Sunday, 1 June 2008

Food and travel - French markets

The French market is a microcosm of modern France. From the food on display, you can track France's colonial migrations -  and understand its regionalisms.

For instance on our local market in Ezy-sur-Eure, the inner circle of food is from Normandy. Fine cheeses - Camembert,  Pont l'Eveque, Livarot.  (Only Camembert is widely known outside France.) A predominance of beef, horsemeat (there are still two boucheries chevalines), and above all pork. Lamb and mutton are hardly seen at all - whereas in the south, with its sparse, dry limestone landscape, you'd see far more. And while we have goat's cheese, there's no goat meat available (tough if I want to cook a Caribbean curry). Local cream, rich and thick, and local butter, and of course our alcoholic specialities - cider and calvados, and 'eau de vie de cidre', which sounds complicated but is just 'calvados' that comes from producers outside the eponymous d√©partement.

Then there are the regional specialities. There's a Breton stall selling kouign amann, a caramelised, layered pastry concoction. There's a Corsican stall which sells excellent hams and cheeses, including very fine sheep's and goat's milk cheeses and sausages from the wild boar.

And then there are the stalls serving up food from other nations that came under the sway of France. No West African stalls, alas (you'll find those in Paris), but several which sell North African spices and groceries - couscous, preserved lemons, coriander and cardamom and little tubes of wickedly hot harissa paste. And a Vietnamese traiteur from whom you can buy little dim sum like pastries and noodle dishes.

We Brits often excoriate ourselves for having no national cuisine. We're crap at cooking, we say - that's why Indian and Chinese food have been so successful in England. But the success of Indian food has far more to do with the expansion of the British Empire into India and Pakistan - and the failure of the French to expand from their redoubt at Pondicherry - than it does with a failure of local cuisine.

After all, the French still have a strong culinary tradition of their own. But it hasn't stopped Algerian and Vietnamese cooking becoming well known - as well as Chinese good.

3 comments:

  1. Hello

    I enjoyed reading your blog about the French markets, we currently live in Calvados near St Sever and visit the local marketing on a regular basis and find your report very true, the French are not the greatest at marketing themselves.

    I think the Brits are missing out on lots of great regional products. I personally love Livarot, Calvados, Pomeau, and I could list many other things we enjoy on a regular basis. This is part of the reason we set up www.calvadosonline.co.uk, we personally visited the producers and sampled all the products we have on the site giving the connoisseur and restaurateur the opportunity to enjoy a great range of vintage Calvados, some not available elsewhere in the UK.

    Yes we have had Indian and Chinese here but not quite the same as in the UK.
    The authentic taste has been adapted to the UK palette in the same way it had been change here for the French palette.
    Any comments please feel free to contact helen@calvadosonline.co.uk

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  2. Great comment Helen - thanks for that. You must have had a lot of fun visiting all the producers. One of the great things about French markets and even car boots is that you so often have a wine producer selling direct, or local farms selling their jams, syrups, and aperitifs.

    By the way, do you know what's hapened to the proposed French legislation taking away the right of householders to operate a small distillery? I heard a story about that last year but haven't heard anything since. Since we are modest alcohol producers ourselves (mainly beer and wine, but some spirits, and when I say modest, we drink it all ourselves) I'd like to find out!

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  3. [...] Food and travel - French marketsLamb and mutton are hardly seen at all - whereas in the south, with its sparse, dry limestone landscape, you’d see far more. And while we have goat’s cheese, there’s no goat meat available (tough if I want to cook a Caribbean curry). … [...]

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