There’s something about French culture, cuisine, history, and the very language itself that’s always felt a little overwhelming to me. I think it has to do with some image I’m projecting onto the French people — this idea that every single one of them can speak eloquently on food, art, and politics, and do so with a cigarette dangling from their lips.
I’m not alone in being intimidated by the French. In Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris writes:
My fear had nothing to do with actual French people. I didn’t know any actual French people. What scared me was the idea of French people I’d gotten from movies and situation comedies. When someone makes a spectacular ass of himself, it’s always at a French restaurant, never a Japanese or Italian one. The French are people who slap one another with gloves and wear scarves to cover their engorged hickies.
Sedaris nailed it. It’s not real France that scares us, but some mythos we’ve built up over generations. It’s a shame too, because French art, food, and culture are all worth knowing a little something about — even if you don’t want to go full Francophile.
Since today marks Bastille Day, we thought we’d offer a brief explainer of the holiday:
On July 14, 1789, France’s commoners stormed a hulking armory (The Bastille) to gain weapons and set free any political prisoners kept inside. At the time, there were only seven people but hey, a revolution’s gotta start somewhere.
A year later, they picked the 14th to mark Fête de la Fédération and held a parade to celebrate. As with all political holidays, there’s more to it than that, but if you’ve got “storming of Bastille to get ammo and the parade a year later to celebrate unity” you’ll be in good shape.
…And share a few classic French dishes for you to try in celebration.
Complete with a very scientific Degree of Difficulty Rating.
FOIE GRAS. This is ultra-fatty liver of duck or goose. The bird is fattened before slaughter using a technique called gavage, which is done with a feeding tube, making this a hotly contested issue between chefs and Animal Rights activists. Last spring, California legislature lifted their foie gras ban and some chefs received violent threats.
Degree of Difficulty Rating: 7. Some people don’t like the texture or the off-the-charts richness. Those people are crazy.
SWEETBREADS. Sweetbreads are glands (thymus and pancreas, typically) of animals (usually veal or lamb). You might know them due to the fact that every single chef on the Food Network talks about how amazing they are. If Jeffery Zakarian and Giada De Laurentiis can’t convince you to try something new, who can?