If you were to tell me in high school that, after graduating college, I would pack up and move abroad, I would more than likely have laughed in your face. My image of post-graduate life involved hole-in-the-wall NYC apartments and cubicles, not working abroad.
But I suppose life can surprise you when you’d least expect it because, as I write these very words, I’m sitting in an empty apartment in France surrounded by two gigantic suitcases, a boarding pass, and 8 months of pinch-me-this-can’t-be-real kind of experiences.
This is not to say I love everything about France. Au contraire, actually.
Leave it to the French to render seemingly simple bureaucratic processes into nightmarish mazes of inefficiency and frustration. And don’t even get me started about how much they love going on strike, smoking, not picking up after their dogs, and engaging in public displays of affection. They also happen to think very highly of themselves and are hopelessly caught up in their own cultural nostalgia.
But I’ve got to hand it to the French when it comes to food because they certainly know what they’re doing.
Over the past months, I’ve scoured markets, made a complete mess of my kitchen, and ordered off the menu at countless bistros, bouchons, crêperies, and tea salons throughout France.
I managed to boil down the results of my gastronomic “research” into 10 bite-sized nuggets of French food wisdom to share with you all.
1. If you’re going to eat, you might as well enjoy it.
Some would argue an hour and fifteen minute lunch break is pushing it, but there’s something to be said for taking the time to sit down at a table, respect the food, and really taste what you’re eating. Mealtime is a marathon, not a sprint.
2. Don’t snack all day long.
At most, the French eat one snack, or goûter, a day. This means no mid-morning munching or grazing after dinner. If you’re wondering what the secret ingredient in French food is that prevents stomachs from grumbling all day long, see #1. It’s all about mindfulness.
3. Don’t mess with the baguette.
To say the French love their bread would be an understatement; after all, it is part of their national identity. Fortunately, there won’t be anyone messing with their cherished baguette any time soon because of the law designed to protect it. To be called “baguette,” it must weigh 250 grams (about 1/2 pound) and contain only flour, salt, water, and yeast.
4. The same goes for dairy.
Cheese isn’t too far behind baguette on the list of prized foods in France. From pressed cheeses like comté and emmental to soft cheeses like brie and camembert, France has no sympathy for lactose intolerance. In fact, the dairy industry generates a whopping 27 billion euros in revenue, making it the second largest agribusiness in the country after meat.
5. “Full fat” products are not your enemy.
Reduce fat from a product and you’ll inevitably compromise the taste. To compensate for this loss, low-fat or reduced-fat products are loaded with sugar, which is the real enemy. Since I’ve been in France, I’ve embraced full-fat dairy products in moderation because they not only have more taste, but are also less processed and infinitely more satisfying (which could also explain #2).
6. Prioritize quality over quantity.
Because when you source high-quality products, there’s really not much you have to do besides let the ingredients speak for themselves.
7. Less is always more.
… especially when it comes to salad dressing. All you need is red wine or sherry vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. That’s it. Anything else is an unnecessary dressing on the dressing.
8. Food waste is no joke.
According to National Geographic, 800 million people worldwide suffer from hunger, and the 2.9 trillion pounds of food wasted globally each year is enough to feed every one of these hungry people more than twice over. These statistics are staggering, and France is doing something about it by forcing large supermarkets to donate unsold but edible food to charities or for animal consumption.
9. Eat local whenever possible.
It’s no secret that #farm2table is trending right now in America. It seems like everywhere you turn, there are cafés and restaurants promising the best of what the land has to offer. In France, however, eating what’s in season at the height of its flavor is not a trend, and it never went “out of fashion” like it did in America. Although it is possible to find foods imported from abroad in large supermarkets, France is still holding on tight to this “old way of eating,” which explains the prominence of the local markets (and the fact that there’s bound to be a slug or two nestled in your head of lettuce).
10. Always know where your food comes from.
Walk into any grocery store and you’ll find lavender honey from Provence, salt from Ile de Ré, mustard from Dijon, and other products whose sources are clearly marked. Because however important it is to support local agriculture, it’s impossible to ignore the authentic products of terroir that France is renowned for.
WHAT ABOUOT YOU?
- What do you love most about French food?