Our new student blog series, “The View from Abroad,” follows OSA peer advisor and senior Anya Mukundan as she studies with CIEE Toulouse this semester!
The series continues this week with a new post about the culinary differences Anya has experienced between here and the United States. Plus, a recipe for Crêpes Suzette!
The relationship between French people and their food is something so strong, even most people living in the United States can see it. When locals here tend to ask me what the US stereotype of French culture is, I always recite the classic image of the French person with their striped shirt, mustache, and beret – a baguette under on arm and a wine glass held in the other. They always laugh, although I cannot help but notice that as they are dining with me, they break off a piece of a baguette to wipe down their plate, washing it all down with sips of wine. While not all stereotypes are true, the idea Americans have about the importance of cuisine in France is (not to mention that the whole blue and white striped shirt is inexplicably everywhere).
People who are passionate about their food is just the beginning here. After living with a host family and taking a French gastronomy class for a month and a half now, I have learned a lot more about the nuanced differences between French eating patterns and what I am used to at home. For example, lunch here starts at the usual time of noon but lasts until around two. At Tulane I run to the dining hall for half an hour before my next class; here at my internship we all take a break to eat leisurely and talk together for around two hours. I enjoy pausing to savor my food and my company, but this also means I can feel stressed knowing there is work to do later. In any case, prioritizing the social nature of my day alongside my productivity has been an interesting cultural shift. Another noticeable change for me is the insistence on three meals a day – no snacking. Since lunch is at noon and dinner is at 8, I find myself sneaking in an afternoon nibble. However, seeing as how my host mother seemed shocked about their last American student snacking all the time, I try to keep this to a minimum and embrace the French way.
French food itself is also somewhat strict. The main thing I have noticed is the emphasis on the quality of the ingredients themselves instead of the flavor profile of the dish. Local cheeses and fresh baked bread make up the second course of dinner every night, but things like salt, pepper, and spices get left by the wayside. Cooked vegetable dishes highlight the taste of the ingredients themselves without the addition of seasoning or sauce. As a lover of spice and strong flavors like those present everywhere in New Orleans, this is something I have had to get used to. However, even the simplest types of French foods are amazing. It is also incredibly accessible, with bakeries and grocery stores on every corner, and plenty of open-air markets. Every time my friends and I visit a small town we make sure to visit the weekend market and gather up a variety of local fruits, cheese, olives, and bread for a picnic in a public garden or on the beach.
One thing that you have to consider when studying abroad is having a restricted diet. As a vegetarian in France, I can say that not eating meat here is possible, but not nearly as easy as it is in the US. French people are very proud and fond of their local meats, and many do not quite understand what it means to vegetarian. Language can also be a barrier here, where the translation for meat is “viande,” which usually describes all meat except fish. I must be careful to explain that being vegetarian means neither eating “viande” nor fish. Living in a host family can also complicate things, but CIEE made sure to find families that could suit the restrictions of each student. Despite this, I still had to outline to my host family what I can and cannot eat because they themselves are not vegetarian. Speaking up and asking for specific types of food can be an added challenge and it is something to keep in mind before studying abroad, but that does not mean it has to be a complete barrier. One easy tactic I have found to ensure I am getting the right food is to clearly express my enjoyment when I am eating something that I like and is a substantial vegetarian meal. That way my host parents know what to look for in the future meals they plan. When eating out with friends, we tend to get takeout from different places and eat together by the river, which is a perfect way to accommodate everyone’s needs.
Studying abroad in France has satisfied the “foodie” in me, especially the cheese and pastry lover. However, coming to France and eating amazing food is not as straightforward as I once thought. The culture of food when studying abroad is something to consider in advance, but you can only learn so much from afar. You must immerse yourself in a location in order to understand the nuances of a country’s gastronomy. And of course, I would never let you read this much about food without giving you a little recipe to “take home” for Crêpes Suzette, one of the original desserts of Auguste Escoffier (and courtesy of my French gastronomy class)!
Makes 6 Crêpes
Batter: 125 g flour, 2 eggs, 25 cl milk, 20g sugar, 1 tablespoon Cointreau
Orange butter: 30g softened butter, 30g sugar, Juice and Zest of 1 orange, 1 tablespoon of Cointreau (opt.)