The Secret Cevennes - articles by Samantha David
Spice It Up
We got asked The Question yesterday. Again. You must know it. You must get asked it too: "What do you eat? Do you eat French or English?" enquired one of the neighbours.
What she meant was do you eat normal food like us or do you eat revolting English things like cheese omelette with raspberry jam? Do you eat corned beef and marmalade? Do you eat poo-ding? Pore-hedge? Yoke-shire? Fruit with meat? Boiled sausages? Slugs?
It's not her fault. She's never been to the UK so she doesn't know what Brits eat, and she's gleaned most of her ideas from French comedy shows. She hasn't the faintest clue that Brits just eat what they like. It isn't possible to explain multi-culturalism to an octogenarian Cevennole who inhabits the same house in which she was born, raised, married, retired and widowed.
"French!" said the Junior Member, kicking me viciously. She was cross because the week before I lost my temper and told someone that all English ate cheese omelettes with Golden Syrup for breakfast, that they boiled all their meat with cabbage, and that it was true that they sprinkled sugar on grilled fish. (I just couldn't help myself. I think I also agreed that the English have genetically evolved so that they have fewer taste buds than their Gallic counterparts.)
"We eat French!" said the Junior Member loudly.
The neighbour looked rather disappointed if truth be told. I think she was looking forward to hearing about the meat pies with orange jelly inside them. Still, I held my tongue and behaved myself.
"We eat la daube, la soupe, les pates... comme tout le monde!" I said.
But of course it's not true. In the privacy of our own kitchen we piggy into all sorts of goodies from all over the world - chilli, moussaka, bean-shoots, goulash, tachos, meatballs, ravioli, and anything else that tickles our fancy. And I think most Brit expats do the same.
Last week for example, we had friends round and after supper we were playing "what do you miss most from Blighty?"
Custard creams? Marmite? Proper milk? Sort of. Everyone had different things on their wish-lists, but everyone had one item in common. Curry.
I don't suppose this should be surprising seeing as apparently these days it is officially the UK's favourite food, and there are more Indian than any other kind of restaurants across the land. But it didn't take long before we were all licking our lips at the mention of popadums, nan bread, lassai, alu ghobi and raitha. Tandoori chicken came in for a big yummy cheer as well. Mango chutney, said someone else. Oooh!
We sat round the table groaning in delight at the very thought of it. Take-aways versus cook it yourself were all discussed with watering mouths. Recipes were exchanged, tips for finding ingredients in France (Carrefour in Montpellier has a selection of Pataks products for example, including podadums with chutney and raitha) and then we got onto best restaurants.
You'd have thought we were French, the obsessive food conversation that followed. We just couldn't stop. We all confessed that curry was the first thing we wanted when we arrived in the UK, we all admitted to sneaking pots of curry paste onto ghastly Ryanair flights right under the noses of their Dobermann air crews, it turned out that we all had Madhur Jaffrey's books in our kitchens.
Such a pleasure! If you can't order a decent take-away, at least with other Brit expats you can fantasise about it.
But try explaining that to your neighbour next time they ask you The Question.
Next column will be uploaded around 1st Nov.
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