My love of things French has reached fathomless depths. After another holiday in the lavender-scented fields and rivers of Vaucluse, I physically ached having to leave and go back home.
The people are lovely, I approve of most of the French institutions and systems perhaps sauf the legendary bureaucracy – though must say I’ve not personally experienced it much – but it’s the food, the food, the food and the produce. Especially compared to Britain.
It’s the enormous, juicy peppers, fleshy and sweet. It’s the four varieties of aubergine on a stall by the side of the road. The fantastic selection of fresh fish and seafood on the local (landlocked) supermarket’s counter. Organic-only greengrocery shops and market vegetable stalls. Everything French-sourced and ordered by the region where it was grown. Boulangeries where bread is made from scratch, not delivered pre-baked and frozen to create an illusion of bakery.
Butchers’ shops that seem to happily thrive alongside as good in quality supermarkets’ meat counters. Popping out to get a fresh baguette before dinner. Cafes where a coffee is either small or large, not twenty-seven kinds of beverages loosely based on coffee; and nobody walks around clutching plastic sippy cups because a coffee means you sit down to it. Cheese bars where wine is an accompaniment to a cheese board, not the other way round. Wine bars where a charcuterie board with your drinks is de rigeur and where NOBODY GUZZLES BUCKETS OF GIN!
The French take pride in food and pride in eating: I was having a bite in a street café when a homeless man sat down at a nearby table and ordered a ham galette and a small beer with a ten euro note he was proudly brandishing. He was a hobo, he reeked of booze and yet he wanted to spend his begged, stolen or borrowed cash on a PROPER MEAL in a restaurant instead of a rubbish bin raid for dinner and more alcohol with the money.
Of course you may say it’s easy: France is a large country where everything grows. But beans do grow in England and still the only ones available in my local Waitrose are from Kenya. English sparkling wine is supposed to be top dog: where can I buy it and why it costs so much? The island nation where a posh supermarket sells almost exclusively ‘previously frozen’ fish? I fail to see the justification or reason.
I would never say France is the perfect place; apart from political and social they also have some obesity issues and junk food on the rise. In Paris or Lyon people walk their Starbucks coffees to work (though deep in my heart I KNOW they’ll be all foreigners). But obesity problem is marginal compared to the UK because French kids learn how to eat well on school dinners.
I came back after two weeks in south France this time and headed for supermarket to fill the empty fridge. I spent sixty pounds on not many, not very appetising things and wondered at which point, how and why the British refuse to grasp the basics: that food is joy when it’s local, seasonal and cooked at home.