By Editors; all inputs from a French native.

L’Opera, Chez Nini and Rara Avis spearheaded the French food trend that has taken Delhi by storm. We caught up with a native to give us the lowdown on what UNESCO declared one of the world’s “intangible cultural heritages.” Here are some excerpts from our findings.

Four Courses | French food is best enjoyed with friends, of course. In which case, there is an order to follow. One starts with Aperitif, which is basically, alcohol with savory petit fours that can be as simple as peanuts, or something more sophisticated, like Bacon Wrapped Prunes. Then comes dinner in three courses: Appetizers {salad, or a combination of bread and meat such as Pate, Foie Gras or Rilletes}, the Main and Dessert.

Note: A cheese platter between the main and dessert doesn’t count as a course, it’s mandatory.

Wine and Cheese | Not many know, that there is much more than wine and cheese in French cuisine, but a meal is not complete without either. The French have so many different kinds of wines and cheeses that it would seem inconceivable not to eat them at every meal. General Charles de Gaulle once remarked, “How can anyone govern a nation that has 246 different kinds of cheese?” To which our source adds {not having had to ever govern a nation herself}, “How can anyone have a meal without cheese in a nation that produces 246 kinds of it? It would seem like a waste not to honor this variety. I know wine less, but my reflection can be applicable to it as well.”

Breaking the Onion Soup Stereotype | The stereotype of French food abroad {India included} are the dishes that the working class used to make when people worked 12-hour days, and needed subsistence and couldn’t afford much. Everyone has heard of Onion Soup, SaladeNiçoise, BoeufBourguignon, Steak or PouletFrites. These dishes are actually not fancy at all. On the contrary, Onion Soup is basically water, an old bone and onions. Similarly, Boeuf Bourguignon is stewed pieces of beef, wine that was probably too old to drink and some potatoes. These dishes took time to make but women stayed home and could have easily checked and stirred when necessary.

Smaller Portions | The French don’t eat to feel satiated they eat for happiness. The French do have 3 course meals, but each course is rather small in portion. The goal is not to eat a vast quantity of mediocre food, rather, small portions of delicious fares. Having a big plate of one thing is not satisfying; having smaller servings of 5 different dishes is pleasurable.

***

When you think of French soup, we bet you think onion. Here, our secret agent breaks the foreign stereotype and introduces us to the French one, and other French food items/ingredients.

Soup | “I would think that the basic is Vegetable soup {blended}, or Tomato with vermicelli or pasta in it. I have also had Beef broth with caramelized onions and a slice of bread covered with cheese on top of the bowl while growing up.”

Salad |Salad de Chèvre Chaud is popular {this is salad made with a goat cheese}. Belgian endives with nuts and blue cheese in the winter. “

Vegetables | “Ratatouille is very popular in the summer. Onion, garlic, bell pepper, aubergine, zucchini, tomatoes sautéed in olive oil and herbs from Provence.  It takes a long time to produce because each ingredient has to be cooked separately first. Easier to make, but equally renown, are crudités: asparagus in the spring, along with radishes and artichokes. Or grated salads; one that my aunt showed me is celeriac, mayo and canned tuna; or carrot/beet/green apple, with vinaigrette.  The basic grated salad is plain carrots, with a choice of dressing, most likely vinaigrette or lemon/yogurt; sometimes people add raisins too.”

Carbs | “What comes to my mind is Gratin Dauphinois {scalloped potatoes with a top layer of melted cheese}. Boiled or mashed potatoes usually accompany dishes with lots of sauce/gravy.  It’s fun and delicious to make a volcano with the mashed potatoes and fill it with the sauce {if you’re less than 18 years of age, that is}. “

Meat | “If anything, we are not afraid of eating animals; we eat major organs too. Foie Gras is nothing but duck or goose liver; a green salad with pan-fried chicken livers is very good too; calf liver and onions is common but can be discouraging as it has a strong smell and can look unappealing. I, personally, don’t eat lamb brains, calf cheeks, pig feet and beef tongue, but I love sweetbreads. I think besides the Chinese, not a lot of cuisines use the innards of the animals. It is rather gross to think of it, but it’s tasty when well done {and therefore, disgusting when cooked inappropriately}.”

Cheese | “All and any. The French are not afraid to eat things that smell bad.”

Dessert | “This is complicated. On a regular day at home, dessert will probably have a milk base: flan, crème, yogurt, fromage blanc {cream cheese, of which examples are Faisselle and PetitsSuisses}.”

***

Every culture has some dishes that are almost customary to special occasions, so what do the French do for special meals and/or desserts? Read on to find out.

A festive occasion will require a baked dessert, such as tart or cake with cream and fruit, or something covered with Ganache. Fancy desserts are usually bought at the local bakery {local means the bakery from around the corner, there are lots of bakeries in all the villages}.

For weddings, it has been a long term tradition to have a tower of cream puffs, held together by caramel.

Forêt Noire {Black Forest} is also pretty and popular. As far as cookies go, the Macaroon has exported itself quite well. But it’s not what the average French will choose at the bakery or make at home.  The croissant is also the generic snack-pastry.

We can’t underestimate the popularity of the crepe either. Our source tells us she makes them every Saturday and Sunday for breakfast, and eats the leftovers for afternoon snack. She suggests, “You can add buckwheat flour and stuff it with egg, ham and cheese for a fun meal.”

Special Tip | “An excellent and outrageously expensive place is Le Cirque, if only because they have fabulous Foie Gras Poêlé. This dish is my absolute favorite of all times {it is expensive anywhere, even in France}.”

***

You can even whip up an authentic French dish for yourself!

Salad Niçoise

S04_salad-nicoise

Ingredients 

1 head of Escarole/Endive {or any other lettuce}
250g Cherry Tomatoes
1 Can of Tuna Fish
3 Hard-Boiled Eggs
100g Black Olives
8 Potatoes
Salt, pepper
Olive oil
Lemon juice
Balsamic Vinegar
1 tablespoon of chopped Parsley and Chives
10 Basil leaves

Instructions

Boil potatoes for 10 minutes. Remove, let them cool completely and slice.
Arrange leaves on serving platter.
Cut tomatoes in half and arrange on lettuce along with tuna chunks.
Add sliced potatoes.
Cut eggs in 4 slices and add to salad. Arrange olives on platter.

Dressing

In a bowl, mix 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon vinegar, salt, pepper and herbs. Pour over platter and serve with bread.

{Image courtesy: http://www.personal.psu.edu/srh122/French.htm}