French food notes: Asian food sour not sweet in France

In our series providing a sideways glance at French food, we ask why the French accept mediocre Asian cooking

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You could have knocked this food noter down with a Thai basil leaf recently when, during a delightful sojourn in Amiens, I had a ‘French’ Asian culinary experience that smashed long-held preconceptions and left me gobsmacked – for once, the food was authentic and superb. It was such a rare find that I went back three nights in a row.

No UK expat in France is safe from the curse of the disappointing sit-down in a Indian, Chinese or Thai (let’s not even mention the state of takeaways).

We do our best to pretend it’s ok, of course (night out!), but the lack of quality/freshness/choice/flavour/spice winds us up like little else in France – a place, let us not forget, where everyone is a self-proclaimed food expert and you cannot so much as alter one ingredient in a boeuf bourguignon without being hailed a traitor to the memory of Mamie and her recipe or threatened with eternal gastronomic damnation.

Then there is the bizarre geographical appropriation witnessed in those all-encompassing ‘restaurants Asiatiques’, which manage to meld several countries’ specialities in the entrée course alone.

Soggy springs rolls (nems) sit alongside defrosted, cardboard samosas like embarrassed culinary bedfellows.

The worst is yet to come for the poor nems – about to be wrapped in soggy lettuce and mint in a fumbling ritual seemingly from Mars.

Curry and stir-fry sauces are available in jars here, of course, but at twice the price as the UK – French supermarkets clearly know we will pay the earth for our spice fix!

So it seems we have five options – make our own; go to Amiens (restaurant name available upon request); go back to the UK more often for a lamb balti; stop moaning and open a ‘Pan-Asian’ restaurant (how hard can it be?); or retreat into blissful ignorance like French nem-munchers.

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