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The Golden Rule of French Eating

There is one universal law in France that overrides all others. It stretches from the lowest working class to the top levels of government. From a young age all French children are indoctrinated into its values:

“Jamais de sucré avant le salé!” – “thou shall not eat sweet food before non-sweet food!”

The French are by far the most disciplined eaters I have ever encountered. As an American, I was brought up to grab food (chips, candy, soda – whatever happens to be available) whenever I felt hungry or bored. Mixing it didn’t matter – it all ended up in the same place. This is equivalent to high treason in France!! Food should be eaten slowly, in the correct order, so as not to corrupt your tongue’s palette, and preferably with other people to share a moment of tasting and communication.

Mealtimes are Sacrosanct

Daily mealtimes are very strict in France, and snacking between meals is almost universally forbidden! The reason for this has nothing to do with dieting or resisting temptation. It is simply that the food served during mealtimes is appreciated so much more when you’re hungry and it tastes so much better when your mouth and palette are completely clean.

Following in this philosophy is the order in which food is eaten. A typical French meal will always have at least 3 courses: entrée, plat, dessert. Please notice that the evolution of the meal goes from non-sweet dishes to dessert at the end. This is because eating sweet food beforehand desensitizes your taste buds. Remember that if you started by eating ice cream, most likely you would not be able to fully appreciate the taste of the meat dish afterwards. The same goes for wine – white wine is always served before the red wine (which tends to linger longer on your palette).

Of Course You Need Courses

Serving meals in courses helps you to appreciate different tastes, enjoy the company (as you wait for others to finish and the host to prepare the next course), spreads out digestion over a longer period and is just the sensible way to eat. Below is a brief description of your standard French courses:


Course Description
Entrée This is the first course and usually consists of a small starter dish such as a sliced avocado, tomato salad or shredded carrots.
Plat Principal This is the main course of the meal – “coq au vin” anyone?
Salade For some unknown reason, Americans always eat the salad before the main dish. This makes no sense at all. The point of eating salad is to provide roughage to help scrape out the digestive system AFTER you eat the main dish…
Cheese You remember those college cheese and wine parties you sometimes had before meals? This would never happen over here! Cheese fills you up too quickly to be served before everything else. And please don’t get me started about crackers and Brie (there are so many other types of cheese out there to spread on real baguettes…)
Dessert This is when you serve crème brulée, mousse au chocolat or ice cream (please remember to hold the peanut sprinkles – remember you NEVER mix sweet and salty foods in France)…

That concludes my quick primer on some basic French eating habits.  I’ll delve into more details about this subject in some of my future articles.  Until then … Pringles anyone?

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