Yesterday, it was the last day of term at Clé des Chants, one of the choirs I belong to. As usual, we finished the year with a shared meal.
In the course of the evening, I was chatting to Bernard and Pierrot, mildly teasing them that as usual, the women had cooked food to bring, while the men had brought the wine. After they’d defended themselves with some vigour, they asked me about English food.
I always find this question quite difficult to respond to, now that we English are more likely to sit down to spaghetti Bolognese, a Chinese-style stir-fry, or a pungent curry, than steak and kidney pudding with two veg. followed by jam roly-poly and custard. So I talked about the English love affair with curry, and said how we liked ’em spicy.
Bernard: ‘Oh, cooked with saffron – that sort of thing’
Me: ‘No – chillies, cumin, turmeric, ginger – that sort of thing’
Bernard: ‘In that case, I had a curry once, chilli con carne I think it was called. Didn’t like it.’
Which is, in one way, surprising. The French colonial heritage means that the warm, rich flavours Morocco, Algeria & Tunisia – tagines and couscous are now a standard and much appreciated part of French cuisine.
Still, you couldn’t call these dishes mouth-burningly hot. Any more than the curries served in this part of France are, to the English palate. ‘Careful! It’s lethal’, you’ll be warned, as a tempting plate is set before you. ‘Erm, thanks. This is a jolly nice stew’ is not the correct response.
PS, and nothing to do with spices at all. If the French have not embraced curries, they have fallen in love with ‘le crumble’, and whole recipe books are devoted to the subject. We were delighted to pass a pâtisserie in Agen the other day, with lots on display. They were helpfully labelled ‘Grumble’.