Lunch is important in France. It still really matters. Although the approach to work in the cities is becoming more and more like northern Europe, two hour lunch breaks are broadly respected, and expected, in the countryside. In the cities they are still taken, but more selectively. To meet old friends and colleagues, to start and end relationships and to do business, but only once you reach the coffee.
The first element of my midday meal related shame stems from an abject failure to participate in, or even to observe, all this. I work from home most of the time and if I am out over lunch for any reason I tend to be rushing somewhere so I just grab a sandwich.
I could stop and order the menu du midi in any one of hundreds of cafés or restaurants. I could watch the early sparks that will grow into blazing affairs, the bis-ing of late arriving friends and the body language that gives away who is on top as a deal is clinched. I don’t though. My protestant work ethic prompts me to rush by. I should adapt to the French approach but I can’t. I’d love to assimilate but, shameful and ungrateful immigrant that I am, I can’t.
The second cause betrays an even deeper disloyalty to my adopted homeland. When people think of food they think of France and when they think of France they think of food. And wine of course, but that goes with food. Clearly I should use my domestic lunches to enjoy the best that our region has to offer. The Gers is sometimes called the Tuscany of France because of the sheer volume of delicious produce that springs from its terroir. I could enjoy a nice salade of duck gizzard. But I don’t. As I sit admiring the view of the Pyrénées my favourite thing to eat is my own recipe which is composed, almost entirely, of Spanish stuff!
You take a nice soft tortilla or two depending on the size and smear some wholegrain mustard on. Then add slim slices of cheese. I could use creamy chevre (goats cheese) from the local mountains, or even the ubiquitous Comté that is the French cheddar but a bit nuttier. I don’t though I use Manchego that has been smuggled across the border and is then sold at the special Spanish shop near Les Carmes market in Toulouse.
I can get the other ingredients almost anywhere but the same Spanish shop does them best of all. Chorizo forte that has the right balance of smoke and spice and whole piquillo peppers, preserved in olive oil alongside a clove of garlic. Sliced and placed on top of the cheese they make a delicious but distinctly un-French filling.
Rolled and toasted in a grill so the manchego melts and the oils from the peppers and sausage mix this is a delight to eat and will brighten any homeworker’s lunchbreak.
My French friends would point out that they have superb dried sausages, more cheeses than any nation on earth and all the forms of bread that anybody could wish for. They’re right and it is greener and better to support local producers too.
Nevertheless, and despite the side order of shame, my toasted Spanish masterpiece will continue to be the highlight of my solo lunches. Wherever you come from and whatever your lunch culture might be you should try one.