Bread: The biggest culture divide.

In Australia I remember talking to Seb about bread. The conversation went something like this..
“When you get to France Nik you are going to eat bread, it’s amazing the bread, the texture and everything.” Seb was starting to rapture and I interjected here with
“But it’s just bread.”
“JUST BREAD?!?!? JUST BREAD?!?!” You could see his french side growing and taking over (think a Jekyll and Hyde transformation)
“It is not just bread, it’s never just bread. It’s our culture, identity, life! Bread is …..” and I then got lectured for over half an hour about my slight ignorance on French Bread (yes, with capitals). He still tells people about this conversation and people in France regard me as the “weird Australian girl”.

"it's just bread"

Basic comparison of Australian and French breads

Growing up in Australia my family focused on healthy living and an outdoor lifestyle, bread was never at the top of my list for something on the foodchain to worship. Choclate: Yes. Bread: Never.

I remember working in a bakery during highschool. I worked there for three years. The boss always fed us for free and I ate salad for my lunch followed by fruit that was supposed to go on top of the cakes. For 3 years.

It. Was. A. Bakery. With. Bread.

Which shows exactly the Australian attitude to bread. I regarded it as something that was as exciting as eating cardboard. A filler for more interesting things. And Australian bread is exactly that. The general character of an Australian piece of bread is boring, dry, chewy and lifeless.

But slowly over the last two years Seb has slowly changed my attitude. I still won’t eat bread in Australia. But in France? Well it’s way too easy! Everyday I buy bread. EVERYDAY. Baguettes that are usually arriving warm out of the bakers oven.

The difference, which is like explaining sex to a virgin is the bread itself. It’s in the flour that makes it. The way they cook it.The kneading of the dough.

French bread

Baguettes ripped apart!

It’s the way that when you tear it apart steam rises like an advertisment. It’s maybe the pride behind the bread too.

The crispy crunchy outer layer. I hated crusts in Australia. Now in France I search the baguette for the best bits. And the crunchiest bits still soak up juices. That crunchy robust outer layer then gives way to the inside of a baguette. The bread is never dry, more humid and soft. The texture like a chewy sponge. For me that is the difference of France and Australia.

Bread is so important that it has led to riots and even a war called la guerre des farines In the history of France you can find it used in slander against the French Royalty. The “great princess” learning that there was no bread for peasants responded with “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” (Let them eat cake).

And that’s what it boils down to for the French. While life can be complicated the things to be proud of are simple. Bread is eaten by everyone: from a street beggar to a millionaire. You have the most amazing chefs and michelin starred restaurants. But yet what do you find a French person misses when living abroad. The BREAD!!! Bread such a simple staple that it must assist the enjoyment of life. Not hinder it.

Australians forget the simple joys in life. We are always going somewhere, doing something. We struggle to stop on a Sunday (I still feel crazy on Sundays when nothing is open). And we struggle to enjoy a piece of bread. We look at it in quantities of health and how much we’ll have to run after eating it. Or how much better something else is for us than that slice of bread.

And that’s my education and my lesson for you with bread.
1. Take the time to go to a real bakery.
2. Pick a baguette or a roll NOT A SQUARE LOAF.
3. Take it home. Turn off your phone, TV, INTERNET, RADIO Or Fax.
4. Sit down to silence and listen as you rip it apart. You should actually hear cracks from the crunchy bits and whispered tearing from the soft parts.
5. Eat torn chunks. Not neat cut off pieces but chuncks. With demi-sel buerre (semi-salted butter) and cheese!

And just enjoy life while you have it!

*Images sourced from interenet, if you do not wish them to be displayed please leave a comment below.

Tartiflette and Tantrums

So in Australia I am really well-known as a cook by my mates and family. I actually don’t even have recipes. It just comes out of my head and onto the plate in correct flavours and form. Coming from a family of feeders my pride is watching people come together and enjoy food. I love the fact that my up-bringing was that food is something to be shared.

My sharing was varied from traditional roasts, to stir-fries, to pasta, dessert, salads, starters and tapas… I would literally just pop off to the grocery store and later that night have a feast for my people. I have a favourite memory of getting carried away with cooking and instead of cooking for four people I ended up inviting ten and we spent all night eating different types of tapas!

But alas… the problem:
I CANNOT COOK IN FRANCE!

In fact as I write this I am eating a stir fry that tastes something similar to a second-hand takeaway AND I cheated (Yes; Sauce, frozen veg and chopped up meat, Shameful that I can stuff up something so basic, especially when I hate to make it this way). Why am I eating this? I can hear people’s thoughts… Well I cooked it. And stubbornness is starting to set in.

I have been trying my best to settle into France. And to handle this stressful situation my genetic wiring is to cook (thanks parents and Nan!). But here I cook and it is always an experiment. With quite often spectacularly bizarre results. The best example of this is Tartiflette.

My first ever Tartiflette I couldn’t understand French… Zilch, Zip, Nuttin. The result ended in a dish of raw potato in a runny whitish discoloured liquid covered by not a crust but an actual LID of BURNT something.

My second Tartiflette I at least didn’t burn the ‘thing’. We will leave it at that. And with the third try panic set in as Sebastien had invited over the immediate family (another 3 people). The problem with this was Sebastien was starting to lose weight. My cooking had indeed become that bad.

In panic I contacted quite a few French friends of Sebastien’s about Tartiflette. And ended up googling the crap out of the recipe and creating my own hybrid. To coincide with this third try/experiment I also brought 2 ready-made Quiches. If I failed I would still be able to feed them, my confidence destroyed but my genetic instinct to feed still intact. I had actually concentrated so much on getting this dish ‘right’ that I went and brought a ready made dessert (against my grain but I didn’t want to push my luck).

As the night grew closer I grew anal-retentitive about following my ‘recipe’. To the point that when baking came to eating I was panicking as it landed on the table. Papou as I call my father-in-law is always the compliment when I try things (even eating beef that is so tough that you can’t cut it with a steak knife!). Mumu, my mother-in-law is a seafood-vegatarian so she would eat something different.

The true test would be my husband and brother-in-law. These two guys are permanent vacuum cleaners. As I scooped it out of the dish you could see the creamy cheese mixed with lardons(bacon) melted into the soft fluffly layers of potatoes. The steam rised from it like an advertisement! ENFIN!!(FINALLY!) A DISH! And they had seconds! Oh Mon DIEU! I had done it. I had finally cooked a meal in France that passed THE test! Then comes the crash landing…

My husband without realising how sensitive I am right now (about cooking in particular) does something really French. He critiques the meal.

“Eeet’z(It’s) good, but we will improve it. There still needs some things to be fixed.”

This goes against my Australian culture of “Giving it a Go” so strongly that it makes me intensly dislike him for a lot longer than a split second. More like I fume silently for 5 mins followed by a lot longer sulking. (I had actually tried this 3 times because he likes this dish so much!)

Being the Australian I am. I do not act French in response to this. I do not loudly discuss/nor do I tell him to stick it/and I don’t even try to huff about it. Instead I sit on the problem. And sit, and sit some more. Then a few days later I blow up. Like a very normal Australian.

When I do he wonders what my tantrum is even about…

“Nikki, this problem isn’t about the mistake on the orders for a bodyboard is it…??” He peters out hopefully wondering what the hell has happened to his normally cruisy good natured wife.



“Nikki?”



“Nikkiiiiiiiiieeeeeyyyyyyy”
-“No it’s the fact that I can’t cook. And Australian people don’t believe me and what’s worse french people believe that I can’t cook. And when I do finally get it right, it’s not good enough. NOT EVEN FOR YOU” It rushes out like I have unstoppered a cask of wine. My pride and my tears. Ending in such a fierce accusation that Seb is silent for a second. He starts to laugh, bubbling through his laughter he says this….

“I still eat it even when its crap, I love you. And I promise to eat your food. I eat McDonalds; I can eat your food!”(Just for those not in the know Seb is nearly addicted to McDonalds.)

Later on, after retelling this to a friend of mine she cackles at me…
“Nik that’s not a story, that’s tantrums and Tartiflette’s!”

How to explain it all? The basics

I’ll start this bluntly in the hope that it answers the basics quickly and efficiently…

  • I hope to be moving to France in a few months.
  • In the last year I have spent more months here than home in Australia. (Ironically I feel out-of-place back home now.)
  • To state the obvious my partner, VGT, is french. He is a classic geek but with a few quirky areas like surfing and ice-skating. He still loves the odd LAN which contains large doses of aggression at his computer.
  • I am getting married and no it’s not for Visa’s, pregnancy, or money reasons. It’s not to get away from my beautiful Mum and nor is it to get a new citizenship. (Just addressing here all the nasty comments that arrived at the announcement of my engagement.) It is in fact for that universally clich√© thing called Love.
  • The French visa application process is interesting,to be nice about it: It’s a complicated bureaucratic mess. Being Australian I hope that I have better chances than a Tunisian.
  • To obtain any form of longstay visa I must return to Australia and then come back to France. (I go back to Australia in about 2 weeks to start it all)
  • I am only learning to speak French now, with interesting results.

Ok now we have that out-of-the-way… I love chocolate and comfort eat when I am under any type of stress. I hate McDonald’s(which VGT adores) and love fresh veggies and fruit(horrendously expensive here) I do love the odd wine but when I can finally force down a beer I am drunk after a single stubbie.

I miss cooking Australian food here, the ingredients are different which results in different flavours. Sometimes better tastes but usually disasters (For example my soon to be father in law had to HACK SAW my frozen oranges for dessert last night, the ice cream had refrozen into milky orangey ice)

Australia is being flogged right now weather wise and personally I am glad we picked France for the first country to live in… It’s a loud passionate nation who strikes over the craziest reasons, you are lucky to be served with a smile and it can be a chaotic mess. However at the rate Australia is going economically and weather wise I will be coming home to a card board tent, thankful, that I get some newspaper for a pillow.

My second seemingly crazy reason is this. VGT knows Australia culture and customs a little. He speaks nearly fluent English and can happily communicate with any of my family or friends. I speak no French and often ruin a moment of tradition or culture with my habit of Australian blundering. Their perspectives are sometimes totally opposite to what I try to communicate. So it’s a little human experiment of learning french culture and customs then back over to my land of sunshine….

I am overly curious, and love new things. Love being on the move and visiting and meeting friends and family everywhere. In the last month I Have been to Bourges, Font Romeu, Paris, London, Bournemouth, Lyon, Nantes, Anger, Bordeaux, Biarritz and La Pointe du Raz….¬† I am known as G like a Golden Retriever, how happy they are to be loved and surrounded by people. But also how curious they are. We watch Rhianne, VGT’s dog and she is 14 with bad hips and she still gets in and about the most amazing little places. Wiggling her body, wagging her tail you can see the pleasure of a new sensation. That’s me, just in human form. (I get excited over a 10 euro bowl of pasta that tastes amazing)

Lastly, Why not?