In previous articles on traditional French food we have looked at what is really meant by both ‘traditional’ and ‘French food’, since many common assumptions surrounding gourmet food from France seem to be somewhat inaccurate.
Not only is there no such thing as an all-encompassing concept of what might be referred to as traditional French food, at least, not by the French, but even the suggestion that food in France is entirely French, lacking any outside influences, is wholly wrong.
The geography of France varies enormously, and with several close neighbours there have been influences from several other countries, including Germany and Spain. So the concept of traditional French food is rather more complex, and any journey through the country will necessarily involve discovering varying ideas surrounding what is traditional and what is best.
However, it is not just the geography or the influence of neighbouring countries which characterises what many consider to be traditional French cuisine, and there is yet another factor which has enormous influence as far as what you might expect to eat in various parts of the country – and it is the season.
Seasonal changes can cause distinct differences in gourmet food opportunities across the country, more so than perhaps in many other countries, including the UK.
These days we tend to become rather out of touch as far as the seasons are concerned, with supermarkets stocking food and ingredients all the year round, when previously we might only have been able to buy them during one particular season. With cheap flights and international supply chains we are now able to buy strawberries in the winter and think very little of it.
However, if we are to consider traditional French food then it will be important to take into account the seasons, and the impact these have traditionally had on the recipes, ingredients and dishes served across various parts of the country.
Whichever season you choose for your visit to sample some of the finest French food on offer you’ll find some of the best gourmet food delicacies on offer. Plan your visit during the summer months as many invariably do and you’ll be likely to find an abundance of salads and fruit based dishes.
Not only is this because they are refreshing but the fruits and vegetables are abundant in most parts of the country, and are often very affordable. The view by many retailers and greengrocers is that it is rather preferable to sell fruits and vegetables that are in season at a price that’s low than watch perfectly good food begin to rot.
Therefore you’ll be able to enjoy these healthy, nutritious and delicious dishes almost anywhere at prices that are very affordable.
Towards the end of the summer though the emphasis shifts, and you’ll start to find many more dishes being served that incorporate mushrooms in one form or another. Typical French food dishes that include mushrooms tend to be stews, and so towards the end of the summer, beginning of the autumn, look out for mushroom based stews as these will be at their very best.
Traditionally September witnesses the start of the hunting season in France, and this runs all the way through the winter until around February. It is for this reason that if you’re on the lookout for traditional French food the order of the day is likely to be game.
Many of the dishes become celebrations of the success of the hunt, and can often become quite elaborate, and certainly worth experiencing.
As the ice melts and spring begins the fare changes once again, and the late winter early spring period is when shellfish are at their very best. Take a trip towards the coast where they tend to specialise in seafood dishes, and if you time this correctly to coincide with the start of the shellfish season you’ll be amazed at the quality of such things as oysters.
In addition to being at their best you’ll also find that certain shellfish are only available at this time, as for example crayfish cannot be caught out of season as it is actually illegal to do so.
So if you are looking for what can truly be called traditional French food it is necessary to consider both the geographical influences as well as the seasonal influences which affect both what may be on offer, and its quality. Time it right, and you’ll experience gourmet food at its very best.