Does what you put in your mouth influence where you go on holiday?
Food is perhaps THE most direct route to the heart of a culture.
If you go to Spain, you can eat tapas and see the way of socialising that surrounds it.
So too in France, a three-course, two-hour lunch, while actually becoming rarer for the natives, still gives you an insight into what is valued in France.
It’s no surprise that France gave me an education, not only in food, but how to eat well. A fortnight in Provence 12 years ago opened my eyes to how they value food and how well they do it.
Restaurants were places, especially in the sleepier south where the two-hour lunch was still very much de rigeur.
And the time given to enjoy food was matched by the seriousness with which it was taken.
Hosts presided over family-run restaurants with knowledge and courtesy, determined, that this most important experience should be agréable.
There were no untrained teenagers reluctantly earning pocket money here. I got to know how the French build a meal like a piece of music.
They would start subtly with appetisers, a modest aperitif, as the tastebuds then stirred, building through a starter of perhaps a warm salad, before the more substantial dishes – a perfectly
cooked piece of fish or steak – then the wind down through dessert, a delicate tart maybe, then some goat's cheese and next a fiery Marc, the local brandy and perfect coffee to bring the
performance to satisfying finish.
No dish was over-sized, never would you feel full, but always totally satisfied.
Quantities of food and drink were all just right. Years of experience had gone into fashioning the perfect meal here and it felt like I ate it again and again on that holiday.
When we had a fortnight in Normandy a couple of years ago, the gourmet experience we had in Provence was not an option.
Not only did we now have a four-year- old daughter who wouldn’t like being cooped up in a restaurant for too long, but for dull health reasons I wasn’t eating dairy products or drinking wine.
It’s testament to the quality of the eating experience in France that I enjoyed it (almost) as much, so long as I stuck to bière and avoided sauces a la crème