We live in a village in the Correze, in the heart of rural France. We have observed the locals for the past 4 years and their eating habits are very different from those of urban Brits. If you live and work in London, your lunch hour is more likely to be a half hour or a quick snack at your desk. Some people "do" lunch as part of their business, feeding and watering their clients, but as a rule, lunch is a very short, hurried affair and could not be called a proper meal.
Across the the channel, a few hundred miles down the A20, it's a very different story. At 12pm on the dot a very loud siren, which the French call klaxon, screams in each village. The French down their tools and go for a two-hour lunch. Some go home, but those working more than a certain distance from home eat at the nearest decent restaurant, courtesy of their bosses. Menus range from 7 euros (US$9.45) to 12 euros (US$16.20).
The cheaper menus consist of the plat du jour, dessert or cheese and a small black coffeee. One of the nearby villages has two restaurants offering a veritable feast for 11 euros.
1. Potage (soup) or assiette de charcuterie (cold meats with salad)
2. Plat du jour (could be anything: entrecôte et frites, confit de canard, tête de veau, moules et frites...)
3. Assiette de fromages - a generous cheese board, with an odd number of different cheeses, usually 5 or 7 (for some reason, they don't place an even number on the board).
4. Dessert du jour - Mousse au chocolat, crème caramel, îles-flotantes, tarte aux pommes (recipes will follow in future posts).
5. Small black coffee.
6. You also get at least 1 glass of wine, which the drivers mix with water.
When moules et frites are featured, the restaurants are booked solid. The French adore their mussels and so do I, but not Peter, who asks for a steak instead.
Some of the main courses are delicious, but some are an acquired taste, if you ever acquire it. Tête de veau is a good example. I know people who would not touch the "nasty" bits of any animal and would never entertain the idea of having any of it. I have no problem eating the head of a beef calf, the problem is the sauce. There are two traditional recipes, one where the meat comes swimming in vinegar and another, more subtle, mustard based. I once ordered the vinegar version by mistake and it repeated on me for three days! Never again. Peter had confit de canard (duck), and now he takes great pleasure saying how delicious it was whenever I tell my tale of woe.
Another French peculiarity is that they use veggies to make soup and stock but aren't very enthusiastic about actually eating the stuff.
The Brits eat their veg, but tend to have a heavy meal later in the day (The old fashioned still have meat, potatoes and two veg, boiled). In Brazil, eating habits are similar to the French and in Spain they take it to extremes, taking most of the day off for a heavy lunch and siesta followed by some work and a heavy meal from 10pm onwards.
If you have any stories about eating habits from other places, drop me an email and we could have a series of posts on this theme.
Here are some photos of the region... it's really beautiful around here.