Although not known for its cuisine in the same way as our adopted country of France, many expats still crave the flavours of home. Whether it’s the sounds and smells of sizzling bacon under the grill, the taste of sausages made from real Irish pork, or just one of the many condiments and sauces that we grew up with, expats’ taste buds are salivating at the thought of a bit of cooking from the country of our birth.
A lot of British branded foods are available from supermarkets in France these days – for a premium price of course and with no guarantee that it will be available the following week – but of course with UK Home Shopping Online, there is a reliable source of Irish and British foods delivered for free to multiple drop off points in France!
A few years ago and your only choice was the occasional English stall at the Saturday morning food markets selling such exotic items as Digestive biscuits, HP sauce and Walker’s Crisps. These days pretty much every supermarket even in the rural areas of France has a “foreign foods section” including Anglais and with the growth of the Internet, online shopping is now commonplace, secure and reliable.
So… what would be on the list of must-have foods for British expats?
Number One – and no surprise is a good strong cup of tea! This is one thing that is impossible to source outside of the main cities in France. I like a really good strong Kenya blend from a Tesco supermarket chain in the UK and we cannot get anything like it here in France. The French supermarkets stock over 100 brands of flavoured teas, teas with mint or parsley or other concoctions but where is the Oolong, Orange Pekoe or black tea? We Brits are brought up to start the day, get through the day and end the day with a cup of tea! It’s the first thing we offer visitors – none of this coffee malarky that our American cousins offer.
Number two was a full English breakfast – well why not? We can source the mushrooms, eggs and tomatoes locally but a good high quality pork sausage with a touch of herbs and spice is impossible to find in France. Now, I am not a fan of English black pudding as I spent too much time in Scotland, but the Irish black pudding slices are identical to my favourite Scottish variety. Top the plate off with ‘real’ baked beans – something I stock up on by buying catering size packs so we never run out! Of course the French neighbours find my passion for haricot beans in tomato sauce very odd and if they are attracted by the amazing smells that originate from my kitchen when I am cooking Sunday brunch then without fail every single one of them has pronounced baked beans as utterly repellent! It’s definitely a British tradition.
Chocolate is one of those strange ones – we love British chocolate but it’s not ‘good’ chocolate. I guess it is what we were raised on and it takes time for the taste buds to adjust. European chocolate is delicious and made with a passion and as an art form – but we still crave that great British taste from our childhood.
And then onto the love/hate product that is Marmite – oh yes – you either totally agree or you just stopped reading this page. The little brown pots of yeast extract (a by-product of brewing beer but not remotely alcoholic) are essential to some. We Brits either love it or hate it and t’s been around since the 19th Century and the name is taken from an old French word “marmite” which means a covered cooking pot. It has the consistency of a thick glue, is pungent and piquant and – well you make up your own mind.
No English meal is complete without gravy! You just cannot get good gravy in France – and by that I mean the powdered stuff which probably doesn’t have any real food in it but is made of chemicals but you just mix it with water and you have perfect tasting gravy for your roast dinners! The French have so many great sauces, many of which I still have to try but in France everyone makes their version of gravy using meat juices, red wine, herbs and spice – although Spice seems to be a bad word in French cooking most of the time. French ‘gravy’ has never managed to be reduced enough to create something thick enough to please my British palate.
There are plenty of French foods that I would miss if I ever returned to the UK, but there are just so many British foods that I still miss and many I haven’t covered in this article. Smoked kippers, Fish and Chips soggy with malt vinegar, Pukka pies and good quality baking potatoes – the list goes on!