A Proud Nation
French cuisine is more than just food- it’s an art form. There are few nations that compare to France when it comes to the sheer presentation of their dishes. Cultivated over years and years of dynamic nobility structures, France takes great pride in their cuisine, and it shows.
Long-Lasting Class System
The class system has been a major contributor to France’s cuisine. In medieval times, nobility would feast on hefty meals of game, meat, fruits, and grains, while the peasants mostly consumed legumes and vegetables. Spices were not readily available to most, and were considered a symbol of status. When the first cookbook was released by Francois La Varennes in 1651, followed by the French Revolution in in 1789, cooking studies began to spread across the region and, more importantly, the world. Today, France has garnered a prestigious culinary reputation, and is considered high-class and fancy to many around the globe.
Art or Food?
The French are very selective with their ingredients, and elect to utilize only the best. Often, French dishes feature wine, cheese, oils, seasonal vegetables, fish, game, and herbs de Provence– a blend of spices including rosemary, thyme, lavender, dill fennel, bay leaves, and sage. Snails and oysters are also very common ingredients. There are multiple styes of cuisine in France. In the 1800s, there was a shift in importance from the abundance of food, over to the quality and presentation. Thus Haute Cuisine (high cuisine) was born. Shortly thereafter, in the 1900s, there was an emphasis placed upon freshness, lighter meals, and higher quality ingredients, known as Nouvelle cooking. If possible, the French population like to incorporate wine, to some capacity, with every meal.
Many visionary cooking methods hail from France. Sauté directly translates to “jump” in French, referencing the actions that ingredients take in a hot pan utilizing this popular style. Many meats and game are braised, covered in a low pot to cook over low heat. Braising meats tends to make them more tender, juicy, and delicious. Additionally, France invented the Flambe. Using a flammable alcohol, chefs can preserve the aroma and flavor of their food upon burning the alcohol away.
If you’ve been to a French restaurant, you’ve probably been tempted by something known as Soupe a l’oignon (AKA French onion soup). This popular soup was once a peasant meal, dating back from the 18th century. Filled with rich, caramelized onion and topped with bread and plenty of melted Swiss or gruyere cheese, it’s difficult to find something not to like about this dish. For a fresher, lighter meal, Ratatouille has become one of the most iconic dishes from the region. Shallow-fried vegetables are layered in rows or patterns in a casserole dish, then baked at an oven to produce a rich yet fresh flavor. It is customary for cheese plates to be enjoyed after dinner, rather than before, as a sort of dessert.
France is known for its mild climate, which makes for a fruitful growing season. The warmer summers help crops grow and mature, with a longer season for production and harvest. With fresh, fertile soil, some of the highest-quality grapes are produced in the wine-growing regions of the country, and the mountainous regions aid in producing the top-quality dairy products that are synonymous with France.
If you go to a French restaurant, odds are that you will be enjoying flavors from the Southern part of France. The dining experience in France is just that– an experience which is a cultural foundation of the country. French citizens prefer to take their time while they eat, placing an emphasis more on community rather than casual meals. In fact, dejeuner (lunch) is considered the most important meal of the day, and is looked at as a time to relax, unwind, and enjoy the company of loved ones. Bon Appetit!