Sunday, 18 March 2012

Lunch à la francaise : le déjeuner, not breakfast as lunch

Last week, we had a long French restaurant lunch; dawdled as we ate leek and herrings in aspic, a gratinée of cod, artichokes and spring legumes. Thought about it afterwards, the cultural codes of food, what is circumscribed when you eat. The English pile it on one plate, the Spanish spread over several platters, the Dutch snack constantly. Lunch in France is a serious matter. There are rules to abide by, food to eat. This is not breakfast as lunch. A French restaurant lunch has an intricate, restrictive composition. Reflected in other aspects of the culture, this Platonic configuration, when I arrived here many years ago, provoked a longing for orangeade and crisps for breakfast, soap operas, ripped jeans and a general desire for disorder.

At lunchtime, one rarely considers speed or flexibility. Le déjeuner is le déjeuner; nothing more and nothing less. It makes me think of Gertrude Stein, a rose is a rose is a rose.

There is a comfort in the chink of glass, the slurp of wine. Bread and water are provided, free of charge.

The meal is split into a ballet of five or six scenes, which may be adjusted but only slightly : l'apéritif (pre-food drink), l'entrée (the starter), le plat (the main course), le fromage ( an optional cheese course), le désert (dessert) et le café (the coffee).

Sat in the bustle, the eater follows the pre-conceived structure, relishing in the knowledge of what is known. Vegetarians and food allergies are rarely considered.  A model, an established order, which can encompass but is challenged by those who deviate. And yet, food, wine, lovely conversation, in a country that Henry Miller described as 'a playground'  for the stranger; completed by the sweetened full-stop.

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