France, one word that conjures up visions of romance, food, and history. The French love for food has spun words like ‘gourmet’, ‘cuisine’, and ‘gourmand’. The French imbue romance into everything and food is no exception. The history of French cuisine, therefore, is the study of flavour, war, trade, colonization, and romance. In today’s post, let us take a peek at this fascinating story and further appreciate French food.
The French cuisine that we know and love today is an amalgamation of hundreds of years of cultural learnings and exploration. France as a country was once part of several empires. From the Moors to the Franks, each and every one of these powers added their own twist to what we know as French cuisine today. One of the commonly accepted theories is that the use of certain herbs, spices and pickling techniques were used by people of this time in order to flavour and preserve the food through the barren winter periods.
Indebted to Italy
French cuisine owes a great deal to Italy. Wondering how? Well, the Italians were lightyears ahead of the French, when it came to cooking techniques, and the use of garlic, mushrooms, and other spices. In the 16th century an Italian princess, Catherine de Medici, wed Henry Duc d’Orleans (who went on to become King Henry II). It was at this time that Queen Catherine arrived at the French court with several influential Italian chefs, who helped refine French cuisine.
Trade and conquest: A spicy affair
In 1453, the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople and closed off the overland trading routes from Europe to the Orient. This led to Spain, France, Portugal, and eventually England all exploring maritime routes to the Far East. Their aim: to trade gold for spices, silk, and other commodities of high value in their native lands. Eventually, France (like other major European powers) colonised parts of the world, and spice came to play an important role in French cooking. Though French cuisine isn’t heavily spicy or piquant, the use of ingredients like chillies, peppers, and mushrooms became more common during this period.
Haute Cuisine: French cuisine through the Bourbon Monarchy
French food and particularly ‘la cuisine royale’ really came into its own during the heydays of the Bourbon monarchy. The reign of Louis XVI, in particular, saw amazing refinements made to French cooking techniques. The 17th-century royal chef La Varenne compiled what came to be known as the Bible of Haute Cuisine. There was more emphasis on pairing wines with courses, accompaniment of various bread with gravied courses and the enshrining of the now ubiquitous cheese and fruit platter as a dessert. In fact, the early 18th century saw the development of bakeries in cities like Paris, Lyon, Nice and Toulouse. Public restaurants and eating out as a means of social custom are also France’s gift to the world and are said to have originated in this period.
French cuisine today
We can all agree that the early to middle 20th century, were awful for France and most of Europe. War and subsequent periods of recovery saw little to no development in cuisine for the first 50 years of the century. French cuisine really took off in the 1970s and 80s with chefs like Marco Pierre White, Anthony Bourdain, Gordon Ramsey and others experimenting with bold flavours and recipes. In fact, in 2010, UNESCO added French cuisine to the list of cultural objects that are called intangible cultural heritage.
Begin your exploration of French cuisine with us. We have a carefully selected range of condiments, sauces, spices, and other French cuisine essentials. Do check them out here. And as always, we hope you’ve found this post informative and entertaining.