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CULTURE

Fast food dethrones traditional French cuisine

A report released in France has dealt a severe blow to the country's renowned gastronomy by revealing sales of hamburgers, pizzas, hotdogs and other fast food grub have surpassed those of traditional restaurant dishes for the first time.

Fast food dethrones traditional French cuisine
Photos: zigzagzou76/flickr, James Qualtrough

“In the land of gastronomy, fast food has become the king,” wrote French magazine Le Point this week, summing up a rather surprising change in French culture that was confirmed by a new report this week.

In 2012 sales at fast food outlets in France totaled a whopping €34 billion, outperforming the country’s traditional sit-down restaurants with table service for the first time.

That figure represents 54 percent of the market and reveals a huge jump compared to 2011 when sales of burgers, hot dogs and pizzas etc represented 40 percent of the overall market.

“This growth [of the fast food market] is far superior to that of the whole of the traditional restaurant sector,” said Bernard Boutboul director of the consultancy firm Gira Conseil, which carried out the report into French eating habits.

Since 2004, when fast food chains began diversifying and expanding into new areas, their share of  the market has rocketed by 74 percent.

“That is despite a slowdown in the economy and pessimistic outlook,” Boutboul noted.

CLICK HERE TO DISCOVER MORE FRENCH TRADITIONS UNDER THREAT

The drive for dominance by fast food outlets has unsurprisingly been led by McDonalds, for which France represents the second largest market in the world after the United States.

Last year the burger giant achieved a turnover of €4.35 billion. Its Gallic rival Quick also saw its sales increase by 5 percent.

In contrast to places like McDonald’s and Quick, France’s traditional restaurant scene has been hit hard by the economic squeeze as the purchasing power of the French has taken a hit.

The report also revealed the French are the second biggest consumers of pizza in the world after the US, eating a mammoth 1.6 billion a year and sales of sandwiches in France rose by 6 percent in 2012 to reach €7.01billion as the French wolfed down over three million.

One possible reason for the switch from traditional restaurant dining to fast food is the change in office culture with more and French taking their lunch at their desks instead of eating out.

And it appears fast food outlets are more in tune with this trend with their capacity to offer a delivery service.

"What works is to go where the consumer needs it," Boutboul said.

The report also revealed the French are the second biggest consumers of pizza in the world after the US, eating a mammoth 1.6 billion a year and sales of sandwiches in France rose by 6 percent in 2012 to reach €7.01billion as the French wolfed down over three million.

Just over 1.3 billion of  those sandwiches were the traditional 'jambon-buerre' (ham and butter), the price of which is used as indicator of inflation in France. In 2012 the average price of a jambon-buerre sandwich rose 1.5 percent but a boulangerie the prices were found to have risen 10.9 percent.

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CULTURE

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

The French have developed an entire cultural tradition around the idea of an afternoon snack. It's called "Le goûter" and here's what you need to know about it.

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

With all those patisseries and viennoiseries tempting the tastebuds in high street boulangerie after boulangerie, there can be little wonder that France  – which takes food very seriously – has also invented the correct time to eat them.

Let us introduce you to the cultural tradition of le goûter – the noun of the verb “to taste”, and a cultural tradition in France dating back into the 19th century, perhaps even as far back as the Renaissance … allowing for the fact that people have snacked for centuries, whether or not it had a formal name. 

It refers to a very particular snack time, usually at around 4pm daily. This is the good news.

The bad news is that, officially, le goûter is reserved for children. This is why many schools, nurseries and holiday activity centres offer it and offices don’t. The idea is that, because the family evening meal is eaten relatively late, this mid-afternoon snack will keep les enfants from launching fridge raids, or bombarding their parents with shouts of, “j’ai faim!”.

Most adults, with their grown-up iron will-power, are expected to be able to resist temptation in the face of all that pastry, and live on their three set meals per day. Le grignotage – snacking between meals – is frowned on if you’re much older than your washing machine.

But, whisper it quietly, but just about everyone snacks (grignoter), anyway – a baguette that doesn’t have one end nibbled off in the time it takes to travel from boulanger to table isn’t a proper baguette. Besides, why should your children enjoy all the treats? 

We’re not saying ignore the nutritionists, but if you lead an active, reasonably healthy lifestyle, a bite to eat in the middle of the afternoon isn’t going to do any harm. So, if you want to join them, feel free.

What do you give for goûter 

It’s a relatively light snack – we’re not talking afternoon tea here. Think a couple of biscuits, a piece of cake, a pain au chocolat (or chocolatine, for right-thinking people in southwest France), piece of fruit, pain au lait, a croissant, yoghurt, compote, or a slice of bread slathered in Nutella.

Things might get a little more formal if friends and their children are round at the goûter hour – a pre-visit trip to the patisserie may be a good idea if you want to avoid scratching madly through the cupboards and don’t have time to create something tasty and homemade.

Not to be confused with

Une collation – adult snacking becomes socially acceptable when it’s not a snack but part of une collation served, for example, at the end of an event, or at a gathering of some kind. Expect, perhaps, a few small sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a few small pastries, coffee and water.

L’apéro – pre-dinner snacks, often featuring savoury bites such as charcuterie, olives, crisps and a few drinks, including alcoholic ones, as a warm up to the main meal event, or as part of an early evening gathering before people head off to a restaurant or home for their evening meal.

Un en-cas – this is the great adult snacking get-out. Although, in general, snacking for grown-ups is considered bad form, sometimes it has to be done. This is it. Call it un en-cas, pretend you’re too hungry to wait for the next meal, and you’ll probably get away with it.

Le goûter in action

Pour le goûter aujourd’hui, on a eu un gâteau – For snack today, we had some cake.

Veuillez fournir un goûter à votre enfant – Please provide an afternoon snack for your child.

J’ai faim ! Je peux avoir un goûter ? – I’m hungry! Can I have a snack?

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