Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

For All Their Mockery of "Les Rosbifs" and Our Limited Cuisine, the French Are, at Long Last, Starting to Seek out British Food

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

For All Their Mockery of "Les Rosbifs" and Our Limited Cuisine, the French Are, at Long Last, Starting to Seek out British Food

Article excerpt

By the time you read this, I should be pedalling my way through France profonde, scooping up its finest crepes, clafoutis and cassoulet for my next book. I rather doubt, as I huff my way down cotes and up montagnes, that many French authors will be similarly engaged tracking down the meilleur oysters in East Anglia, or the sweetest tablet in Troon. Despite a thousand years of rivalry on battle and football field, there's one area in which we've long been happy to acknowledge French superiority: the kitchen.

We enjoyed, or endured, a pretty similar diet up until the end of the Middle Ages, when French cuisine evolved its plethora of sauces and fancy preparations ... and British cooks carried on roasting large pieces of meat. The vast joint in Hogarth's magnificently xenophobic painting O the Roast Beefof Old England is no mere metaphor: the artist was a member of the Sublime Society of Beef Steaks, whose meetings featured rare meat and bloody anti-French songs.

In fact, for all the mockery of "les rosbifs", our meat earns a grudging respect. Alexandre Dumas, pere praised it as "infinitely more flavourful" than the French equivalent: "to verify this, every time I go to England I eat it with renewed pleasure". But that's where French appreciation of British cooking ends. Voltaire described England as a nation "of 42 religions and only two sauces", while Jacques Chirac is said to have had Gerhard Schroder and Vladimir Putin in stitches when he quipped: "One cannot trust people whose cuisine is so bad."

Yet, as we prepare to embark on a new chapter in our shifting relationship, it seems that the more adventurous among our French friends are plucking up the courage to give the second-worst food in Europe (after Finland--Chirac again) a try. …

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