Any mention of food is incomplete without mentioning the French Cuisine, whose influence can be seen on most other western cuisines. France the city of lovers is also a food lover’s heaven, with its diverse and delicious culinary offerings. The different cooking traditions in France are all the more significant as they have been perfected over centuries through various experimentation. French cuisine is world renowned, and UNESCO has included French gastronomy in the list of World’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.
The wide variety of cheese, rich sauces, the extraordinary palate of beverages along with the mouth watering desserts make French Cuisine a treasure worth exploring.
The French cuisine has a flavored history, dating back to the Middle Ages. Some of the more significant names in this history include La Varenne, a 17th century chef. He is said to have published the first ever cook book of French recipes. Marie-Antoine Car me was an 18th century chef who developed some famous French sauces including béchamel, and velout. Béchamel is a rich white sauce made with milk infused with herbs and other flavorings. Velout on the other hand is a sauce made from roux of butter and flour with chicken, veal or pork stock.
Another prominent name is that of Georges Escoffier. He is credited with the modernization of Haute Cuisine. 1960s saw the rise of Nouvelle Cuisine. Its main concentration was on utilizing fresh ingredients, retaining natural flavors by reducing cooking time, doing away with complicated procedures in cooking. This was mostly due to Portuguese influence. Heavy sauces were replaced by concoctions of butter, fresh herbs and vinegar.
The French food today has influences of all these past practices which make it even more tasteful. Ingredients used in French food include diverse kinds of vegetables, fruits and herbs. Locally grown vegetables like potato, green beans, carrot, turnip, and zucchini are used copiously in many dishes. Truffle, button mushroom, porcini are some of the fungi used for flavoring. Truffle for instance is a strong smelling underground fungus and is also considered a culinary delicacy.
Many succulent fruits are used in French recipes; these include tangerine, peaches, apricots, plums, cherries, redcurrants, strawberries, grapes. Herbs are used extensively to create various sauces, and for other purposes. Thyme, sage, rosemary, fennel, bay leaves are a few popular herbs that are used. All kinds of fish, meat and seafood are also included in French bill of fare. From squab, duck, turkey, goose, veal, rabbit, quail, to snails, cod, sardines, mussels, oysters and shrimps, French food has innumerable lip smacking dishes to present.
The structure of French meal is simple. It includes Breakfast followed by Lunch, which is followed by Dinner. Breakfast or Le Petit Dejeuner is a quick affair that consists of French bread with jelly or jam, along with tea or coffee as per ones preference. Croissant and pain au chocolat are two breakfast items that are popular across the globe.
Lunch or Le Dejeuner is an elaborate affair compared to the breakfast. It is a two hour mid day meal. Dinner or Le Diner consists of three courses. The introductory courses including appetizers, is called the hors d’oeuvre or entrée. Main course that is the plat principal is followed by the cheese course or the desserts.
The meal is often accompanied with bread wine, and water. Rice or pasta is served alongside main meat course. Patisserie and Dessert include such dishes as mousse au chocolat, crème brulee, mille-feuille to name a few. These mouth watering dishes are a must taste for anyone with a sweet tooth.
Mille-feuille literally means ‘thousand leaves’. It is a rich cake consisting of thin layers of puff pastry filled with jam and cream. Mousse is a sweet dish made as a smooth light mass in which the main ingredient is whipped with cream or egg white. Beverages and drinks include aperitifs (before the meal) and digestifs (after the meal). Pastis, Champagne, Kir are some famous aperitifs. Whereas Cognac and Armagnac along with fruit alcohols are served as digestifs.
The diversity in French cuisine is what makes it so exceptional; this diversity arrives from varied regional cuisines and all the different flavors and ingredients they bring to the cooking table. Different regions have different specialties. To list just a few of them:
Lorraine is well known for fruit preserves and quiche which is baked flan (open topped pastry case) with a savory filling thickened with eggs. Normandy is a delight for seafood lovers and is famous for its scallops and sole. Camembert is a local cheese specialty. Brittany too is popular for seafood, chiefly lobster, crayfish and mussels. Galette originated in this area. It is a flavorful pancake made from grated potatoes or a buckwheat batter. This can be attributed to the fact that this area produces Buckwheat extensively.
Loire Valley provides rich fruits; these include Cherries grown for liquor Guignolet. Burgundy is known for its wines. Bordeaux is again known again for its wines. Specialty grapes for wine are cultivated here. Armagnac, a famous type of brandy, is also produced here. Cote d’ Azur has a remarkable variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs. Olives, olive oil, citrus, lavender are some typical ingredients around here. Honey is also used majorly in dishes around here. Traditional Christmas Dessert includes the 13 desserts of the Provence region. These include almond nougat, fougasse, quince cheese and biscuits among their numbers.
Some French dishes are popular across the globe. These include Classic French sauces like Au Jus, Bearnaise, Hollandaise. Meals like Coq au Vin, beef bourguignon, bouillabaisse and several desserts are French specialty. Coq au Vin is a casserole of chicken pieces cooked in red wine. Croissant is a crescent shaped roll made of sweet flaky yeast dough. Bouillabaisse is a rich spicy stew or soup made with fish. Crème brulee is a dessert of custard topped with caramelized sugar. Crème caramel is a custard dessert made with whipped cream and eggs and topped with caramel.
These dishes, whose very description is mouthwatering, and many more regional delicacies can be enjoyed across all French cities. The bistros, cafes, restaurants and bars lining the French boulevards and squares, all provide travelers and foodies with aromatic and appetizing dishes and drinks. France is a must visit place for all food enthusiasts. Bon Appetit!