Things about France that surprised me: the French don’t do spicy

I used to ask our French friends who I had invited round for a meal whether there was anything they (or their offspring) didn’t like to eat. They would look at me in amazement and said they ate everything. And, that’s pretty much the case except they don’t do spicy. Even those that have claimed to like spicy food – they don’t – and it’s really a question of taste. They’re not used to it, even those who are widely travelled. Consequently, Friday curry nights are
just for the two of us.
If you try and name classic French dishes that contain spice, you won’t come up with much. The only classically French thing with real heat that I could think of was Dijon mustard – the most powerful of which will certainly clear out your sinuses.
The French appreciate mild and subtle spicing but really don’t like the heat. And it’s not just savoury food, it also extends to sweet, even cinnamon – surely the gentlest of all spices – divides opinion  Consequently, It’s often difficult to find all the spices I need to make Indian/Thai/Mexican dishes at home – thank goodness for the internet.

I am famed the length of the Cote d’Azur for my pain d’épice (spice bread, often incorrectly translated as gingerbread) which we served at our cycling club’s get togethers and Sunday morning rallies. I spent six months working on my recipe, the result is soft, unctious and only lightly spiced. I have been complimented by local mayors and even a maitre patissier, who told me it was the best he’d ever tasted. The recipe is a closely garded secret.

Of course, France is home to a large population of immigrants – us included. But, for reasons related to colonialism, France doesn’t have a large community from the Indian sub-continent and therefore doesn’t have a “curry culture.” Furthermore Indian and Thai restaurants here have toned down their spicing to suit delicate French palates.

The French equivalent of the UK high street curry house is the couscousieres – inexpensive eateries that serve food from the Mahgreb – French-speaking north Africa. While I highly recommend trying a tagine – it will almost invariably be delicious, generously-portioned and good value for money – the spicing from that part of the world is aromatic rather than fiery, so you won’t find much that will blow your socks off.

So what lies behind the French delicacy when it comes to spices?

The most commonly-given reasons are a simple lack of exposure to spicy food  and France’s pride in its own cuisine, which has made it slower to embrace cooking from other cultures.

Whatever the reason, if you want to eat something spicy, you will have to cook it yourself! This might be why I have so many spicy recipes on my blog.

52 Comments on “Things about France that surprised me: the French don’t do spicy

  1. I love spicy food but having lived in two countries where they don’t really do spicy either I have now developed an intolerance to chilli 😳

    Liked by 2 people

  2. And I thought it was just the Brettons! I made a hot chocolate with a bit of cayenne in it and suddenly all of the 56 was in arms!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Ah now you have hit an interesting subject. I eat hot top level having many acquintance with Mexican foods. In France, when they put the label of the 3 peppers to show you it is hot hahaha well it actually doux to us! But we cherish the fact that no matter where we have lived we stick to what we like ,period. hot spicy burger is nice lol!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Back when I was a student in Paris I used to eat lots of couscous, because it was filling and cheap. Currently, the students seem to prefer hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese restaurants.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. On Tuesday, December 1, 2020, View from the Back wrote:

    > Sheree posted: ” I used to ask our French friends who I had invited round > for a meal whether there was anything they (or their offspring) didn’t like > to eat. They would look at me in amazement and said they ate everything. > And, that’s pretty much the case except they do” >

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I am amazed given that the French colonised a lot of north Africa that spiced food didn’t figure more on menus. Well done having a maitre patissier enjoy your secret Gingerbread Sheree 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. While I enjoy mild spiciness in Mexican and Asian cuisines, my post menopausal body does not! I still eat the stuff, but generally am sorry later on. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Curry night began as a working class phenomenon, it followed the lad’s Friday night drinking session at the pub. Friday night was always a lad’s night out.

    I once heard a newsreader describe curry as our British obsession. I have to disagree with that, I don’t know anyone who is obsessed with curry, it’s usually well down the list of our preferred restaurants or takeaway. I can just about take a mild Korma, but too much heat just spoils the taste of the food, so I am on the side of the Fench with this one, I think their tastes are more sophisticated.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The French would agree with you! But I’m not talking Vindaloo here more the type of fishes one finds in UK in more upmarket, even Michelin starred Indian restaurants.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ha ha Vindaloo and competitions to see who can est the hottest!

        I always cook with spices. That said, my cooking is nothing like your standard, your food always sounds mouth watering delicious. Were you trained or are you self taught?

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh, then that can be sad, because you already mentioned, if you want something spicy, you need to cook it yourself.
    And yes, that is true many Indians have been or have already reformed their taste buds to suite the country cuisine.
    I loved your post.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. This was an awesome post as usual my friend. And I really like the map displayed in the photo, it’s pretty creative and also a bit educational if I may say so haha

    I to am like many of the french in this regard, I do not really favor “spicy” things or things that are too “spicy”. See the thing is, there was a time that I actually thought “spicy” meant “flavorful” but over time, especially whenever I would hear professional Chefs and Cooks talk about the concept; I began to realize that “spicy” is just another way of saying “very hot”, or just another name for “pepper” 🤣🤣.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. lol yeah I had figured that much, and I think many would love your version (myself included) — just because something is spicy, it doesn’t mean it has to be unbearably so. Many Chefs have also made similar remarks 😄😄

    Even when I am cooking my own personal food, sometimes I don’t mind a pinch of black-pepper blended with it (it depends on what I am cooking). If it’s enough to where you can get the rich flavor with just a mild burn on the tongue — I think that’s the ideal approach haha

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Pingback: Has living in France changed the way we eat? – View from the Back

  13. That’s one of the things I can appreciate about France. I’ve ranted multiple times in my own blog that spice should accent the main ingredients of a dish, not drown it / them out. 🙂 I enjoy moderately spicy food, but have never seen the point in peppers and sauces with 500,000 scoville heat ratings.

    Liked by 2 people

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