Monday, April 14, 2008


A Quiet Revolution

The French are funny about food. Well, ok, they’re funny about all sorts of things (except comedy), but they’re especially funny about food. They regard their place as leaders of the culinary world as an inalienable right and the rest of the world’s place as nowhere. They look neither to the left (we’re not talking politics here) or to the right to see what’s cooking yonder and spout the good old clichés of ex President Chirac’s that France’s food is best and only one country has worse than England and that’s Finland, although I’d challenge M. Chirac to remember when he last popped into a restaurant in England, or Finland for that matter.

On one of our French trips, we were watched like a couple of zoo exhibits to see how we reacted to ‘real’ food, as a woman declared with smiling satisfaction ‘ah, you don’t eat like that in England do you?’ Well not exactly like that no, but just as well. Not as routinely as in France it’s true, although we’ve had our share of average and some below average meals there, but while the French have been smugly unconcerned with innovation and are content to serve up the same old faithfuls, we’ve been moving quietly onwards and upwards.

While the Brits and the rest of the world have been creating wonderfully innovative menus and producing more and more Michelin starred restaurants (Tokyo now has more than any other city in the world) France seems to have stood still. They still don’t do spicy for example (our local supermarket doesn't sell chillies) and if you’re unwise enough to ask for a curry in a restaurant, you’ll be rewarded with the thinnest, blandest sauce ever to come out of a kitchen. In the supermarket recently, I put back some chorizo labelled ‘very hot’, in favour of the simply 'hot' variety, forgetting that what they call hot is most assuredly not and sure enough, it was mild enough for a baby. I’m not knocking French food - I love it, especially the fact that it's kept its peasant roots, while we‘ve abandoned ours, but you pretty much know what to expect, which won't be a surprise.

I’m reminded of this because my daughter is about to come for a visit and we’re going to have to confess our little act of treachery. When she came a few years ago, she was not only vegetarian, but a very fussy one. After trudging round the local restaurants inspecting all the menus outside to find something she could eat, we realised that a French vegetarian was an oxymoron, so, finding nothing, we finally decided on one of our regulars, with a view to ordering ‘normal’ for us and asking them to cook an omelette for her. They refused. I don’t know if they thought this was the thin edge of the wedge and it would encourage all sorts of flesh-hating weirdos into the restaurant, but we left, vowing never to return. But, time moves on, the restaurant has a nice atmosphere, does great food and so we shrugged our shoulders and went back. So much for principles. The irony is that the restaurant now does veggie food and she’s given up being a veggie. So yes, France gets a few points for moving forward a bit where veggie food is concerned.

Ha ha, I’ve just got my comeuppance for my criticism. Three weeks ago my loved one was promised a dermatology appointment and it’s just arrived in the post - 1st OCTOBER. Yes, the French may be funny about food, but they’re not a bit funny about their Health Service, although they'd laugh their heads off if they were asked to wait that long for an appointment.

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