This past weekend we were in Paris for 29 hours (more on that later), and enjoyed some very delicious food. I left every meal feeling very satisfied and with no desire to eat for the foreseeable future. I would even say to myself, I'm not sure I need to eat dinner I'm so satisfied (not stuffed, but satisfied). And yet 5 hours later my stomach was grumbling and growling all over again.
The french diet has had a lot of attention in the past couple of years. The so-called 'french paradox' has books written about it, trying to explain why it is that French people eat such delicious and rich food and yet don't gain weight or have the levels of heart disease you would expect with all those delicious butter croissants.
But it doesn't take an entire book to explain why this is the case. All you have to do is look around in a restaurant in France. I don't mean the touristy restaurants in Paris that have picked up too many bad habits from the US. I mean a real french restaurant where french locals eat. You can find them in Paris, but even more so out in the smaller cities and towns of France.
When you read the menu the food sounds so tantalizingly rich and plentiful you wonder how you'll ever eat it all. But the trick of the french (and most traditional European eating styles, I would dare to say), is the portion sizes and variety.
We enjoyed a delicious and decadent meal in Paris on Saturday night. Started with champagne and charcuterie. Moved on to salad. Then it was fish and rainbow chard as a main course, and ended with a dessert that truly blew my mind (a caramel-like mousse/pudding with crystallized orange and crunchy sugar on top of a soft almond cookie...I was seriously talking about it for the whole next day and would go back and have another one if I could -- in case you're curious the restaurant was Semilla in the 6th).
Yes it was a four-course meal. And yes the food was cooked in butter, had salad dressing, and definitely contained sugar (dessert, of course). But the portions were incredibly reasonable, and we luxuriated in the meal for over three hours.
My fish course came on a plate the size of a US salad plate, and when the main course first arrived I thought it might not be enough for my American compatriots joining us at dinner. But the slow, lengthy dinner and delicious food was more than enough to satisfy all of us.
Generalizing generally gets us into trouble, so I won't do that here. But I do think that the attitude around food in the US could use a little more emphasis on food quality, and time spent enjoying quality food, and a lot less emphasis on food quantity.