Food The French and food

Discussion in 'UK Wine Forum' started by Tom Cannavan, Aug 30, 2018.

  1. Tom Cannavan

    Tom Cannavan Administrator

    I don't think it is any secret that the French have a profound respect for the provenance and quality of their food, that far exceed that of the average Briton. Yes, some aspects may have been eroded with fast-food joints in major cities and probably a certain amount of convenience food creeping into everyday life, but so many things on my recent trip to Paris demonstrated how the French devotion to food and ingredients remains admirably strong.

    Just along from our hotel, the food market at Place Monge had, I'd estimate, 12 fruit and vegetable stalls, each piled high with beautifully displayed produce, some organic. On Sunday and Wednesday strolls through the market 11 of the stalls had nobody at them, but one had a queue that I could scarcely believe - on the Sunday stretching round two sides of the square with upwards of 60 people patiently waiting to be served "direct from the farm" fruit and veg that was the scruffiest of the market, caked in mud and piled in shallow trays rather than the displays of the other stands. Same again in the Wednesday.

    On the next corner to my hotel a really good looking butcher, with eight different farm chicken breeds for sale, priced between 30 and 40 Euros for a small bird, and doing a roaring trade with customers young and old.

    On the place Maubert, I passed this baker early one morning and thought we must try the croissants, so headed off for breakfast next morning intending to buy a couple and retire to the cafe next door. Arriving at 9:30, the extensive shelves had been completely cleared, with not a crumb remaining and just a couple of staff cleaning down before pulling down the shutters. Bakers all around still had their croissants on sale.

    Last edited: Sep 1, 2018
  2. Very well said, and convincingly illustrated. There is just a different level of respect for ingredients and for food generally in France compared to the UK. It may be possible to eat very well in some parts of the UK, but overall we're a long way behind and its a matter of deep philosophy and culture.
    Tom Cannavan likes this.
  3. France and the U.K. are like chalk and cheese when it comes to almost every aspect of food.

    Despite the popular progs on tv like Masterchef, Bake Off and Jamie Oliver etc we accept such rubbish. I think most is down to the dross in our supermarkets and the way a lot of time deprived people are forced to shop in them.

    We just put up with it, same as we put up with poor transport infrastructure, poorly built houses and everything else.

    I sometimes think that as in America, maybe no one actually travels from our island to see how others do things.

    In Austria a week ago I was eating delicious egg mushrooms, what they call chanterelles. I see social media is full of pics from France of the same thing. I can’t find them here at all. Even Waitrose fails to have any mushroom really worth buying. Maybe I can get to Borough Market.

    I’m reading a book called The New Paris by Lindsey Tramuta. I was initially unsure as the author is not French, and the book is filled with photos. But I’m enjoying it. It details the current renaissance in dining, drinking, patisserie, brewing, and so on. It has more to say than merely “go here for your coffee, Paris-Brest or Texas BBQ”.

    The book also does a lot to explain why Paris is so vibrant. A mix of a new respect for ingredients once more, and a birth in entrepreneurship in Paris. Trades once seen as working class manual work now being entered by talented graduates, adding to the great artisans already there.

    It’s a little sad because I know a few French fellows here in the hospitality industry who are heading home. A combo of new opportunity in Paris and “not feeling it” here post the B word. Shame as they own places and jobs will be lost. But when I was in Paris a few months ago it did have a different feel. Very positive.
    Tim York and Thom Blach like this.
  4. David,

    I agree with you re the mushrooms! Incredible what a limited range is available.

  5. Tom Cannavan

    Tom Cannavan Administrator

    I remember being on the Mosel a few years ago and everywhere was doing dishes with absolutely piles of chantrelles (pfifferling????), from cafes to posh restaurants, and the markets were full of them too.
    Gareth Powell likes this.
  6. The bread turns dreadful after it crosses the English Channel to here, when it claim to be French bread. The chain bakery Paul is not the best one in Paris anyway, but the one in London still makes much worse bread.
    And I never understand why the cake here got so much icing when it's already too sweet.

    Don't get me start with chickens.
  7. Yes, France is heaven for foodies.
    Strange isn't it: despite the decades I've lived here, my heart still skips a beat at the sight of a well-stocked cheese counter or charcuterie.
    And the bread is wonderful (less so than a few years ago, but if you make the effort to seek it out, it's still there).

    Inroads made by fast food (the French call it "le néfaste food") are compensated by such things as the rising influence of foreign cuisine.
    And, as we all know, the quality of wine has risen by leaps and bounds, AOC wines replacing le gros rouge to a large extent.

    What makes dining in France so special is not *just* the food. It's taking the time to enjoy it. The designation of "the French gastronomic meal" as "intangible world heritage" by UNESCO acknowledges the civilized sort of ritual that accompanies meals.
    Restaurants don't "turn over" tables. People linger and are not rushed, unless they want to be.

    And, unrelated to food, dinner conversation often moves outside the comfort zone, so people communicate meaningfully more often.
    As opposed to my native country.

    Tim York and Tom Cannavan like this.
  8. Or me.
    Johnny Richardson likes this.
  9. All true. Though obviously "France" could be substituted for "Italy" in all cases above.

    And quite a few other countries put us to shame too.
    Leon Marks and James Davis like this.
  10. When we visit the market in Beaune, the key is to look out for the stalls with the queues. And then join them.
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2018
    Graham Harvey likes this.
  11. Agree with Mark on Italy, but generally feel a bit contrarian here.

    Firstly, I would point to a large queue most Saturdays outside our local butcher, and secondly to there being I suspect large regional attitudes to food. I'd certainly put, for instance, West (possibly all) Yorkshire's attitude to Fish and Chips up there with the boulangeries, and I'd note my Mum and Dad's quarterly pilgrimage 200 miles to a butcher on Dewsbury market for sausages and pork pies. Said butcher (sadly now closed) used to have a queue on Saturdays which stretched across the front of 3 other stalls, one of them another butcher... So I'd say in certain parts of Yorkshire, there's an attitude above the Brit average, and I'd be surprised, Tom, that there wouldn't be pockets of it in Scotland, given the general high regard for the produce, and the nationalist thing.

    Finally, I generally don't find eating out in France any better than here frankly, though of course we know here so much better so can pinpoint the better restaurants. In France, we generally go for (well-reviewed) restaurants serving local fare, which may not be where the magic is, but that's kind of where you'd expect the better produce to make the difference.

    In France's defence is cheese and the fact that so many more parts of the animal are used. We are so squeamish over here, which possibly accounts for the mushroom drought; after all, it's almost impossible to tell between a chanterelle, a cep and a death cap.;)

    Italy, however...
  12. Point number one - you are all conflating Paris with France. Central Paris is an exercise in socio-economic segregation. Have you been to those abandoned towns in the north of France, where there is literally nothing available on the High Street? How do you think people there get by, save for shopping at those hypermarchés on the ring road? Our high streets are dying, but they have it worse. It's little better in the south of France. Where we stayed this year, the only shop still in existence was the butcher (young, go-ahead, excellent). Everything else had long gone. So supermarché it is then.

    And let let me tell you about the fruit for sale there. Rubbish. Over-irrigated, high-yielding, tasteless pap. Dear God, the stuff back home in Sainsbury's was better than this. To be fair, we went from there to Bordeaux where the quality improved a lot. Prices doubled of course, but that is not an irrelevant point.

    If you want quality produce, you are going have to go looking for it. It's here, but frankly I see little inclination on anyone's part to put the effort into finding it. And if this community here, which I truly believe enjoys the arts of the table, cannot be bothered to put the effort into sourcing the raw materials that are genuinely out there, then why are you expecting other people to do it for you? You are the vanguard. You know perfectly well for example that excellent native poultry is procurable - we have had threads on this before. and several of us have pointed to where you can source such things. There are also very good reasons why most shellfish caught in British waters fetches up in places like Spain and France. Just go to population centres like London and see what absurd prices are being charged for imported shellfish. On my last trip to La T, I passed a fishmonger who was selling French palourdes (clams) at £18.50/kg. English ones are fresher, sweeter and cost £6.50/kg. Never seen them in London though. I can now get as much partridge and pheasant as I want free, simply because nobody can be arsed to deal with it. The local shoot has to pay someone to take it all away for disposal. And so it goes on.

    Honestly, I have found this thread intensely depressing and self-unaware.
  13. Maybe you should go to Italy instead, Ian. Much better food anyway ;)
    Ian Black and Jonathan Budd like this.
  14. I must admit, travel the country and in most supermarkets and smaller shops all over the fruit is rubbish. strawberries and raspberries in particular are scarce and a day away from rotten when you do find them.
    Meat can be good but actually sometimes not as good as the decent butchers back home. Fish seems to be a winner on the whole and seeing live crab and lobster in a run of the mill supermarket was good as well as the Grand Vin section.

    Depending where you live in the UK if you have the time and money you can find top quality produce.
    France does have a nice respect for food and eating mind and I’ve had a great few weeks there.
  15. It was striking when speaking to the Indians working on our team, that they were appalled at the tastelessness of our chickens. I could only agree, but brought a guinea-fowl in for them to try for something with flavour.

    Yes it seems every French village in has a bakery or two, and if there are two, it's obvious which is the good one, and the locals aren't afraid to share their knowledge. Buy it, eat it, and return tomorrow for more.

    I followed that logic (of join the long queue) in St Omer, and was rewarded with the best pork liver pate I've ever tasted (and by a country mile), sliced out of a sturdy terrine. If I return, I'll be asking for the whole terrine!

    We can at least buy chanterelles in our local market, and they are decent if very pricey. Soon they'll have porcini which are usually eye-poppingly expensive, but 3-4 are worth it for the flavour. Aside from that, it's down to Borough market for a selection.

    We are lucky with fish/seafood being so close to the coast, and for game being in prime shooting territory, where the results of the shooting and a by-product of the real profit generation from the shooters. Some decent butchers too, and I've not bought meat from a supermarket in years barring an occasional pack of bacon when I haven't had the chance to buy from the butchers. Cheese also good with Mrs Temples, Baron Bigod and some other decent Suffolk cheese. Fantastic selection of coffee roasters as well.

    Veg pretty poor on the whole, with far too much limp & old fruit still on display, but buying local and seasonal seems the (rather obvious) key. The little I grow myself reminds me how it should taste, and I love grazing the honesty box funded tables of similarly home-grown stuff when cycling the country roads (likewise lots of fairly priced and fresh eggs available this way).

    There is some merit in your challenge Ian, but on balance, I'd say the French and Italians are a long way ahead of us in recognising quality and patronising the places that have it. Were I not working in the city centre, we'd be eating a lot more supermarket (beautiful) rubbish.

  16. An excellent post, Ian, though I am still looking, and looking hard, for first class British poultry, for which I am quite willing both to travel and to spend.
    I don't know what is to be done about fish in London. Steve Hatt is terrific, Moxons OK but otherwise the quality is almost non existent no matter what one pays and what one pays does matter to a certain extent. Even restaurants in London don't get good fish. In these two sectors France still scores much higher, I think, as it does with cheese, but generally things are not at all what they were and it seems to me that supermarket culture has had a much worse effect than anywhere else.
    It's almost impossible for me to find good pheasant that hasn't been visibly pumped up with the aid of antibiotics and as a lover of proper pheasant I'd love to have a supply. Partridges are good but sadly not free in West London. I make a lot of effort to find good stuff without being effete about it, and we eat well, but I am excessively interested in the subject.
  17. PS on a positive note one can find really excellent meat here quite easily now.
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  18. In between all the frothing and writhing about free pheasants and fetishisation of "the other" and how bad things are here/there, I'd make a the following observations:
    - I married a French bird from "ooop north" in France in one of those northern French bleak outposts (just outside Lille)
    - her father was a butcher who also likes his wine (aged as well!!!)
    - I am from Grimsby and a scum bag northern peasant

    1. I remember when my wife (gf at the time) moved to London and I proudly showed her the "most amazing cheese place" in London (can't even remember what it was, although it may have been Selfridged or Harrods) and she just laughed. Every time I go to a provincial French supermarket and see 2 aisles of cheese I feel humiliated
    2. My father in law prefers English beef every single time; I take a rib each time we go, aged, with fat and marbling. The English beef trumps the French every time
    3. When I (bravely) take my wife back to Grimsby/Lincolnshire we are amazed at the quality of the ingredients and the total lack of ability to do anything with them.
    4. I would agree about the nasty northern towns/villages and their lack of decent places to eat in France.....
    5. When the inlaws come to London they are amazed that they have access to wine from all over the world (not just Bordeaux)

    I find the English culture more open to a wider range of influences and flavours, but with less understanding of seasonality ("I want strawberries for Christmas") and in France I find a very well rehearsed set of amazing receipes on a narrow set of ingredients,
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2018
  19. We definitely miss seasonality Paul, but I can't get too down on a populace wanting to eat something other than bloody parsnips between September and April every year. :(
    Alex Jagger likes this.
  20. Thank you Ian.

    Count me in.
  21. About food in Paris and 'country-side' France, I've read that before Revolution, most of French people eat brown bread, only nobleman and Parisians eat white bread made from refined flour.

    I also read some Chinese praised how Anglo Saxon countries (such as England and Germany) not wasting time on good food, therefore they are more successful than almost hedonic latin countries.... Luckily most of Chinese don't give a dime of this kind of puritanic nonsense.
  22. These are all located within a 5 minute walk from my house : 3 boulangeries, 2 cheesemongers, a fishmonger, a butcher’s, a charcuterie, a fruit and vegetable shop, a coffee roaster, and 4 wine shops.

    Comments about the disappointing quality of French food have me very puzzled, especially coming from England (sorry, but I couldn’t help that and hope I don’t receive a letter bomb). I’ve known plenty of foreigners who have come to France primarily to enjoy their food and drink. Although there are many wonderful things in Britain, cuisine ain’t one of ‘em, even if travellers agree that the situation there has improved markedly.

    I think of Britain in this area like the US in that the general quality of *restaurant* food is mediocre, but if you make an effort – and especially if you use some of the fine ingredients available to prepare your own food – you can do extremely well. The fare is unquestionably more varied in the UK than in France. Indeed, the best meals I’ve had in Britain (I go there relatively often) have been “non-English”.

    The number of Michelin stars in a given place can give a false impression.... I have had memorable three course 15-euro meals in France. Has the quality declined in recent years? Probably so (chain restaurants, frozen food, microwaves…), but it is still easy to find a decent place to enjoy a good meal.
    Thank God.

    The comment made about regional variations was important. In London, of course, you’ll find everything – for a price – but elsewhere in the country can be pretty grim. In all fairness, this is also true, as has been pointed out, in comparing a northern French town with one not far from the Mediterranean.
    Regional variations also mean that talking about “French” and “Italian” food is absurd in a way due to the strong differences.

    Best regards,
    Alex R.
    Thom Blach likes this.
  23. While your contribution is extremely worthwhile, Paul, it doesn't seem to me to contain either less or more 'frothing and writhing' than those made by others!
  24. Every time I’ve stayed in Vienna we have rented an apartment and although we mostly dine out we do usually knock together a couple of meals. I’m generally amazed by the quality of the food we can buy.

    A lot of people will tell you that the Naschmarkt is for tourists, yet there you will find a stall with the best vegetables I’ve bought pretty much anywhere (at a price).

    This time we were introduced to a tiny shop, crammed full with locals, buying some of the best cold meats and cheeses.

    I only say this because France and Italy have had so much praise. Vienna was recently voted “the most livable city...”, which is entirely believable, but it’s pretty good for foodies too. And I thought where I live is unpoluted compared to London...until I got back two weeks ago.
  25. Agreed Mark. I am usually disappointed with food in France, with the odd exception. And those exceptions are found with equal prevalence in the UK. It is easier to eat well in restaurants in much of the US.

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