Is it possible to have bad food in France? Of course it is.
I think I'm guilty of waxing too lyrical about the food in France sometimes, and I'm certainly not alone in that. If you believe some people (many of whom have a vested interest in upholding the myth) you may think that French people eat delicious, fresh, well-prepared gourmet food and heavenly pastries all the time. That's just not true, of course. I'm just back from a two week stay in Provence, and while most of the food was wonderful as usual, there were some definite low lights.
The thing is, France suffers from the same afflictions as any modern nation - people are too busy, they are in a hurry, there's no time. Most of the people taking their leisurely time at the weekday morning markets are elderly. If you go to the hypermarché in the afternoon, there are many younger people, working people, doing the toss-it-in-the-shopping-cart-it's-edible routine that all of us do. There are tons of packaged, canned, frozen, etc. items for sale - and they must sell otherwise those hypermarchés wouldn't be successful. Much of the bad food in modern society is a result of people not having enough time to shop for, and prepare, and most importantly eat food slowly enough to actually taste it. When you are too preoccupied with other matters, or other matters take up too much of your energy, then food simply becomes something to fill that empty space in your belly or to keep up your energy.
There are fast food restaurants everywhere in France - as well as McDonalds and KFC and the like there are also the French chains like Quick and Flunch. And then there are the roadside diners. Granted, roadside diners anywhere generally have a tough time maintaining quality, but still - I encountered one of the worst looking so-called meals I've ever seen at an Autogrill (a roadside restaurant chain) near Lyon on the long drive back home. It was called a Steak Haché - which translated to 'minced steak' - a.k.a. a hamburger.
I know I know, what was I doing ordering a hamburger? What can I say, I wanted something warm, not yet another cold sandwich. Besides, several other people were eating it and it looked okay from afar. But this is what it looked like up close:
The fries smelled as if they had been fried in old oil. The hamburger had a curious rubbery, resistant feel on the surface. When cut open, the insides were....raw, as in bright red raw. At this point I somehow lost my appetite.
So what point am I making here? Well...I guess it's that 1. you can get a bad meal anywhere, even in France. 2. not all French people are gourmets and 3. I will never order a steak hache at an Autogrill again. I think I'll stick to soda and Pringles. Oh yes, they sell Pringles in France.
(Incidentally, a few days before the Autogrill episode, we somehow missed lunchtime and ended up at another chain restaurant around 3 in the afternoon. Let's say it wasn't the most inspiring place in terms of cleanliness or general atmosphere. Yet, someone at a nearby table at a cafe was tucking into a steak tartare, complete with raw egg, with gusto. Maybe I'm too nervous about raw chopped meat. Or, maybe not. I'd rather not find out through trial and error. )
If you'd rather savor some of the best food from France, be sure to check out the Just Hungry Menu For Hope Food Hamper and donate!