It’s true that I got away with a grand total of 2 months of blogging more or less about France without mentioning what basically holds together a country (or more like kaleidoscopic concoction of regions) which regularly is halted in its development by mass strikes and the president’s exmodel wife’s scandalous naked photos being sold at auctions, where productivity is plagued by a 35-hour-work-week and drinking a bottle of wine during a 2-hour lunch break is not a luxury, but a basic human right.
Of course, food and drink constitute the glue of social cohesion and basic civility in France and ensure that the 62 million inhabitants of L’Hexagone still have something to talk to each other about.
Quick summary: we all know France is the culinary capital of the world, right? (Well, all of us who aren’t Italian). And the culinary, or gastronomic as the French prefer, capital of France is Lyon, the 3rd largest city and home not only to local bouchons but that culinary giant, Paul Bocuse.
Whole encyclopedias have been written about French cuisine. I tend to wax poetic as well about everything from the variety of produce available at my local street market to the cappuccino at the brasserie at the corner. Seriously, just look:
But if you can disengage your eyes from this image for just a second, please direct your eyes to the photo at the top of the page as I take you step by step through a magical meal on a mountaintop and dissect it as an almost-perfect French meal.
1) A freshly baked baguette which just like the perfect man is a bit crunchy and crusty on the exterior, but with a soft, slightly mushy inside soul. Available at every French bakery, outdoor market stall, even supermarket or corner convenience store (the baguette, not the man, malheureusement).
2) Cheese. From the round look of the thing I would assume we are dealing with camembert (also, the photo was taken 3 years ago and I don’t think we had, as students, very much purchasing power at the time). Regardless, you can get delicious cheeses of any kind for hardly more than a few euros; again, most of your local shops and definitely supermarkets and outdoor markets are overflowing with variety. I personally am especially enamored of goat cheese.
3) Nutella. Whoops, not exactly French in origin. But the French have made it, like so many other things, their own. Case in point: crepes with banana and nutella, the best ever traveller’s meal (if you have wet wipes to clean the remains off your face and fingers). French also make little sandwiches with nutella and dip them into bowls of morning coffee, hot chocolate, or plain milk.
4) Olives. Most likely imported, albeit there are plenty of olive trees growing in the South of France, Provence, especially if you believe all the Americans and Englishmen who went down there, bought decaying olive plantations, saved them from extinction, and then wrote books about it. Personally, I got mine from LIDL for about a euro a can at the time, and I couldn’t complain.
5) Some unknown dip thingie. I seriously cannot figure out what it is, but let me take this occasion to say that the French are crazy about dairy products and this very well may be one of them. Cheese aside, dairy product aisles in supermarkets are a world unto themselves where ‘milk products’ as they are called compete for attention by brightly colored packaging in what would otherwise be a world of white. See! I managed to write a whole paragraph to disguise the fact that I have no idea what I am talking about. Seriously though, the dairy selection is impressive (but I should know what is in that container, darn it).
6) Gorgeous background of mountains. Free and available in most regions of the country. The photo above was taken at Pic St. Loup, a ‘mountain’ in the Herault region of Languedoc-Roussillon (aka known as my favorite place in the country), about 20 km from Montpellier.
Sigh. I am labeling this under “Why I Love France”, because it’s a large part of why I miss it so much.