French culture and food. Is this a frog ?

Two things happened today which prompted me to look at my french upbringing and how it affects my relation to food and the social graces that goes on around it.

In the past week I have been invited to 3 different parties, some during the day and other at night but in all cases I was told, “it’s a potluck, bring a dish”. Now I have been living in the States long enough to know about potlucks but it still goes completely against my upbringing and the sense of hospitality around food I have been raised with.  At my grandparents farm in the southwest of France anybody dropping by would have been invited to come and share the meal and very often the village old priest would show on Sunday lunch after mass and others might drop in for dessert. My grandmother was renowned for her ratatouille, duck confit, foie gras, ile flottante and flan. All dishes were made from fresh produce right there at the farm and I realize now how lucky I have been to be raised with such fantastic fresh food.

coeur de boeuf tomatoes from my uncle's garden

coeur de boeuf tomatoes from my uncle’s garden


Check my post about famous french desserts  where I show you step by step how to make my grandmother’s flan, very easy and super good. Buy or get the best eggs you can and of course use whole milk ( skim should not even be in the picture ). Lucky you if you live next to a farm, your flan will be most delicious. Always start with the best ingredients and your dish will be unforgettable. For instance between vanilla extract and vanilla beans guess what is the best choice ?

I am going to try explaining the french point of view and warn you of a few “faux pas” you can avoid next time you are in France, if you are ever invited to share a meal with french people.

Do not and I repeat do not bring a dish with you, not even dessert.  The only exception would be if you went to a renown patisserie to get a very special dessert and even then it’s risky business. Your french host could get quite offended if you show up with food. Translation “What ? my food is not good enough”. A good bottle of wine is always welcome or a bouquet of flowers or maybe some great chocolate from the best “chocolatier”in town.

Food is very often tied with memories of places and people, food is tied to a place. The fig trees at my grandparents, melons growing in the fields, tomatoes, aubergines, zucchinis and garlic from the garden. The best peaches of my life picked up in an orchard in Ardeche. The “cadillac” of cherries  as I was told by the farmer who sold them to me at a road stand in Provence. He was very proud of his cherries and he was right, they were the best and as soon as I polished them up I regretted not having bought more.

Aix en Provence market

Aix en Provence market

You all know the french are proud of their culinary traditions and when you are in France accept graciously the invitation and really try to not refuse a dish under the pretext that you are on a special diet. And I am not talking about people being vegan or vegetarian but more about the low fat or low carb or low whatever… When you are in France relax your grip on all the rigid ideas about what you “should not” be eating and just enjoy the bounty of food this country has to offer. Let your taste buds travel with you too.

More to come on food and cultural differences very soon…

10 thoughts on “French culture and food. Is this a frog ?

    • Yes I bet you will get invited, people would enjoy your antics.
      Just got my panties in a bunch lately on the subject of potlucks, had to vent out, it allowed me to go down memory lane.

  1. We were in Cahors last September and had a tomato that was astonishing. It made us understand why it is classified a fruit and not a vegetable. The French understand food and eating!

    • You know exactly what I am talking about, the tomatoes on the post (wish they were on my plate right now) are from my uncle’s garden 20kms south of Cahors. More to come about this region of France, which is not Provence but very dear to me.

      • Lily, we were waiting for the marché to clear so that we could photograph at the Cathédrale Saint-Etienne; stopped for a quick lunch at a small bar-restaurant a couple of blocks away. Ordered a simple salad avec gesiers and were stunned by the tomatoes. The Lot is one of our favorite regions of France, for the food as well as the lovely region and the people.

    • Since you love the Lot region, head on to the page about St James Way Tours where I have photos and videos of my father’s village and you can hear my uncle with his typical southwestern accent, rolling the RRR like he’s got rocks in his mouth. I love it, when I hear it I am back there. And yes people are lovely and friendly in the Lot.

  2. Hi, I like your distinction between American and French eating cultures. I live in London and have lived in France too, and I agree you don’t bring your meal when you’re invited somewhere. We do it sometimes in London, between friends as busy mums working we don’t always have the time to cook it all, starters, desserts etc so each of us brings something. But it is not definitely a french way of doing.
    I love French food and culinary culture, the bread and I love the fact that you still go to buy your bread at the ‘boulanger’. That is not something you do in the UK and I miss it.
    We also went on holiday in Ardeche for a week, and really liked the area. Apricots were of the season and we had so much of them, sweet and ripe apricots. I have published a blog with photos from our holiday in Vallon Point D’Arc.
    Nice to discover your blog.

    • Ardeche is beautiful and I remember fondly of my first “vendanges” in Vallon Pont D’Arc where at the end of each row we would stop and eat some figs from the trees around the field, more to come about that.
      Laura, although I have never been to Albania I am quite sure it is beautiful, what about some photos from there. I want to see it and I want to see you

      • Hi lily, mmm i can taste the ripe figs of a southern climate. We are big fans of them in Albania too. Looking forward to reading about that.

        I have an earlier post with photos from the South of Albania
        More to come as I am going on holiday there at the end of the week.

        I have added a photo of me in Albanian traditional costume, in the ‘about me’ section. I tend to show pictures of other people, but you reminded me, that maybe people need to see me too :-). Thank you.

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