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What are the key elements of a traditional gastronomic French dinner?

20201019 French aperitif
The word “aperitif” comes from the Latin verb “aperire,” which means to open. One drinks an aperitif to whet one’s appetite. Image: IStock/ViewApart via AFP Relaxnews.

France is known for its lengthy dinners, punctuated by various food courses, carefully selected wines, and, of course, lots of conversation among friends and family.

It is a privileged moment for many in the country and one that usually starts at 8 p.m. or later and goes on for a few hours. France’s evening meal is in the spotlight as several cities in the country prepare for a 9 p.m. curfew and restrictions on numbers that may put to halt dining out in restaurants and in large groups.

Holding UNESCO intangible heritage status since 2010, we look at the essential elements of the “gastronomic meal of the French.”

The importance of food and wine pairing

The late Alain Senderens was the first award-winning chef to proclaim the importance of selecting wines in accordance with various dishes. The chef from Paris’ Lucas Carton restaurant was one of the first to make food and wine pairings a marker of culinary culture in France. This key aspect of French traditional meals has even been acknowledged as a dining pillar by UNESCO.

Don’t forget the aperitif

French meals usually start with pre-dinner drinks, a tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages. The French think that l’apero (short for aperitif) is the best way to whet your appetite.

The word “aperitif” comes from the Latin verb “aperire,” which means to open or whet. Back then, fortified herbal wines were legion to encourage digestion. The aperitif, therefore, had medicinal properties at that time. Today, however, it may no longer be the case.

Nor the cheese

Before dessert, French dinners feature a cheese platter — and there is always plenty of choice, thanks to the over 1,200 different kinds of French cheeses out there. A report published by France’s senate on the subject of culinary arts stated that the history of cheese and French history go hand in hand.

According to the document, cheeses are “linked to French history and traditions, each cheese coming from specific soils and geographic zones… The place where it is produced often gives its name to the cheese… French cheeses contribute to cultural diversity and are representative of human creativity, of French cultural heritage and its different communities.”

Decorate the table

During a dinner “a la Francaise,” you need to select the right ingredients, preferably locally produced with “matching flavors,” noted UNESCO experts. However, while flavors matter, the table setting is also key.

Tableware is essential to gastronomic meals in France. You can show off your best silverware and crockery for important milestones such as weddings, birthdays or Christmas dinners. For the holiday season, miniature Christmas trees, mistletoe branches or fir cones often bring a natural vibe to family gatherings. CC


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