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Puzzled by Traditional French Food and Eating Habits

“I’m sorry, but I’m going to the beach. It’s… it’s 3 p.m., folks!”

I went to the supermarket, to the market, then I grabbed a coffee at the Saint Michel cookies store and when I came back, my family was barely starting to eat lunch.

“I mean, we’re leaving around 5 p.m. to catch the train in Pornic and…. oh, whatever.”

My mom, Feng and Mark followed me to the beach, the most tempting option for various reasons—Feng had already snacked, my mom wasn’t hungry and Mark didn’t care much for the rôti de veau.

“I don’t get it,” I moaned on the way. “Why can’t they eat simpler meals? Like, salad, a sandwich, a yogurt…? Do we have to have a full breakfast, then a long lunch, then a big dinner? How are they even still hungry for dinner?”

I’m not judging eating habits—I’m hardly a good example to follow—but I would hate spending so much time on prepping food, cooking it and cleaning up afterwards three times a day. It feels like a huge waste of time. Don’t get me wrong, I love sharing a meal—key word being “a” meal, not three—but I don’t think the day should revolve around food and drink.

I’m not French enough for these elaborated meals with cold meats, seafood, roast, wine and all.

Last weekend, by the seaside, I had a bit of a cultural shock. In Nantes, like in most large cities, you can find pretty much every kind of cuisine and large supermarkets sell all kinds of foods, from frozen pizzas to rice, from brioche (sweet bread eaten at breakfast) to roast chicken, from common varieties of cheese to local and imported fruits and vegetables.

But in small towns—even during peak season, in the middle of the summer—there are fewer cosmopolitan options. Merchants focus on offering what people presumably enjoy the most.

And this is where I realized I’m probably not that French.

I walked around the Tuesday market in Tharon, one of the largest markets in the region. It took me about fifteen minutes to realize that 1) I wasn’t quite sure what half of the delicacies locals were fighting for were 2) none of them looked particularly appetizing to me.

Apparently, a typical French summer meal is splices of cantaloupe, an assortment of charcuterie (cold cuts), oysters, grilled sausages, cheese, and some Kouign Amann,various galettes or palets bretons—or at least, that’s what I gathered judging by the food stalls and the lineups of hungry customers.

Suddenly, I felt like a foreigner on her first trip to France. Okay, cantaloupe is a common fruit (I don’t like it, but that’s just me) and we eat ham and maybe salami, but I’ve never seen andouillette (sausage made with pig chitterlings, tripe, onions and wine) or rillettes (pork meat minced and cooked in fat) in my parents’ fridge. As for cookies, we usually stick to croissants, chaussons aux pommes or petites galettes.

Frankly, I don’t think I missed much. I don’t particularly feel the need to eat a pig’s entire gastrointestinal system. Traditional Breton cakes are invariably made with three ingredients—40% butter, sugar and flour—and, ahem… they sit heavy on the stomach.

There are definitely trends in food. In the 1980s and 1990s, France was adopting international cuisine and foreign products such as couscous (semolina), kebabs (shawarma), nems (spring rolls), burgers, etc. But I missed the following “back to the roots” trend featuring long-forgotten regional products. I swear that when I was a kid, there weren’t twenty kinds of galettes bretonnes in supermarkets and that blood sausage wasn’t an exciting thing to share around the BBQ.

I’ll stick to crêpes and salted butter, thank you very much.

Cantaloupes at the market
Fresh mussels at the market
Fresh crabs at the market
Cantaloupes stall at the market
Local wines at the market
Dried sausages at the market
Fresh crêpes at the market
Dried sausages at the market
Dried sausages
Rillettes (pork meat cooked in fat)
Deli meats stall at the market
Andouille, sausage made with pig chitterlings, tripe, onions and wine
Small potatoes from the island of Noirmoutier
Sea salt from Guérande
Local wines
Local Saint Michel cookies products at the market
Baguettes at the market
Baguettes at the market
Far Breton, traditional dessert in Brittany
Fresh croissants
Cookies from Brittany in a store in Pornic
Mark, addicted to croissants

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