Un Chant d'Amour: a love-song to France
This week, France celebrates its national feast. Bastille Day (usually known simply as le quatorze juillet in French) marks the storming of the hated prison in Paris, a key moment in the beginning of the Revolution. The events of 1789 did not remove the King - that would come later - and France would know more troubles yet, including new tyrants and further revolutions. However, the events of that 14th July capture the imagination and fire a people's love of their country like no other date in its history.
Most families eat together each evening. France does not have a culture of staying late at work or of commuting impossible distances, so adults and children are able to eat together. Dining in restaurants is not limited to adults, either. Weekend lunches are often the occasion for the generations to spend time together. Hospitality is important, too. I have learnt that even a simple midweek supper can be something special when a guest is expected, and celebration dinners are quite extraordinary. If you're ever invited to dinner in a French home, be sure to accept the invitation - you will be treated royally.
The areas of France I'm most familiar with are the flat, industrial north and the gently-rolling vineyards of Burgundy. I used to live in the north, in Béthune, near to Arras. I'm told I still have the accent, thirty years on. This corner of France produces great beer, fields of bitter endives and sugar beets. I suppose the most typical regional dish would be tarte de la cassonade, a buttery layer of soft brown sugar baked on a yeasted pastry base. It's not pretty but it tastes amazing!
|Bœuf à la bourgignonne
|Pike in sauce Nantua
What do I think is at the heart of French culinary culture? I think that in overthrowing the old aristocracy, the equality the French people have sought is not a bringing down to the lowest level, but a raising up. Everyone deserves the best. Even the least promising ingredients, therefore, are treated with care and respect until they become something sophisticated and valuable. Look at the humble snail.
|a table set for Bastille Day dinner