One of the things I love most in this world is, undoubtedly, food. I find myself constantly counting down the hours and minutes until my next meal, and my parents often like to remind me of the way my younger self used to hum a joyful tune whenever there was food in my mouth.
This love for all things edible was bestowed upon me from a very early age because- well, I lived in France, so that made it kind of inevitable- but also because I was always surrounded by food-enthusiasts. From my Father’s fondness of all things sweet (which I definitely inherited), to my two Grandmothers’ incredible cooking skills (both for sweet and savoury foods), it was like I had no choice but to immediately fall in love with the many drool-worthy delicacies that my birth country had to offer. I have grown to develop a great appreciation for food, which paired with my big appetite have often led me to wonder if I might love food just a little too much.
Having lived in Australia for almost 6 years now, it is with great shame and despair that I must confess I have grown rather accustomed to the Australian regime of cheddar cheese, gravy sauce and on-the-go sandwiches. Only when I return to France do I remember just what heavenly experience I’m missing out on.
But what exactly am I missing out on? I get asked this rather frequently, what with France being famous for its delightful recipes. Often, I find myself unable to give a truly satisfying response. Because although some meals are specifically French, most of the time it is not what we cook but how we cook, or even eat it that makes all the difference. Just to give you an idea, here is what my family and I would eat on a typical day in the south of France.
Probably the main contrasts between French eating and Australian eating is that Australians eat to live, while in France we live to eat. This makes all the difference when appreciating food.
Most of my friends here in Australia skip breakfast, but one of the things that I miss the most about living in France is walking out into the cold in the early morning and heading down to the village boulangerie, where the heat of the ovens and the smells of the freshly baked bread are enough to uplift your mood for the entire day. For breakfast we will usually eat buttered baguette dipped in coffee or, for the kids, hot chocolate; and on special days (or, you know, not), we will also treat ourselves to some croissants, chocolatines or other vienoiseries.
Our family took a while to get used to the on-the-go sandwiches at lunch here in Australia. Back home, we would be let out of school/work for 2 whole hours just so we would have time to properly prepare, eat and even digest a home-cooked meal. This meal would generally resemble an Australian dinner, and may consist of anything from spaghetti bolognaise, to baked potatoes, or my personal favourite as a child: blanquette de veau. Yum.
To further enhance the meal and enrich the experience, this will be accompanied not just by a salad, but by some more baguette and cheese (and I don’t mean cheddar, but the likes of camembert, chevre and roquefort), before finishing off with dessert (for example, yoghurt and strawberries). Seriously, Yum!
Upon returning from school/work we would enjoy a sweet afternoon tea (personally my favourite meal of the day), which might consist of more baguette (yes, I know, we eat a lot of bread), pastries or crepes, the way we used to have every Wednesday afternoon at my great grandmother’s.
Finally, just as you’re thinking your stomach can’t take any more, it can, and you sit down as a family to enjoy another home-cooked dinner (which might be leftovers from lunch, to give mum a break from cooking), punctuated of course by more bread and cheese and maybe wine before another dessert.
Reading this might have made you hungry, and it has probably also raised the question: “How on earth do the French stay so thin when eating so much food?” It doesn’t seem to make sense, I know, but really by spending so much time cooking and eating we tend to be more aware of what we are putting into our bodies. We like to enjoy our food, yes, but meanwhile our diet remains balanced and there are no rushed trips to maccas because we didn’t have time to cook- we devote time in our busy days to prepare and enjoy nice, nutritious meals.
On that note I must leave you, it is almost time for my daily cheddar and ham sandwich. *sigh*.