Marmite Pizza

Today there is a greve - that is a strike to you and I. As a result the secondary teachers are out in force and the majority of classes have been cancelled. I work from home, so my friends who go out to work, have dumped a variety of offspring chez nous. Entertaining other peoples children is always an eye opener and never more so than when they are of another nationality.

Cultural differences are always going to be a source of amusement and over the years, we have had more than our fair share of moments where the entente has been less than cordiale.

Food is often a factor. Or rather, the bizarre eating habits of “Les Anglais”, as perceived by the French. One regular sleep over guest, now brings her own breakfast. This came about after the famous occasion when I had run out of chocolate covered cereal and Nutella for the toast. The conversation went something like this:

Me - “How about some fruit?”
Her - Blank incomprehension, shakes head - *thinks*- ‘Why is this woman offering me dessert?’

Me - “Would you like porridge oats?”
Her - Blank incomprehension, politely refuses - * thinks*- ‘Why is this woman offering me horse feed?’

Me - getting desperate, “ I could do you a fried egg?”
Her - Looks terrified, *thinks* ‘This woman is trying to poison me!’

I gave up. She now arrives with a jar of Nutella and strangely enough, a loaf of white sliced, crustless bread, something that couldn’t be more English. But clearly it is ok as her mother brought it in France, therefore it must be edible....

Anyway, we had the last laugh. The bread brought back so many happy memories of kids birthday teas and crustless marmite sarnies - bliss - that the OH and I devoured the lot in bacon butties. Ha.

The French do have an incredible arrogance about food. They maintain that if it is French it is Good and if it is Foreign it is Bad. This is why it cracks me up when Raymond Le Blanc starts twaddling on about ‘France and Ze fine dining’ on the TV show ‘The Restaurant’.

I wholeheartedly agree that French food can be fantastic, especially traditional regional dishes.

But the French also love to take dishes from other cultures, add a touch of arrogant ‘we can do better’ and cock them right up. Go to a Pizzeria and the cheese and tomato options may be edible, but the ‘special’ will involve some ghastly confection of honey, nuts, apple, duck and curry sauce.

It is also why I went to an up-market restaurant recently and was nearly poisoned by the dish of the day. It was advertised as a kebab. I imagined some Gordon Ramsay type special - maybe free range lamb, rocket, fantastic sauce and a home made wrap.

The special ingredient turned out to be Foie Gras, marinated in Sangria. I am all for fusion cooking but this was a step too far. Actually, it was several steps too far. I have never eaten anything quite so evil in my entire life.

Bastardising ethnic food like this may explain why the French have such a distrust of eating anything foreign, as generally, it is not very nice. It may also explain why French kids will only eat pasta plain. Although sometimes they will add tomato ketchup, if they are feeling particularly cosmopolitan and adventurous.

I had better go and buy some baguettes for lunch. They are always a safe bet. Served with ham. And nothing else.

Note to Joanna Hair.....there is an 'anglo' equivalent to Bon Appetit. It's 'Enjoy Your Meal'! I know this because my partner's doing a course at the Chambre de Commerce in Castres. Apparently they are not learning English but American and this is what they have been told to say before every meal. He's already started calling the loo the rest room, the rubbish is garbage and, yes, the money belt I use when I do markets is my fanny pack.

Am slowly getting my french step children to diversify.....fortunately their mum is spanish so has taken care of that side of things. For my part I have introduced them to Mexican, Indian and a variety of English dishes (and yes they did expect everything to be drenched in mint sauce) with great results. Last week they wolfed down my home made taramasalata although I did have to lie as I knew 'fish eggs' as a listed ingredient would send them running back to the confit de canard (which incidentally I find delicious, particularly when prepared by The Mother In Law From Hell)

When we were new in the Perigord, (land of the walnut) we naively thought we'd show our neighbours an English speciality. We expected they would appreciate it as it is (we think) a delicious treatment of the aforementioned nut. Big mistake. For future reference, pickles in general and Pickled Walnuts in particular are very unlikely to win you any French friends.

Yesterday I was invited to talk about England to my 6yr old's class =plus another older class afterwards -it was great ! - I had made 60 mince pies for them to try, and interestingly the younger ones loved them and the older class didn't like the mincemeat at all! i was quite surprised as surely they use cinnamaon & dried fruit in their cooking?! but the teacher, bless her, saved up all the uneaten big bits & said that she'd keep them for when they were hungrier later in the day as she was sure they'd change their minds after swimming !

I am glad that I am not the only one who thinks that our "chosen country's hosts" bring a certain arrogance to the table (and many other places too, but that is another story).

The family that I belong to, my partner is French, cooks on the whole 3 to 4 different dishes all the time. There is no variety and spices like thyme, oregano, or God forbid, anything American, (bahh, no! You eat ketchup?), German (Maggi! Oh no, c'est trop bizarre), Asian (with the mention of 5 Spice or soya sauce bringing on face contortions) or British marmite which they won't even try. Salt, pepper, garlic and parsley are the only spices added to food, and all the different fowls they so elaborately dry out in the oven, taste the same. I planted rosemary and thyme in their garden, bring "exotic" herbs, like basil or coriander to weekends at their place, but the fowl still tastes the same and the poor oven dried pork roast has still not seen the rosemary.

Sometimes I « surprise » (ha, ha) the family by bringing something healthy that I have prepared, like quinoa and black bean salad, stirred fried vegetables over rice or soya, honey and lime marinated "pave de saumon". I bring these dishes as a replacement for the usual course after the soup (haven't figured out yet if its the second course or still part of the first) implying that I wanted to help with the cooking. It gives me an evil kind of pleasure seeing them squirt (oh no! She's going to poison us one of these days with all that healthy cooking of hers) while they are trying to serve themselves with the smallest serving spoon that could be found in the kitchen.

To my taste, the average French kitchen has many things lacking, i.e., variety, spices and savory herbs only some of them. The fact that, besides steaks and roast beef, most meats and vegetables are cooked to death is another one of my gripes with it.

But, then, who am I to criticize! After all, I have lived and cooked in many more countries then the average French person will ever see.

Just thought I add my two cents :) Wishing you all a great day... and, bon appétit!

I have been living in France for at least 46 years now and can only count on my left hand good cakes made at home!! They all seam to love what they call "cake" which sticks to the the top of the mouth .I hate it No no I'm sorry the britts make the best desserts aswell as cakes.I really miss the eclairs witrh REAL cream as I have alway hated creme patissier.My kids are 100% french and when they come for lunch I have to make them a tipical english pud. and they even adore a good old jelly and real custard !!!

Just remembered, I made home-made 'luxury' hamburgers based on a mix of steak mince & other good ingredients from Gordon Ramsey for some friends. I made lots of different toppings with the idea they could serve themselves & create their own ideal sandwich & I thought it would be a bit of fun as the kids dive in for what they like. The parents said 'oh the children have never had hamburgers' I thought, maybe not but I bet they've had Steak Hache...

I remember Darren buying a ham and butter baguette from the vending machine at the hospital (was one of those last minute labour moments where he was starving and nothing else was open). It had slices, more like chunks in fact of butter in it as though they confused the butter with cheese. Disgusting. I was sick looking at it.

I have given up trying to defend English cookery, there's no point.

Thirty years of reasoned arguments haven't made a dent in my friends' food prejudices. They just switch off when I try and explain that we're not the only ones to to boil meat - what about pot au feu and blanquette de veau? - that we don't put jam on our meat or eat mouldy cake or sugared meat pies at Christmas - that mixing sweet and savoury can hardly be a hanging crime since the French do it too with their fresh goat's cheese and honey (a Bordeaux speciality ) or their very traditional boudin aux pommes, sausages with applesauce.

So now it's Yes! there's no equivalent for bon appétit because we know it's going to be awful! No! the British can't cook a vegetable, a piece of meat (never let them near a steak) or a decent cake!

The great advantage to this approach is that it takes the strain out of entertaining. If you manage to make something edible they are relieved and pleasantly surprised and if you mess it up, that was what they were expecting anyway, so you can't lose. Vive la non-cuisine anglaise!

My teenage son heads straight for the Harry's sans croute, Nutella and cereal when he gets home (standard student fodder). But he has lots of French friends that stay over with us at weekends and they are always interested in what I serve up and tell me that they always look forward to dinner. They enjoy the variety of food that we have and they certainly polish it all off! My full English breakfast always goes down a storm too.

I am a marmite fan and My neice has just sent me Very Peculiar marmite chocolate .That will go down well with my french friends when I serve coffee.The taste is extraordinary but you have to be a marmite fan

mmm nutella!

Any special requests on the food front? I'm thinking twiglets, jars of mincemeat- is taking up my night

Don't you mean ham and lashings of butter spread so thick you can't quite close the baguette? I too have had the strange looks from Ed's friends at breakfast as we never have Nutella in the house (shock, horror!) but I have a serious reaction to Nutella so can't buy it, basically if it is in the cupboard I eat it, all!