October 9, 2019
We have been traveling in France for close to six weeks now, and I think it’s time to fess up: I hate French food.
It’s not the food itself — taken on its own, it’s pretty good. And it’s not about the prices; by US standards, they seem reasonable enough.
It’s just that, when you are in a situation where you rely upon hotels and restaurants to feed you, the French system doesn’t work very well.
Why not? There are, as always, five good reasons:
- The French don’t understand breakfast. It’s not something they do. They don’t eat eggs at breakfast, or anything else, really. “Real” French people eat bread and drink a cup of bitter coffee at home, or eat a croissant with a cup of bitter coffee at a stand-up cafe. That’s it — no eggs, no French toast, no pancakes, no waffles, no understanding whatsoever of the most enjoyable meal of the day.
- They overemphasize lunch. French people like to go to cafes, brasseries, bistros and restaurants, sit down and order lunch with a first course, main course and dessert, washed down with lots of wine. They do this because they are going back to work to goof off, or because they are going to “faire du shopping”, not because they are driving four hours to the next tourist mecca or climbing a 200 step staircase or bicycling from one town to another. Big lunches are incompatible with afternoon activity, unless that activity is taking a nap.
- They are inflexible. “Have it your way” is not a term that originated in France. If you want something in a restaurant, it had better be on the menu. No substitutions, no excuses, no variations on a theme. Food is served at designated times, and God help you if you are driving hungry through a small town at 4 in the afternoon. Unless the local boulangerie/patisserie is open (and not sold out of sandwiches — they will not make new ones) you will remain hungry.
- There is too much wine. French wines are wonderful, and they are really cheap. Cheaper than a soft drink or bottled water. So you order a bottle, and it is delicious, but a bottle is really too much for two people. But it seems a shame not to drink it, so you do. The consequences are predictable.
- The food is too heavy. Maybe it’s just the southern half of France, but confit du canard (pressed duck), cassoulet, and other dishes are too rich — almost impossible to digest, at least for old-timers like us. Other dishes like veal kidneys and the ever-present foie gras just don’t have much appeal.
At the end of this week, we will be settling in for an extended stay in a village in Provence, at which time we will get back on our standard regimen of cereal (or a baguette) for breakfast, a sandwich and an apple for lunch, and whatever suits our mood for dinner. Right now, we’re just a bit cranky after ten days in a car and/or in hotel rooms.
On the other hand, there are compensations. From earlier this week, a view of Carcassone from just outside the outer walls: