Jenny’s School Dinners

Left: English pet Right: French school dinner

Enough worthy political articles, I hear you say. What we, your legions of readers, really want to know is what they’re eating. Lo, I provide.

So what are the Frenchies eating? Still frogs’ legs, tripe, and pigs’ feet?, you chortle. Well, yes, actually. They’re mostly consuming the same things they’ve enjoyed for the last few centuries. Overcooked vegetables, a lot of obscure bits of meat, delicious baked goods, and plenty of cheap wine.

It does of course depend on where you happen to be in France. In Paris, they are eating falafel, sushi, and Thai food, just like all the residents of most western capital cities. Out here in the provinces, however, things are a little more trad.

As means of demonstration, we will take my lycée, whose food is mostly very good, and whose chef’s name is mentioned on the school’s website.

At school, you choose an entrée, plat du jour, dessert, and cheese. I have eaten paella, mussels, delicious beef stews, patisserie “maison”, and a lot of good fromage. What is more amazing than the range is that the kids happily eat all this stuff. On the day of moules-frites, I saw hundreds of fifteen year olds expertly extracting from their bowls of mussel shells, and then going on to eat yoghurts and fruit to finish. The concept of the “fussy eater” does not seem to exist, because if you don’t like the dish of the day you will end up with a plate of one carbohydrate and some vegetables in butter.

At Christmas they had foie gras, which I disagree with and don’t eat, but was still impressed by in a run-of-the-mill academic establishment in the middle of France. Centering for a moment on the concept of “disagreeing with food”, what, you ask, do vegetarians do? They don’t. Since being here I have met precisely one vegetarian, who seemed to have a pretty miserable time eating the aforementioned boiled-to-mush vegetables with buttery pasta.

Sometimes the meat and offal is too much for me. Last week the options on Tuesday were veal or kidneys. Another dark day was choosing between rabbit or ‘sanglier’ – wild boar.

Attitudes and shopping habits are changing in France. Obesity is catching on, with Macdo and Quick Burger. You can find the same kinds of processed crap in every French supermarket that we have in the UK (or US). However, some things remain sacred.

1) Bread. No French person would be seen dead freezing their bread. You buy bread fresh, every day, from the boulangerie down the road, no questions asked. One baguette per family member, with half for lunch and half for dinner.

2) The Sunday meal. Still an observed tradition. As I have written before, Sunday is dead in France, even in some quartiers of Paris, because people see their family, and eat together. They will also pay a visit to the patisserie, spending unbelievable amounts on amazing gateaux, and macaroons for the kids. Most families will cook up a large, roasted chicken or joint of meat.

3) The courses. The idea of someone saying “can I have this starter as a main course”, or “I want the formule, , but no dessert” would be considered in quite poor taste. The French like a strict meal composition, and if you don’t want three proper courses you can go and make your own damn food, crétin.

On the whole, you need to eat French food the way the French do, or you will put on gross amounts of weight. ONE croissant with a black coffee, not a pain au chocolat, pain au raisin, jam, and cereal. Don’t eat a baguette to yourself with butter in one sitting. Eat a French sized portion of pudding, which does not mean the whole cake. The French do not, as a rule, eat between meals either, except a bit of grignoter – nibbling – with an aperitif.

Finally, if you don’t like intestines, stomachs, and feet on your plate, don’t, whatever you do, go to Lyon.

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One Comment on “Jenny’s School Dinners”

  1. James Says:

    I would not enjoy the choice between rabbit and wild boar, but I suspect it would not be for the same reason as you. Have you ever tried rabbit or hare? It is really full of flavour and can be quite delicious. Wild boar is just pork, but more so.

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