Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Food, Glorious Food

A typical sight in France

At a very cosy supper party last night, a friend was telling me that she had just come back from France, and went on to comment on how thin everyone is over there - especially the women.
Didn't I say the very same thing just a few months ago! 

There is nothing thin about me - well, apart from my bank balance that is - but nothing personally thin about me. And nor is there ever likely to be - I have just come in from a damp morning's work in the garden, utterly ravenous, and devoured I don't know how many rice cakes and cheese, closely followed by a large slice of the delicious chocolate cake that my friend Clare kindly sent yesterday.

Much to the In-Charge's disgust, I am very fond of rice cakes - especially with cheese. He often says: 'I don't know why you buy those, I've loads of that stuff in the workshop.' (He is, of course, referring to polystyrene insulation board.) My friend DodoWoman jokes of low-fat yoghurt: 'The more you eat, the thinner you get', and I guess rice cakes fall into the same category.
Although the trials on that one aren't too promising so far, despite forming the basis of my lunch, I haven't noticed any thin-ity creeping in.

Needless to say, it was at the chocolate cake stage that the extreme 'lightness of being' maintained by so many French women returned to my mind.
How is it possible to be thin in France (or anywhere else for that matter)?
Do the French not have eyes? Don't their mouths water? Do their tummies not rumble?
Are they boulangerie-d out, or are they just made of sterner stuff?

How can one resist?

I suppose, on reflection, I don't dive into a cake shop every time I go into my local town, but then (please forgive me, Irish cake shops) - there really is no comparison. NO comparison.

A pâtisserie in Paris

We sat at the high bar-style table in this very shop in Paris and had a quick bite one day. The In-Charge, as is his wont, chose some savoury item, and I ummed and aahhed and aahhed and ummed. The thing is, I tend to choose old favourites over and over again, instead of branching out and trying something new, and I was about to go for a tarte au citron when I surprised myself and - shunning strawberry, almond and chocolate confections - opted for the tarte à l'orange instead.

One mouthful convinced me that I had, in fact, died and gone to heaven. It was 'Tivine' as #1 Son used to say when he was tiny. Totally Tivine. I'd thought it might prove to be slightly artificial in flavour, or too sweet, or too something, but no, it was melting, smooth, tangy perfection. And had that particular pâtisserie been on our daily route, I would have found an excuse to go in every morning.

If I lived in Paris, I would get fatter and fatter no doubt learn to control myself. I would certainly have to plan my routes quite carefully in order to avoid such places of temptation. But that's just the problem - they are around every corner. Even the least promising of of streets will throw a chocolatier or boulangerie at you out of the blue.

Patrick Roger's wondrous chocolates

Innocently walking round the corner from Saint-Michel towards Odéon, we stumbled upon Patrick Roger, chocolatier extraordinaire, and stood staring, spellbound through the window. Or at least, I did. How could chocolates possibly be so beautiful? How could you bring yourself to eat them? I would just want to collect them - a different one each week, to keep in a gorgeous glass jar on the dresser.
I did - and do - wonder what they taste like. They look like splendiferous king-of-the-castle gobstoppers. Either that or Murano glass marbles. Alas, we didn't go in, so I shall never know.

Not everyone would find such things a temptation, I know.
My friends Sarah and DodoWoman don't have sweet teeth. But they are just as easily waylaid by other delights. They would, no doubt, have found their feet automatically turning left outside our apartment door every day, to visit the huitre-stall just a few feet round the corner. If there were just huitre-stalls everywhere, I would be mince, très mince indeed.

And I know for a fact that when Sarah or DodoWoman are in Paris, Italy, New York or even St George's Market in Belfast, just the sight of all this glory is enough to cartwheel both their brains and tastebuds through a kaleidoscope of cookery books, and they can't wait to rush home with newly-bought treasures and start cooking.

Glorious tomatoes

Every vegetable under the sun

More huitres - and allied fishy things


For me, the orgasmic delight isn't in the thought of mouth-watering dishes to come, as it is for them. It's in the colour-fest here and now. I can't get enough of looking, and could happily walk around all day, just absorbing the complete palette such an array provides, the light, the shadows, the shapes, the contrasts. The food itself could be flowers, or yarn, or bolts of material - if the rainbow colour effect was there, I'd be perfectly happy. Take these, for example. They fulfil all my colour-desires, but arouse no hunger whatsoever, so I'm obviously not past redemption.

Meringues as only the French could make them

I suppose part of it is that, much as I like eating, I don't particularly enjoy cooking. Perhaps the deciding factor on whether I see food as actual feast or visual feast is when it's already done for you - no cooking required. And while I have lots of sweet teeth, I have a good few savoury ones as well. These, lovely as they are to behold, I - like Sarah and DodoWoman, would also stop and buy.

A rhapsody of olives

 Instant food.

And these.
In fact, I might linger in the vicinity of this stall until I'd finished eating my purchase, so that I could get some more. They are my absolute favourites.

 And these I would buy because they combine both kinds of feasting in one fell swoop.

But then it's back to the boulangerie stuff. More instant food?

I don't know what it is about bread. Perhaps it has something to do with being one of life's staples, but it's hard to walk past a shop full of fresh bread without diving in, even if you don't need any. It's about more than need, it's about comfort and stability and well being, about sharing with friends and family, about hospitality and food on the table. And of course 'bread' is a generic concept, embracing all other food.

And once you're inside the baker's shop, well there you are, back at square one.

I'm afraid thin isn't going to happen any time soon.
How do these French women do it?

(I suppose I could try burning my passport. It would be a start.)


  1. I have a couple of kilo just looking at these mouth watering photos. Have you read 'French Women Don't Get Fat'? I found it inspiring....for a while.

    1. No, I haven't read it, Mairead - it sounds interesting! I must look it up.

  2. I am also a lover of all things French, they seem to have life sorted. France and Ireland are my favourite countries. I have never seen a fat French women either yet they take food so seriously..but do not eat to excess, neither do they binge drink but drink wine freely with their meals. Perhaps one doesn't indulge when the 'best' of food and drink is always there. And everyone is so polite and quiet.

    1. Yes Cait, they do seem to have life pretty well sorted, I agree! Vive la France!

  3. hihi, I'm french and... thin and I love goods things to eat (and to look at too for that matter) and enjoy cooking too, and markets and pâtisseries ...
    I don't know if really french women are so thin , or if there is a secret... Maybe it's just "eating a little of everything" without excess ? (and here too medias keep telling us to diet ! fashion...)
    And also ... maybe not to think about weight, but relax and enjoy good and wholesome food.
    And also ... I think , eating season products, and as fresh and "non-industrial' as possible.

    Don't dream, here too we begin to see more an more fat people, and even children which is disquieting. Because here as everywhere on the planet, junk food, ready made meals, fast food, industrial products tend to be more and more present - heavily invading ...
    I live in a small town where it is easy and cheap to get good products directly from the producer. But what in the big cities, when you have so little time and only supermarkets to buy your food from ?

    If any of you can read french, likes food but not being a toy in the hands of the agroindustrial lobbies, here is a wonderful blog : "du miel et du sel' - good recipes and also good reflexion, and good questions ... and a lot of poetry too !

  4. Hi there - that is strange telepathy! I was thinking about you this evening, and then suddenly here you are, leaving a comment! Yes, I know it's true, eating habits are changing everywhere - perhaps a little more slowly in France than some places. I think the secret is that most French women always want to look chic! Also, this wonderful food is available everywhere - all the time - so it's not the same. There is always tomorrow to treat yourself... Thanks for the link, I shall look up her blog. It's nice to see you!


Ah, go on! Make my day - leave a comment!