The Gastronomic Meal of the French

By Jérôme Berger

10 years old! That makes ten Christmas, Valentines and Bastille Day dinners since UNESCO inscribed France’s traditional gastronomic meal on its List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, to say nothing of all those weddings, birthdays, and other festive occasions. Now that’s worth celebrating, isn’t it? 

Duck breast plate

A celebration 

On 16 November 2010, UNESCO reached its decision: France’s traditional festive meal merited a place in the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. A status which is less about feting French gastronomy and more about celebrating a social practice with all its trimmings. So apart from the food itself, it was the “togetherness, the pleasure of taste, and the balance between human beings and the products of nature” that convinced the UN body. In practical terms, it placed particular emphasis on certain important elements of these meals, namely the “careful selection of dishes from a constantly growing repertoire of recipes; the purchase of good, preferably local products whose flavors go well together; the pairing of food with wine; the setting of a beautiful table; and specific actions during consumption (smelling and tasting items at the table)”. All according to a fixed structure, commencing with an aperitif and ending with liqueurs, and including a starter, fish and/or meat course with vegetables, cheese, and a dessert... 

© ©Millann

Deeply-rooted customs 

A little over ten years later, nothing has changed, despite the globalization of cuisine and the massive influx of street food. When it comes to mealtimes, regardless of social class, French men and women still make the effort. In 2017, according to an OECD study, they devoted two hours and eleven minutes a day to eating and drinking, compared to almost one and a half hours in Germany, China and Japan, an hour and 18 minutes in England and an hour and one minute in the United States… At half past twelve on the dot, more than 50% of France sits down at the table! What’s more, they rarely do so alone. It’s the same in the evenings. And old-fashioned home cooking is making a comeback too! The family dishes of old are back on the menu: pâté croûte (terrine wrapped in pasty), lobster bisque, turbot meunière, veal with morels, cherry clafoutis, nougat glacé… Then there is Covid and its positive side effects. With a spirit of shared responsibility in the air, local producers have never had it so good! All of this to say that the future is looking good for the gastronomic meal of the French. As rosy as a langoustine on a Vichy tablecloth! Shall we celebrate? Let’s eat! 


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