Thursday, 5 October 2006

The price of bread

Visit a supermarket in England and it's the price of petrol which is usually proudly displayed outside.

Visit a French supermarket, though, and there's always a board outside with 'prix du pain' - the price of bread.

I think that reflects something about the French character. Not just the central place that food has in French culture, but importance of bread itself. After all, the rest of the world calls the baguette the 'French stick'.

Visit a French village anywhere and you'll find it has a boulanger - a baker's shop, and importantly,  one that's making its own bread. There's no 'Hovis' or 'Mother's Pride' here - bread is a local product, not a branded one.

Every meal comes with bread. Eat with a French family and you'll find the plates are already clean when they go to be washed up, because everyone has wiped the plate down with a piece of bread to enjoy the last of the sauce, gravy or salad dressing. (I have been told, though, that this is not polite behaviour - best not to do it at the Crillon or the British Embassy.)

Most foreigners think the French eat croissants for breakfast. In fact, they're more likely to have a 'tartine' - baguette with butter and, if you fancy real luxury, jam.

It's anathema to eat bread that was baked two days ago. Part of French life is that you should be close enough to the boulanger that you always have fresh bread. Of course, that raises problems when the baker goes on holiday - but in my local village, they have a nice little deal with the supermarket, which doesn't sell bread except when the baker's away.

And it still leaves the problem of what you do on Monday, when like all good local French businesses, the boulanger is closed.

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