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La Belle Vie: France's 'ugly duckling' wine and searching for French spice

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected]
La Belle Vie: France's 'ugly duckling' wine and searching for French spice
People prepare to eat a Thanksgiving meal together (Photo by JOHN MOORE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

From debunking the negative reputation of Beaujolais Nouveau to preparing for Thanksgiving in France and finding your favourite Mexican and Indian restaurants, this week's La Belle Vie newsletter offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like a French person.

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La Belle Vie is our regular look at the real culture of France – from language to cuisine, manners to films. This newsletter is published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to your newsletter preferences in “My account”.

You may have already noticed the bottles of new red wine hitting the shelves at your local cave or grocery store - that's because of Beaujolais Nouveau Day. 

Every third Thursday of November France (and the rest of the world, especially Japan) commemorate the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau vintage. In the Beaujolais region in eastern France, there are four days of celebration involving lots of wine tasting. 

Beaujolais Nouveau: 13 things you need to know about France's famous wine

Beaujolais Nouveau does have something of a bad reputation, unfortunately. Over the years, people have accused the wine of causing particularly severe hangovers, while others claim it tastes bad (like bananas). The most common charge against Beaujolais Nouveau is that it's simply low-quality. 

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Personally I quite like it - I enjoy its overall lightness and occasionally fruity flavours, plus it can be fun to compare the vintages produced in different villages in the region (and it doesn't break the bank).

Does Beaujolais Nouveau wine deserve its bad reputation?

There is another important event coming up; Thanksgiving. You might think that I am a bit early on this, but trust me, in France you can never be too early for Thanksgiving.

You should not expect to be able to waltz into a grocery store and pick up a 15-pound turkey the day before. Aside from the fact that you probably won't find any 15-pound turkeys in France - my butcher told me the best I would do was 3-4kg (7-8 pounds) - you'll probably need to order your turkey at minimum a week in advance (if not more).

Plus, it takes time to get all of the other Thanksgiving essentials together (I am still trying to track down cream of mushroom soup for my green bean casserole).

Readers' tips: How to create the perfect Thanksgiving in France

I would not say that I am spice-averse, but I tend to stick to the 'smilin' and 'sizzlin' sauces at Buffalo Wild Wings. But my French friends would probably tell you that I love spice - even putting some red pepper flakes on my pizza can get some strange looks.

I've learned to always have lemons and limes on hand in case I need to reduce spiciness to accommodate French friends.

Do the French really hate all spicy food?

French cooks will add things like salt, butter, garlic and onions, but the secret is often the way something is cooked and its general freshness. I rarely crave an extra sauce or more seasoning when eating delicious, home-cooked French food. 

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But when I seek out non-French cuisine - especially that of other cultures that are known for spice - I am often disappointed in France. This has inspired me to start cooking my own Latin American food. It's been a fun challenge, but sometimes all you want is an easy Friday night at a taco stand (or a decent margarita). Luckily there are some great restaurants, and they're not just in Paris.

Readers recommend: The best Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants in France

The same tends to go for Indian food in France. There's a general feeling that it has been spiced-down to meet French expectations. While it will take a little more effort to find a 'British-style curry house', France has plenty of wonderful Indian restaurants all over the country. 

Readers of The Local have recommended a few of their favourites.

Readers recommend: The best Indian restaurants in France

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