Photo by Jeffrey Tastes/Flickr CC
The French love to talk about food. What they're eating, what they'll eat next, or the meal they've just finished. But the discussion seems always to begin and end with French food. Other cuisines don't deserve such serious consideration.
A few days ago I was having dinner with friends. After H1N1, the economic crisis, French politics, and the Christmas sales, the obvious subject was food. While the French can no longer mock the American president, their usual critiques of American food remain a favorite source of amusement.
But the truth is that I've had some of the best meals of my life in the United States. Of course, I value French food, both on sensorial and historical levels. Having a strong food culture is a blessing--but it becomes a curse when combined with conservatism and chauvinism. The average French restaurant is now often disappointing, and the "exotic" options offer inauthentic cooking reflecting what the French think this cuisine should be.
Most windows of Chinese restaurants in France advertise Chinese and Thai and Vietnamese and even sometimes Indian food. A metaphor of this: most people here will say On va chez l'Asiat--"Let's go to the Asian." The inherent racism here aside, the food served there is the standard deep-fried spring rolls, flavorless soups, and sautéed chicken, beef, or shrimps swimming in bland sauces--reflecting French taste and, when it comes to spice, the lack of it.