SHARE
COPY LINK

FEATURE

320 eaten every second: What you need to know about the French baguette

France has chosen the baguette as its candidate for UNESCO intangible cultural heritage status. Here's five things you need to know about that most quintessential of French symbols.

320 eaten every second: What you need to know about the French baguette
Photo: Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP

1. The French can’t get enough of it

While berets and strings of garlic around the neck might be more stereotype than reality these days, long loaves of bread are still seen tucked under arms all over France on a daily basis.

According to data site Planetoscope, some 10 billion baguettes are consumed every year in France – some 320 every second.

When France was in its strictest lockdown for the pandemic last spring, it made sure to keep bakeries open as an essential business.

And as anxious consumers around the world stockpiled toilet paper, the French thronged bakeries for baguettes, fearing a shortage of their daily bread. 

READ ALSO: Baguettiquette: Weird things the French do with bread

2. It’s the only respectable street snack in France

The French generally don’t snack while walking down the street – except the croûton

Nibbling le croûton, the French term for the ‘end’ or ‘crust’ of the baguette, is something of a ritual in France.

After work, French people will typically pass by a boulangerie to pick up a fresh baguette to bring home for dinner. When they arrive at home, the croûton will generally be missing (because it has been eaten).

READ ALSO: How to snack (or not) like a French person

3. But the golden era of bakeries seems to be bygone

However, in its UNESCO nomination, the culture ministry did draw attention to the steady fall in the number of boulangeries around the country, especially in rural areas.

 “In 1970, there were 55,000 artisanal bakeries (one for every 790 residents) compared with 35,000 today (one for every 2,000), often in favour of baguettes produced industrially,” it said.

France even has a National Competition for the Best Baguette of French Tradition. Here’s one of the 2019 finalists preparing his bread. Photo: STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP

4. The baguette has a mysterious history

The baguette, despite being a seemingly immortal fixture in French life, only officially got its name in 1920 when a new law specified its minimum weight (80 grams) and maximum length (40 centimetres).

The rest of the history is rather uncertain.

Some say long loaves were already common in the 18th century; others that it took the introduction of steam ovens by Austrian baker August Zang in the 1830s for its modern incarnation to take shape.

One popular tale is that Napoleon ordered bread to be made in thin sticks that could be more easily carried by soldiers.

Another links baguettes to the construction of the Paris metro in the late 19th century, and the idea that baguettes were easier to tear up and share, avoiding arguments between the workers and the need for knives. 

READ ALSO: The French eating habits the world should learn from

5. But it may soon getting renewed glory

With all this in mind, perhaps the only surprise is how long it has taken for the culture ministry to submit the baguette for consideration to UNESCO, the government said it had on Friday.

UNESCO confers the status of intangible heritage, which must involve a specific community of practitioners, on around 100 very different things around the world each year.

It will pronounce its decision in late 2022.

France selected the baguette from a shortlist that also included Paris’s iconic rooftops and the Biou d’Arbois harvest festival in the Jura department.

This year’s list included sauna culture in Finland, a lantern festival in South Korea and a grass-mowing competition in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

TOURISM

French Rivera tourist businesses eagerly await return of Cannes film festival

The five-star palace hotels are in full swing, the sound of music drifts across the beach and after a 'horrible' year blighted by coronavirus, Cannes is buzzing again for its international film festival.

French Rivera tourist businesses eagerly await return of Cannes film festival
Hotels in Cannes are keen to welcome visitors again. Photo: Valery Hache/AFP

“We can’t wait,” admits Pierrick Cizeron, chief executive at the Majestic hotel that overlooks the Mediterranean and the festival convention centre.

In 2020, the festival that draws stars from across the world, had to be cancelled because of the pandemic.

With France under a partial lockdown in Spring, the 2021 edition has been delayed from the usual May date to July 6-17.

The festival pulled in 40,000 people a day pre-Covid – only about half that number are expected this year – and provided 20 percent of annual hotel turnover.

“It’s more than just the excitement, we are in the middle of recruiting 250 people for the season,” says Yann Gillet, director of the luxury Martinez hotel, which was full for the late May bank holiday weekend.

Last year’s cancellation,he says, left staff “heartbroken” at a hotel that usually fills with celebrities for the festival.

The movie extravaganza, “is a real driving force and punctuates our year,” Gillet says.

“Often clients come to see us and ask if it really was Brad Pitt’s room.”

On the seventh floor of the Martinez, which was totally renovated in 2019, the final touches are being made to a double penthouse suite booked by Chopard jewellers for the duration of the festival.

The Riviera resort had lived well off tourism and conventions, but the hotels and restaurants that provided most of the local jobs have been shut for long periods and had to rely on government handouts to try to keep mounting debt under control.

Despite high hopes for the festival, the hotels, which had been shut since September-October, are far from fully booked.

“We are only 10 percent full in June and 25 percent in July,” says Cannes hotel union leader Christine Welter.

“It’s an unexpected opportunity for people to come to the festival because in normal times it would be complicated,” with hotel rooms at a premium and all booked out.

“And that’s a good thing this year,” she adds. “We have two-star hotels in the middle of town starting at 100 euros a night where normally there would be no rooms available during the festival.”

In previous years the cheapest hotel rooms that start at €40 a night could fetch €260 during the festival.

The authorities are trying to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible and health protocols are firmly in place, says Welter, as business builds up again.

On the Croisette, that runs along the seafront, a flower delivery man zigzags through the crowd carrying a display in each hand. Out at sea, a speedboat pulls a parachute covered with advertising.

In the expensive shop windows, handbags, dresses and shoes await visitors with money to spend.

The festival “puts a rocket under our sales, we have magnificent clients,” says 42-year-old Olivier Zambrana, who works at a Jimmy Choo boutique.

He would usually buy in double stocks for cashed-up festival-goers, but for now, he says, the shop will wait and see how things go.

At Giry’s, caterer to Cannes for 50 years, business is slowly picking up.

In his office, with most of the staff still on furlough, Luc Guibout is recording his first orders in a year.

“There’s no big bang but it feels like things are starting to kick off again,” he smiles, after what he describes as a “horrible” year.

On the other side of town, in the La Bocca quarter, workers are busy finishing a new multiplex “Cineum” with 2,400 seats. The festival will inaugurate four of the 12 auditoriums.

The Cineum backs on to a new audiovisual studies campus that will take in its first 900 students in September, as city hall looks to capitalise on the global reputation of the festival.

SHOW COMMENTS