“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
–Ernest Hemmingway, “A Moveable Feast”
Dining in France is an experience unlike anything else.
It is clear the French have a great reverence for food and dining. French cuisine is strongly influenced by the different regions of France, and a great deal of pride goes into preparing the dishes.
Diet habits have changed over time, but the French have never ceased to hold a high regard for their mealtime rituals. Food must be pleasing to the tongue as well as to the eye. The presentation of the food is almost as important as the actual quality of the food itself.
Compared to American dining, meals are enjoyed much more slowly and deliberately. The French love to spend hours upon hours at bistros, people-watching and leisurely savoring each course of their meal. In fact, the French take two-hour lunch breaks so that they can go home or out to enjoy a full meal.
And, of course, one cannot talk about French meals without giving proper attention to the all-important accompaniment – wine. Pairing each course with the right wine is an essential part of any French meal. Wine is not saved for special occasions, but rather, it is a regular part of the meal and is carefully selected to compliment each course.
A typical French meal consists of four courses: an appetizer, a main course, a cheese course and a dessert. It is common for meals to begin with an aperitif, a drink before the meal, and for additional drinks to be selected to go with each course.
I recently took a French cooking class and had the pleasure of experiencing firsthand the labor that goes into preparing a typical French meal. It took four students and one professional chef about two and a half hours to prepare the four-course meal, but upon tasting the fruits of our labors, I believed it to be well worth the effort.
For my cooking course, we began with a starter dish known as a royal, a savory flan made from a cheese and bread base. The royal was served with caramelized mushrooms and a cooked cabbage dish.
Next, le plat principal, the main course, consisted of duck breast with a honey glaze accompanied by a port wine reduction, roasted figs, a rocket salad, and an onion and risotto side dish called rice soubise. It was all absolutely phenomenal.
After the main course, a cheese selection follows. The French always have a cheese course after the main meal and before dessert so that they can enjoy it more fully.
Cheese is never served as an appetizer in France, and the French take their cheese very seriously.
And finally, no French meal is complete without dessert. My class finished our meal with moelleux au chocolat, or chocolate lava cake. It was delicious and the perfect finish to a decedent French meal.
French dining is very much an integral part of French culture. The whole experience was a lesson in taking time to fully indulge all of one’s senses and simply enjoy the company and the cuisine.
Though my French cooking class was a wonderful experience and the meal was delicious, the most memorable lesson I take away is the pleasure that comes with slowing down and enjoying the process. That is something that will surely stay with me.
A moveable (and delicious) feast