As I am spending my year abroad in France it would be remiss of me not to write a blog about French cuisine. But the thing is, this year I’ve learnt that it doesn’t exist. There is no such thing as ‘French cuisine’. Have I gone mad? How can this be true? Am I confused and really living in Germany?
When we look across the Channel we see France and think of it as an entire unit. Our stereotypes of the French demonstrate this. Everyone in France eats garlic, cheese and baguettes which then gets stuck in their twirly moustaches. But France is divided. Regions which have been suppressed for centuries have kept distinct identities of their own which are now being celebrated. When I have visited friends around the country I have been bombarded with local traditions, languages and delicacies.
The Alsace is a wonderful mix of German and French. It seems to me that they’ve taken the best of both cultures and I love it (except perhaps German efficiency, they could do with a dose of that). The food is essentially bacon, cheese and potatoes. Strasbourg is home of the tarte flambée, like a pizza with a thin base covered in crème fraiche and bacon. Everyone who has visited here has commented on how delicious the food is. The Alsace has a tradition of wine-making that dates back to the Romans, so they know their stuff there. Its sparkling wine (Cremant) even beat real Champagne in competitions!
Brittany is like a country of its own, its language barely resembling French would be more at home in the Welsh valleys. You can have an entire meal there based around the crepe; they are possibly geniuses for doing this. I almost wept with joy when I discovered their buttery salted caramel. The fact that they wash this all with cider pleases my West Country side immensely.
Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France. Here I discovered treats made from bright pink praline; I am still thinking about the brioche. I also discovered offal. Lots of offal. It’s a great place to learn obscure pieces of French vocabulary such as brains and tripe. The tipple of choice here is Beaujolais, a lovely light red wine.
So perhaps it is an exaggeration to say that French cuisine doesn’t exist. There are traditional dishes that you find everywhere. The croque monsieur (basically a ham and cheese toastie, but more delicious) is omnipresent. When I asked my French flatmate if he drank wine he gave me a look as if I’d asked him if he drank liquids. But when you go to France don’t get bogged down finding frogs’ legs and snails or even a croque monsieur. Discover the regional cuisine and your stomach will thank you (just be careful in Lyon or you might end up with a cow’s muzzle on your plate)!