Spice

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’.

6 thoughts on “Spice”

  1. First off, love your site. I’m from California but I’ve taken my vacations for the past 10 years in Aude & Ariege and know your area quite well.
    On the subject of spices:
    Chilli con carne is very much not a curry–in the US it’s a take on Mexican food but not authentic. It’s meat (carne), beans and chiles…made in various degrees of heat. When I think of chili con carne, I think of a can of Hormel’s brand…sort of thing you’d take on a camping trip for non-discriminating (or very hungry) eaters. My sympathies to Bernard.
    It’s supposedly a very american dish but I wouldn’t claim it.
    I’ve run into the same problem you noted with ‘hot’ Indian food. When travelling I consider Indian food to be a good tonic for the stomach and digestion–except in France. Same thing with ginger in Chinese food–never enough.

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    1. Hi Lynda! Thanks for your comments. Of course I know that chilli con carne hails from Mexico rather than India – but Bernard bundled it into the same – to him- unpleasantly spicy menu. And I don’t know about the USA, but in England, it’s often not very well done, unlike curries, which are often very good. I’ve never had one in France, so I wouldn’t know about that. I don’t know wherher you’re planning to come over this year, but…be warned. We’re having a heatwave at the moment, and a good old curry wouldn’t half help to sweat it out!

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  2. The wife has been baking up a storm lately using French recipes, and she was surprised about how frequently the recipes call for “crumbles” on top. That’s news to me. A lot of German cakes have crumbles.

    Stay away from Chinese food in Germany. The Indian food is pretty good. You can find vindaloos here that will meet your standards for spicey.

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    1. Mmm, it’s not that they HAVE to be hot. But I don’t complain when they are. Anyway, enough of this commenting on the posts of others. You should be due to get typing again soon I think?

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  3. I’ve been following the weather situation in the south; I was there in April. Finances allowed one final trip to France so I took a whole month (getting a Renault on the lease/purchase plan) and rented a house in Mirepoix–the same one I stayed at when I first came in 2000–for two weeks.
    I have friends in the area so I feel like I’m still part of the place. Of course if I won the lottery…
    I know that the ‘favorite’ Indian food for most people I know, chicken tikka masala, was invented by someone in the UK (I understand there are varying claims).
    I did spent a couple weeks near Montferrier in July. Friend flew in from Amsterdam so we had to plan his arrival around the Tour and it was both hot and threatening thundershowers most of the time. But still wonderful.

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    1. Well, perhaps you’re best avoiding the current canicule. And yes, I understand that chicken tikka masala dish is as English as fish and chips, apparently, but it’s not my favourite by a long way.

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