What and How to Eat, and When?

Written by admin on September 24, 2009 – 7:38 pm -

Before embarking on a trip to a foreign destination, brush up on how, when and what the natives eat. Should you be France-bound, you may need to adapt to a different style of eating; that is, if you want to.

One of France’s many pleasures is its food – so why not enjoy what many people consider one of the country’s major attractions? And even though you can get a bad meal in France, many dedicated eaters still make gastronomic pilgrimages here with the priority of eating. So much so, that as soon as they’re ticketed and know where they’re staying, they make restaurant reservations. Some may consider this traveling by your stomach, but there are worse sins.

Food differentiates countries and cultures, as does etiquette. For example, the French keep their arms and hands on the table and use forks and knives to eat pizza, sandwiches and even tacos. You can decide whether or not to follow suit. But, if you’re attending a business meal, your colleagues are going to look askance if you eat with your hands, with the exception of bread. And it’s OK; unless it’s a very formal meal with bread and butter plates, place the bread on the tablecloth.  If you were in Ethiopia, by contrast, there’s an entirely different set of rules.

Americans tend to eat three meals each day and many succumb to snacking between (and after) them. There are the families who rarely, if ever, sit down together for a home cooked meal and this is increasingly the norm in the good ‘ole USA where too many people catch as catch can.

American breakfasts are generally big and may include eggs, cereal, different breads (bring on the muffins and toast!) juices and coffee, tea or milk. Many dieticians feel this is the most important meal of the day.

Even if it is, the French tend to eat a croissant or a tartine (a portion of a baguette with a light coat of butter) accompanied by a café, a café crème (hot milk, please), a hot chocolate or possibly some tea. If you order a glass of milk in France, be prepared to receive a glass that isn’t what most Americans are used to drinking. More than likely, the milk was poured from a carton and is probably served lukewarm.

Furthermore, Americans are more likely to skimp on lunch than people in Europe, where the mid-day meal is traditionally the day’s main meal.  That may be changing somewhat among the younger generation, who may grab a sandwich or stop at a McDo for a bite to eat.

But, think about it; eating your main meal at lunch makes great and good sense.  Perhaps the days of three-hour lunches are coming to an end though, with the exception of Sunday lunches, en famille, which is still a tradition. The French are even drinking substantially less wine (frequently only one glass) and vintners are crying the blues, as a result.  Wine sales are dramatically down and college students are drinking an increasing amount of soft drinks and beer.

Typically, in France and other EU countries, workers are entitled to restaurant subsidies if their workplace doesn’t have its own canteen (or cafeteria). It’s not unusual to see business colleagues sitting down to a meal and forking over coupons when the tab is presented.

Universities have cafeterias where students are entitled to buy meals for a fraction of what it would cost were they to head to a neighborhood café. Tourists have also been known to eat in them (if security is lax and IDs aren’t being checked), since your money will go a great deal further here than in a traditional restaurant.

School children are fed three-course meals and are expected to eat green things such as broccoli when presented. Menus are published each week in the newspaper so French parents know what their offspring have been served – and more than likely, have consumed.

Bless most French children. They don’t think it’s their innate right to say they’re not going to eat what’s served to them and are adventurous when it comes to tasting different foods. It’s wonderful to watch a three-year-old scarf down puréed celery root.

The reality is, as more couples are both working, big lunches prepared by someone else is a time and work saver, in addition to the other pluses. Dinners often consist of soups and salads accompanied by cheese and perhaps desserts. But rarely is the evening meal the 3+ course variety during the work/school week.

The French are also changing and buying more frozen products than they did years ago. Even here, there’s a different standard when it comes to quality, and many meals (for guests as well) come straight from the shelves of PICARD, which now takes orders on-line and delivers, further simplifying the lives of busy people.

Even though the French do worry somewhat about weight (and some French are gaining a few pounds as more junk food is appearing in markets), they tend to eat smaller portions. But realistically, who wants to go to bed on a full stomach? Is it healthy? Do you get the best night’s sleep and how many calories do you burn off between dinner and crawling under the covers?

It’s likely that your dining habits will change somewhat while abroad, but do you see yourself adopting the French style of eating more mid-day and less at night?


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