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Thursday, July 8, 2010

France - The 2010 FIFA World Cup Bites and Boozes


French cuisine is one of the most world-renowned food cultures on the planet.  While to some it may be one of the easiest World Cup tour posts to imagine, for me it is one of the most difficult to write.  What should I focus on?  Classic French culinary techniques?  Haute Cuisine?  Champagne, Cognac, Bordeaux? This is tough!  My real challenge here is to try to be creative and find something that isn't so obvious.  However, in doing my research, I realized that I ought not to focus on one dish, but rather offer a glimpse of what French food is really all about.

Camille Lepage wrote an article for Spiked Online in which she revealed why her country's food culture is still alive and well despite the immigration of "Le Big Mac."  In the article, Camille, a French woman, begins with a bit about the history of French cuisine before getting into the real meat of the article: why French food is far superior to that of the English. I found this paragraph to be particularly insightful: "... France remains at the heart of global food culture. It’s not all about what we eat, it’s also about the way we do it. Yes, we are fond of food itself, but we also crave the social aspect of eating. We pay a lot of attention to the way we eat, cook and how we share our meals. Lunch and dinner are sacred in France - they are particular moments of the day during which people talk and spend time together. In France, it’s rare to see a person on his or her own in a restaurant, and even rarer to see someone walking and eating at the same time in the streets, sights which are commonplace in the UK."  Camille goes on to say, "As a French person, my expectations towards food are high; after a year and half in England, I have never found a restaurant worthy of the name. Prices are lower here (England), but I’d rather pay more and have the quality I can find back home at any corner of any street. The British do not make food, they heat it. Most of the food you can find in restaurants in the UK has been frozen and is warmed up before being served on a plate."

HAHA... "the British don't make food, they heat it!"  I find that to be hilarious, and indeed also true of plenty of American cuisine.  In many ways we really are a "Fast Food Nation," afraid to slow down and care about what goes into our food or the process by which it is prepared.  We want instant food, ready for consumption with just a zap from a microwave or a quick stroll through a drive-thru window.  This is also, in my mind, what separates chefs from cooks in America. The vast majority of chain restaurants (and even locally owned establishments) have set menus that require no extra creativity or passion.  The employees simply cook the food that has been given to them in an often frozen and ultra-processed form.  If there is one thing that can be said about French food, it is that there is too much passion in the average citizen to let that kind of "heating" qualify as their national cuisine.  I say good for them.

And now for some adult beverages... There are plenty to choose from in France, but I found something other wine, champagne, cognac, and beer (for which you can check out the BR Beer Scene).

Pastis is the most popular aperitif in France. Aniseed flavoured aperitifs (Pastis is made with anise, licorice and other aromatic plants) were developped in South France (Marseille) after World War I, when Absinthe, an alcool that was considered as too dangerous, was forbidden. Paul Ricard launched in 1932 "the real Pastis from Marseille" and Pastis became popular all over France. Surprisingly, average Pastis consumption today is higher in Northern France regions that in South. Average price of a 1 liter bottle of Pastis in France is around 15 Euros ($14) and more than 80% of this price is in taxes. Famous Pastis brands are Ricard, Pernod, Pastis 51, Duval, Casanis and Berger.

Although many people, including in bars and cafes serve Pastis and then add water and ice, the "official" way is to put water first. 1 volume of Pastis for 5 volumes of water is the traditional proportion but if you want it more refreshing, you can add up to 10 volumes of water. Pastis is popular abroad and in some countries is served in a way that would horrify the French "purists". In France "le "perroquet" and "la tomate" are 2 famous Pastis cocktails : Un perroquet : pastis, mint sirup, water. Une tomate : pastis, grenadine sirup, water. Pastis is also used in several fish, meat or dessert recipes.

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