Anneli Faiers spoke to us recently about her choice of moving her family abroad, here she digs a little deeper into the way the French honour their food and how they continue to support local producers. Maybe we should take something from her post?
When you think of French food, it would most likely include a glass or two of red wine and some freshly baked baguette and cheese. This trio of delicious things are the quintessential components that most of us imagine when we picture an idyllic French meal. And we would be fairly right to do so.
The French food culture has a lot to be admired. They are fiercely proud of of their cuisine and quite adamant that it is the best in the world! Whether or not you agree with that is up for debate but I can vouch for the fact that they do things differently here and I think they do it very well.
The culture of local markets is a big thing with a market everyday of the week in each of the villages all around. Full of local produce, little old ladies selling their vegetables straight from their garden. Or the man who sells cheese that he made in the traditional way. Fresh eggs laid by chickens that very day, hand made cakes and bread, butchers selling only locally sourced meats. An abundance of foodie delights to inspire and excite you every way you turn.
And for me, this is the key. The locality. The support of the little guy. The commitment to producing quality food locally. In the UK, everyone loves a Farmers Market and the desire to eat this way is building, with food provenance becoming more and more important to the customer. But it is hard to sustain in a world where supermarket giants dominate and price wars make eating local produce expensive.
Here in France, the focus is more on the produce itself rather than the price. Tiny villages with populations of merely a few hundred people manage to sustain a Bakery and a Butchers shop where the locals go each day for fresh bread, pastries and meat. It’s amazing really if you consider the problems facing local shops on UK high streets who are being pushed out of business by supermarkets every single day.
It is as though these rural villages are frozen in time. Admittedly, this throws up it’s own set of issues. For example it can be hard to source more unusual ingredients as there is so little imported produce. Also, vegetables are all seasonal so of course that also has it’s limitations. But honestly, these inconveniences are far outweighed by the benefits that come from eating in season, the knowledge that your food has not travelled hundreds of thousands of miles to reach you and that you continue to support these local farmers who rely on your custom, therefore keeping these beautiful villages alive.
Another interesting facet of food culture here is how the many little restaurants manage to survive in this economic climate in areas that have such sparse population. But once again, the habits of the French differ to ours and easily sustain a healthy restaurant scene. The daily lunchtime ‘Menu Du Jour’ offered as the norm is so affordable and of such good quality that the locals can afford to enjoy it much more regularly than you might think.
The French tend to make this their main meal of the day and everything grinds to a halt for the two hours between 1200 and 1400 which are devoted to eating. Three or even four courses are typically offered along with a glass of wine for no more than 14 Euros, often even less. You cannot argue with that outstanding value for money.
The restauranteurs manage this by sourcing their ingredients locally and cheaply. They offer just one or two options per course, thus limiting their need to order in lots of different ingredients. Instead they maximise return by limiting choice and keeping their costs low.
Mealtimes are very important to the French and that extends itself in to the schools. My daughter receives a three course meal everyday. Typically she begins with a salad or soup, followed by a hot meal and a dessert. It has taught her to be much more adventurous with her food and for that I am very grateful.
So rural French food culture may seem a little old fashioned perhaps, but long may it continue to be so I say. Don’t get me wrong, there are of course big supermarkets here where convenience and price whisper their seductive call. And they may one day win. But that day will be a sad one. I am happy to be frozen in time for the foreseeable future…
Anneli Faiers is the author of Delicieux, a blog all about food and recipes straight from her farmhouse kitchen in SW France. She is a Mum of 2 and also works as a Private Chef when time allows. You can also find her on Twitter