Gastronomically speaking, variety is the spice of life in France (even if actual spice, as curry-loving expats can confirm, rarely is), and all tastes are catered for if you know where to look.
So in most towns – depending on your region – for every teetering, pricy platter of fruits de mer, elsewhere you could probably find some rubbery frog’s legs to offset its haughtiness. And for every exquisitely rich cassoulet on offer there is, somewhere else, a cold slice of farci poitevin, a fairly unappealing looking slab of pressed veg wrapped in cabbage. A chacun son goût.
On the meat front, nose-to-tail eating, which gained British gastropub traction in the last 20 years (inspired by Fergus Henderson’s St John restaurant in mid-90s London), is old hat in France, where it has long been fine to slow-cook all manner of grisly body parts – from sheep testicles (couilles de mouton) to cow’s tongue (langue de boeuf), sweetbreads (calf’s pancreas, ris de veau) to udders (tétines). Such cuisine even touches on noblesse with the esteemed tête de veau (boiled or roasted calf’s head) which is served with a Gribiche sauce, a kind of thick boiled egg mayonnaise.
However, few dishes come close to dividing diners quite like andouillettes (above). This pig intestine sausage announces itself long before it arrives at the table, as a strong offally whiff blazing a pungent trail across the restaurant. Its taste, though, is nowhere near as gruesome as its aroma, and you can decide for yourself which of its regional variations (Lyon, Troyes and Cambrésis are among them) is the best.
This and other wince-inducing dishes survive because they provide a tasty hark back to yesteryear. And also, perhaps, because we all love the underdog.
Tuck in with a New Wave approach to dinner time
The name Villeroy and Boch is probably best known as a high-end purveyor of elegant bathroom suites, kitchen sinks and porcelain tableware. However, the Lorraine firm – created in 1748 when iron master François Boch set up a pottery company with his three sons – also produces many elegant cutlery sets (43 styles at last count). This New Wave Flatware 30-piece service brings fresh creativity to the brand. High quality stainless steel, price €299. www.villeroy-boch.fr
Buck your ideas up with pancakes all-year-round
We may have already seen off Chandeleur – France’s pancake day was in February – but this sarrasin (buckwheat flour, though it is not actually wheat) makes for super-tasting, Breton-style pancakes with a slight hazlelnut bitterness any time of the year. It can also be used in the preparation of breads, cakes and even savoury waffles. In practical terms, we especially admire its handy jerry can-style shape and screw cap to helps prevent spillages. €2.76 for 600g from www.monoprix.fr