Tuesday, 6 November 2007

French food has quite a reputation.

I’m not known among my circle of friends as a food critic, but I find eating in France interesting.
I hate their habit of not eating until 7pm at the earliest, by which time I’m usually ready to take a chunk out of the table, and of allowing cats to sit on white table cloths whilst you eat. (My dh chased it, upon which it looked outraged, gave him a filthy look and prowled off to find a more amiable patron.)

I like their habit of eating outside in the sunshine, of taking time over a meal and rarely, if ever, pressuring a customer to move on and free a table for the next customer. I also love (most of) their crème brûlees. I think of possibly 80, only two have been less than good.

It isn’t that I think their chefs are better than English chefs though they do seem to have more of the good ones than we do. But we’re getting there. French customers seem to have higher expectations than we do, and they are not slow to make their views known.

Their produce does seem to be fresher than ours. Walnuts fell off the trees at our door while we were there, and I collected a huge amount and laid them out on the bolly floor to dry, in a a big flat circle. Almost every night something nudged and rolled those walnuts along the floor, while we were asleep just on the other side of the wall, wondering what was out there.

Farmers harvest vegetables take them to a local market and sell them the same day. Tomatoes bought under these circumstances are gorgeous, and sliced, covered with garlic olive oil and fresh basil and eaten in the sunshine with fresh bread, are just divine. Avocados this year in England have been sorry things, either rock hard or bruised and going brown inside. Bought in Monsieur LeClerc’s supermarket, they were at a peak of perfection, soft and fresh, with skins that were hard and peeled off like thick paper. Prunes from Agen, about 60 miles from Bergerac, were so much more plump and juicy than the ones that come all the way from California.

Bananas came from the Ivory coast, not Costa Rica.

Bergerac is not a huge town. It sits on the Dordogne, not far from the sea, and French rivers provide fresh water fish. Pike is always on the menu, as well as bigger, fatter sardines than we usually see here. LeClerc’s beautifully arranged fish counter is four and five times the size of the counter in my local Tesco, and yet we have the bigger population and are supposed to be a nation of fish eaters. Perhaps we are just a nation of haddock, chip and cod eaters. Mind you, I don’t think I want to go as far as having a tank with live crabs in it just waiting to be selected…

The meat counters boast cuts of meat we never see in my supermarket. Rabbits are always on sale, and boar and duck, with pates and sausages of every variety. My mouth is watering just thinking about it, and do you know, I can remember the different smells of the meat and fruit counters – then there are the bread counters and the patisseries – expensive, but to die for and only to be sampled now and again.

I think it is time for lunch…I’ve talked myself into it.

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