Although meals in France are not too dis-similar from those in the rest of the Western world, one is always aware how important food and the art of dining is to the French.
It is all the more exciting to fully participate in the traditional and day to day experience of devouring French food. Food is very much a part of the social fabric of French family life.
People in France prefer buying their groceries from smaller local stored as it gives them a daily ritual to perform and we were no exception to this when we lived in Paris, if only for a month, we will be back!
Breakfast is usually a small affair, with a relaxed feel. There is no set time for breakfast in France and it’s not considered an occasion that must be shared with family and friends. The wholesome spread consists of flaky buttery croissants, warm bread rolls with butter, jams and preserves, accompanied by Café au lait (milky coffee) or chocolat chaud (hot chocolate). Bread can be bought from a supermarket but the majority of the French prefer buying their bread locally from a boulangerie (bakery).
Lunch has traditionally been considered the main meal of the day for the French. However, as is the case with most western people, the demands of modern day life in large cities has meant that this tradition has been dropped, and only survives in those living in rural areas. Most restaurants in France open for a few hours from noon til 2pm, (then siesta) and then close until they open for dinner.
Today in France, the main meal for most people is dinner. The French view dinner as an opportunity to spend quality time with friends and family in the evenings, and the meal is a long drawn out affair; they often spend up to two hours at the dining table. Since the meal is considered a collective and social experience, it is of course bad etiquette to eat dinner while watching TV, so we kiwis would rank badly here.
A typical dinner in France is usually eaten from 8pm can consist of up to six courses. These include the aperitif, Entree, plate principal, salad, cheese, dessert, fruit, coffee and digestive drink.
Our French friends introduce us to the aperitif which is a pre-dinner drink (not usually wine ) served with small appetisers while the entree is a first course.
The plate principal is the main course is will consist of meat poultry or fish, and then this is followed by a salad, selection of cheese, fresh fruit, and coffee.
If you are invited to a French house for dinner:
The only main difference between French and American or British etiquette is to do with bread. A French dinner table will always have bread on it. However, it is considered rude to butter your bread at a meal in France; instead, the French use the bread to wipe up the juices on their plates at the end of each course. This is for the practical reason that French serve the different courses all on the same plate.
Table manners in France are continental: the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.
Eating in France really isn’t a minefield of social taboos you need to worry about, however politeness and appreciation is the same the world over and always goes a long way. Be adventurous, be keen to accept invitations to dine, or suggestions of what on the menu is best.
Eating slowly, relishing each mouthful, taking pleasure in the experience and the company is the French way, and is one of the secrets to the France’s slim society.