Simplifying and demystifying French meals at PumpjackPiddlewick

It’s early morning, a sunny morning, and I have just enjoyed a walk to my local boulangerie (bakery) to buy some croissants, whilst my coffee percolates readying itself for my return. On my walk I started thinking about French meals, and the many, sometimes complicated aspects of them. And how much of the French way of life when it comes to meals I have adopted.

On my return home, I have set myself in the shade of my garden to put fingers to keyboard. Interrupting here and there to tear off a bit of croissant and dip it in my coffee. I realise I have truly gone native.

Le Petit-Déjeuner

Since I am sat here eating breakfast, let’s consider this meal first. Now I am not a big breakfast eater and living in France suits me very well when it comes to this. Breakfast here is simple, coffee and a piece of bread. Maybe a piece of cheese or some jam on it. The occasional fruit juice.

Certainly, if you are holiday and in a hotel, a full buffet with cooked this and that may be on offer. But this is not the norm in the French day to day. If you stop in a little bistro that offers ‘le petit dejeuner’, it will be just a simple coffee, juice, and croissant. The key is in that the name includes petite. Petite déjeuner means breakfast in English, but actually translates as ‘little lunch’.

Déjeuner

Lunch is a big deal here, and to my mind the main meal of the day. It does depend on who you ask though. And of course family or personal circumstances might dictate too. But let’s assume for my sake that it is the main meal, it thus explains the 3 courses and 2 hours.

In France eateries offer a Plat du Jour (dish of the day) at a set price (required by law). Typically they then might add on a starter (entrée) and/or a dessert. So you can choose one of three options; one, two or three courses. It simply depends how hungry you are.

Many businesses shut for lunch, from 12 to 2pm. Schools release the kids too for this time, especially for the younger kids. Add in the heat of the day come summer, and honestly who wishes to cook at its height in the late afternoon ready for dinner? Makes more sense to cook in the cooler climes of the morning. Factor all these together and its starting to make sense that it is the main meal. (And let’s not forget possibly better for the digestion.)

Why Don’t They Get Fat

As a Tour Guide I get asked a lot of questions about France. And when I eat lunch with guests much of those questions revolve around food. Such as why the 2 hour lunch, or how the French eat so much but don’t get fat. Or at least not as fat as some countries. (Read my review of the book ‘Why French People Don’t Get Fat’.)

I have to remind my guests that the locals are not on holiday like they are, so they eat one big or main meal a day. Not two. Sure lunch may be in a bistro, but dinner then would be at home. And food preparation is often much simpler than what other cultures are used to.

Dîner

If the main meal is lunch, then dinner (dîner in French) is much much lighter. Soup and bread, a plate of charcuterie, or simply a little cheese with a glass of wine. Maybe even leftovers from lunch. It’s not another meal out in a restaurant. And the brilliance of a lighter, simpler piece meal in the evening means you need only eat as much as hunger dictates.

And that’s the crux I think of French meals. It’s not about too much on the plate and over eating, rather let the stomach dictate, not the eyes. You can always eat more if hunger prevails.

The Simplicity of French Meals

I am of course generalising in the above take on French meals. Not everyone eats or can eat to this set up. But it is typical. Hence why there are so many wonderful little bistros to be sampled. (And my favourite place to eat, with friends or eating on my own.)

But the other thing I have noticed more and more about French meals is the sheer simplicity of the food. Sure the dish could look a bit froufrou (and thus beautiful) if served in a restaurant, but for sure, no matter where, the ingredients are fresh and straight forward.

There’s a saying in France about fashion, when you go to leave the house, do one more check and then remove an item. Understated elegance rather than over the top. And this applies to food too. Take the baguette – required by law to be only 4 ingredients. I think this is the solid basis for the ethos of French food. Less is more. And I am truly trying to go native in this aspect. Keep it seasonal, keep it simple.

More French Food Musings

If you enjoy my considerations and studies on life in France, check out my French Findings.

If food is your particular passion, you will find more musings on French Food, including recipes.

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2024-06-24

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