Mont St. Michel … Versailles … food … only in France …

What do you know: Unesco (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) headquartered in Paris, has just declared the festive French meal a natural heritage.

Cezanne painting

What do you know: Unesco (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) headquartered in Paris, has just declared the festive French meal a natural heritage.

This had happened at a meeting in Nairobi (Kenya); ironically Kenya is on the African continent where death of starvation is a daily occurrence.

But let me not be a spoilsport.

Yes, one eats well in France, too well according to the French Ministry of Health which has been trying for a few years now to get the French to eat less because they have become fat. Fat? This is a laugh because the French are the slimmest people in the world. Ask me, because I know the frustration of not having been born French and therefore not having a French girl’s physique which means that I can’t even get a size 38 (French size) dress over my head, and a size 34 (French size) shoe would not even cover my toes. Ask me, because I know the embarrassment of a saleslady looking me up and down and telling me, “We do not stock your size!”

So, what is so great about a festive meal in France?

According to a poll undertaken by Étude Harris Interactive for the Fondation Nestlé on November 9, the French spend not less than 90 minutes at table.  Sitting down with family and/or friends is looked on as a ‘real moment of happiness’. The television is dark, the mobile/cell phone is switched off, the room is well-lit; yes, there are candles on the table, but no one has to grope around in the dark trying to fork a pea or a grilled cherry tomato.

And what’s on the menu?

This morning’s Paris daily, le Parisien gives typical dishes.

There will be an aperitif to start with. It could be olives from Nyons in south-east France, or Creole boudin (pig’s liver and heart) sausages.  There are two types of boudin: white and black, and the black contains the pig’s blood too.

The first course (entrée) could be cold colin (hake) fish fillets with asparagus.

The main course is often roast veal with crème normande (apple and cream sauce). It is served with a gratin daupinois (potato and cheese baked in the oven).

Next on the menu will be a cheese platter. Cheese is not ordered very often these days when eating in restaurants though once any gourmet would have told you, quoting Jean Anthelme Brillant-Savarin, the 19th century French gastronome, that a meal without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.

The dessert will follow (yes, in France the dessert comes after the cheese.  A favorite is a mille-feuille, but no one will turn down a fresh fruit salad.

Several wines will be served. A Burgundy will accompany the olives, a Sancerre the fish, a Bordeaux the meat and … wait for it … Champagne the dessert.

The evening will end with black coffee and Armagnac.

And if you ask for an Alka-Seltzer or an Eno Fruit Salt you will never be invited back for dinner.

So, do remember, eat slowly and you will be just fine.

And bear in mind that what you are eating is, along with Mont St Michel and the château of Versailles, a national monument.

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

3 Responses

11-17-2010 at 14:42:51

Ahhh, how I remember such meals. Matt and I always eat at the dining table and do not have the TV on, but of course we rarely sit down to such an extensive meal. Funny, the word apperitif has come to mean a pre-dinner drink in the English speaking world. I didn’t even know it had another meaning.

Nor did I realise the French ate black pudding which we used to eat a lot of in the UK although today a decent black pudding is difficult to get hold of.

11-17-2010 at 18:41:46

Oh yes, we eat like that every day, except we wouldn’t dream of omitting the cheese course. 🙂

11-18-2010 at 09:29:39

I can handle that sort of a feast at lunch time, or dinner, but not on Christmas Eve when they start at bedtime and go on into the small hours. That is just too much! Especially as by 11pm everyone is stuffed with apero nibbles and then have to face a huge, rich meal on top. No wonder Christmas Day itself is a right-off. They are all recovering from gross overindulgence, and stuffing liver salts.

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