Eating as a Way of Living

Salut, y’all! Since the last post, I have attended not one, but two dinner parties! Crazy, considering French dinner parties were something of lore for me. The first party was a surprise to me. Shortly after we returned from the city on Saturday, I was informed that we would be attending a party at Martine’s cousin’s apartment. I was pretty nervous because just thinking about being surrounded by more than three French speakers (and slow ones at that) gave me mal au ventre. As it turns out, it wasn’t all that bad. I just didn’t get involved in the conversation much because they all spoke much too fast for me to keep up. It just allowed me to have more time to enjoy the food. The second party was a bit more special.

As I may have mentioned previously, the parents of the family I am staying with are both orchestra musicians. A famous trombonist was coming to town and Bernard, himself a trombonist, had invited him to dinner. I had helped smooth things over through email because the visitor was British and Bernard was worried that his english good enough. He really wanted to impress this guy so he planned to do the whole shebang. He wanted to cook up Coq au Vin, a famous Bourguignonne dish, and pull his best wines from his cave. If you didn’t know, Burgundy is a pretty celebrated wine region so this stuff was going to be the very best. He cooked the coq a day before and let me tell you: the house smelled absolutely heavenly. I actually made this dish for my parents a week before I left as a sort of parting gift, but the real stuff was beyond compare (sorry Mom&Dad!). During the party, I tried about five different wines and if you know me, I’m not really a wine fan. Sure I drink wine, but when I do I prefer the sweet stuff. But this was real wine and I actually really enjoyed every one that I tried. Apparently Corton-Charlemagne is super special stuff and I had the great honor of trying it in the region in which it was created! Quelle chance! If I had to guess, I think the dinner partied lasted about 5 hours, from aperitif to dessert. This leads me to something I’ve found will be a lasting impression from France.

Something that strikes me as an ever-interesting cultural difference is the way in which the French eat. I don’t mean they chew with their mouths open or anything, but the simple ways in which they go about enjoying a meal. I wouldn’t say it’s meditative exactly, but there’s something so much more thoughtful and meaningful in how they eat. Every meal is a tranquil (or somewhere along those lines) gathering wherein enough time is spent together that you actually get quality time with people. Every meal, even breakfast in a small way, consists of multiple courses. This caught me by surprise initially; I never expected regular meals to have so many parts. Let me break it down for you a bit:

  • le petit-déjeuner: starts with a fruit usually, then perhaps a soft-boiled egg, followed by however many pieces of bread and spreads you’d like, and accompanied by a tea/cafe in a bowl (my personal favorite part of breakfast)
  • le déjeuner: starts with a fruit, then salad – this is where you start eating bread-, then the main course which usually has a protein with carbs (usually potatoes of some sort) and vegetables, then sometimes followed by yogurt or cheese and bread, of course
  • le dîner: follows almost exactly the same way as lunch, except without the fruit and yogurt, usually it just ends with cheese.

Contrary to what I had previously believed, moderation is not a part of the French meal. The French eat A LOT during meals. I always feel completely stuffed by the end of lunch and dinner. Perhaps this is due to the fact that they don’t typically snack in between meals. However, sometimes there is an aperitif sometime before dinner. Or a snack during the week when Camille comes back from school and we eat this little chocolate cakes, yum! That reminds me of another small cake-like thing which I adore here, pain d’épices, which is a Dijon classic apparently. It is a tiny, round, light and fluffy cake filled with jam. If I can’t bring some back to the states with me then I think I’ll have to stay here forever! Also: the bread!!!! I consume so much bread and cheese now, I don’t even know how it’s possible. My stomach must be a bottomless pit. However, I realize I cannot eat this way and expect not to gain a bunch of weight. Therefore, I’ve decided I will walk into town more often. Sure a 4 miles of walking every few days or so should be enough to combat the fat that must be collecting around my heart right now. Another thing that’s different is that, during meals, it is normal or typical (maybe even obligatory) to wipe your plate clean at the end of the meal – with a piece of bread, of course! All in all, each meal lasts around an hour or more, but that’s more typical for dinner than anything else. This simple yet profound difference between the French and Americans is very interesting to me. The simple ritual of eating feels altogether more purposeful. It seems to me that days here are based around meals – and not just so that you can stuff your face, but for you to have the ability to slow down and feed your body and mind. This is something that I am sure I will miss about France. Hopefully this is something I can incorporate into my life back in the states, as well as a more athletic lifestyle!

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