What a French restaurant should be like – Part 1

John Paul-Fortney, 13/03/2012

France has long been revered for its position in the gastronomical hierarchy. The concept of the modern restaurant originated in Paris in the late 18th century (though other sorts of communal eating establishments had existed long before this).

UNESCO even recognized French cuisine on their World Intangible Heritage list. Its intention was not to recognize the ingredients or the food itself, but the ritual of the meal which has held such importance in the social lives of the French for so long.

Unfortunately, like many cultural traditions, long meals in France are becoming less commonplace than they were a generation ago. While a few still take a leisurely-paced lunch break, most only take enough time to grab a sandwich and get back to the office. Eating at the office desk would have been unimaginable in the past, yet many feel they have far too much to do to partake in the daily ritual of a two hour lunch break.

John-Paul Fortney, 13/03/2012

In Paris, in particular, people are straying further away from tradition. McDonald’s restaurants are seemingly everywhere (there are 1,228 in France) and they have longer lines to get in than almost any other restaurants in this city.

A lot of the trendy and hip restaurants, while they may serve excellent food, appear to be moving away from seeming too traditional and so give the impression of being restaurants that could be in hundreds of other cities worldwide.

The food is important of course, and one would imagine that any good restaurant in Paris is aware of that, but the ambiance and sense of being a part of a long-lived French social ritual is equally important.

When I’ve talked with people who have travelled abroad, many remember the monuments and museums and other important historical attractions that a locale offers.

However, the positive memories that seem to be the strongest are usually those where the traveller is allowed to partake in a local tradition, or simply put, live like a local for a day. Whether it be eating a meal with a local family or going to a house party with a bunch of natives, these memories seem to be more gratifying than those of being part of the throngs of people encountered at touristy venues.

In the Part 2 of this article, I discuss a meal that my girlfriend and I had a few weeks ago where the meal itself was only one of the many positive components of our dining experience.

Image credits:
1. www.telegraph.co.uk
2. hipparis.com

About the Contributor

John-Paul Fortney

Born in St. Louis, USA, I have been living in Paris since February 2008. Since November 2010, I have been running my own company called Culinary Tours of Paris, giving tours that combine good food, drink and historical anecdotes involving French cuisine and the neighborhoods of Paris! You can follow me on my blog ‘Living Cheap in France‘ or here on My French Life™

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  1. Michael Cosgrove Mar 31, 2012 at 11:05 PM - Reply

    Hi John-Paul, and agreed, it is regrettable that traditional eating habits and contexts are on the wane. There are many reasons for that of course, including busier lifestyles, multicultural influences and the failure of French restaurants as a whole to adapt to change.

    These days it’s commonplace to see people hanging on to a rail on a crowded metro train with one hand whilst wolfing down a quiche from a mass-produced source with the other.

    Oh well… 🙁

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