Is France Finding Brit Food Easier to Swallow?
The relationship between the British and the French has never exactly been one of cuddles and compliments but when food is involved the situation becomes particularly fraught.
The French are renowned for labelling British culinary offerings as bland, stodgy and basic.
The British are renowned for saying something derogatory about garlic or snails in return. But could things have turned a corner?
According to a recent report compiled by the (completely unbiased) BBC, sales of British food are on the up in France with exports doubling over the past 12 years.
French travellers are also reporting back on the British food scene and breaking the habit of multiple lifetimes by commenting positively on the fusion cuisine culture dominating restaurants and food markets.
Minister for Food Owen Patterson is even organizing a delegation to Paris in order to celebrate the success of British produce over the channel.
The demand for goods like whisky, real ale, British beef, cheddar and stilton has increased so much that Brit expats vying for a taste of home can’t possibly be the only ones stuffing their trolleys with UK classics.
As well as the popularity of fresh Brit produce increasing, ready-made favourites have been making their presence felt. One Marks and Spencer’s store in Champs Elysees has been shifting far greater amounts of Chicken tikka masala than its Birmingham equivalent, while more and more of the upmarket British supermarkets are springing up in France.
Part of the reason for this sudden appreciation of British fare could be the criticism French food has faced from some quarters. Whilst classic French cooking methods will likely always be an integral part of culinary training even renowned chefs have lamented the rich and overly complex nature of some French foods.
Despite this, France still exports are more to the UK than it imports and dishes like steak and kidney pie aren’t likely to become new national favourites.
The rural French in particular have little time for British offerings. As food critic Jonathan Meades stated; ‘People in villages in rural France are very incurious. Their view of England is people wearing bowler hats eating boiled food.’ Meades, who is based in Marseille, also asserted that French food is hardly on the decline. In fact, in his opinion; ‘The quality of the produce is better in France. The vegetables actually taste of something, the meat is much better. A greater assiduousness is paid to cooking.’
French journalist Agnes Poirier was far more scathing than Meades, claiming the French attitude to British food ‘goes from repulsion to attraction [...] but it is not taken seriously.’ She also proposed that the reason why sales of British goods have increased is because they’re ‘quirky. They look disgusting so people are absolutely entranced to fine they like them.’
As loath as I am to knock Ms Poirier off her perilously high horse, I feel I should end with this.
Britain may never achieve the dizzy gastronomic heights of its Gaelic neighbour, but in a blind taste test of cheeses arranged by the Financial times England’s ‘disgusting’ ‘quirky’ cheeses achieved a 5-1 victory over their French equivalents. C’est la vie eh?