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All the talk about beans on the London Bloggers network recently made me do some odd things. Well, odd for most people but probably quite normal for me. This includes taking photographs of BEANS in a French supermarket, planning extra beans into our weekly diet (they’re very good for you – slow energy release), checking the glycemic index of beans (mostly somewhere in the 30s but BROAD beans are naughty with 79) and opening a certain kitchen cupboard door to gaze longingly at our emergency stash of ready-to-go French flageolets…

The bean talk also brought to mind a little Epicurienne anecdote, which hopefully will amuse.

It’s no secret that the French love to believe that English food is little better than pig swill. In fact, I recently fought hard to defend the cuisine of Old Blighty in a family ‘discussion’ in France. Contrary to French belief, England’s positive attitude to food has skyrocketed since I moved here 16 years ago. We have fantastic ingredients at our disposal, the media has helped increase public interest in what they’re cooking and eating, we can enjoy a different ethnic cuisine every night of the month if we feel like it and regional flavours are enjoying the support of increasing numbers of farmers’ markets and eateries that favour local produce. Certainly, it’s still easy to find pork pies filled with more gelatine than pork, and if you’re not careful, you’ll come home from the supermarket with a bag full of tomatoes that taste of cardboard (that’s why you’ll find me sniffing tomatoes in the aisles – more perfume equals more flavour), but it really isn’t fair to say that the English don’t know how to eat and in my experience it remains hard work trying to convince the French otherwise.

So when I was stopped at the X-ray machine at Eurostar in the Gare du Nord I was interested to see which product from a French supermarket shopping binge had piqued the interest of the two uniformed guards now glaring at me with suspicion. You see, there really wasn’t much in my suitcase apart from food and on unzipping the case it was obvious that Monsieur and I had enjoyed our recent trip to the supermarket. Out spilled our favourite soaps and packs of spaetzle, half a dozen bottles of persillade, delicious wine vinegars and various other items that are either hard to find (albeit not impossible) or over-the-top expensive to buy on the other side of the channel. Then they spotted the food criminal that had caused them concern.

“Qu’est-ce que c’est?” asked one, rattling a box of mogettes – a white bean which is popular in the Vendée region of France.

“They’re mogettes.” I replied

“What?” asked the uniform,

“Mogettes,” I answered.

Uniform 1 turned to Uniform 2.

“Do you know zese sings?” he asked his colleague.

“Yes, zey’re delicious. Some of ze best beans in France.” he said, nodding sagely. Then the uniforms turned back to me.

“What we want to know is ‘ow YOU English know about zese beans.” Ah. So I’d confused them. I wasn’t French yet I knew more about a regional French bean than a certain uniformed Frenchman. What an enigma. Perhaps now they’d realise that Anglo Saxon(e)s CAN cook and DO care about their food. Then again, perhaps they were going to arrest me for attempting to remove a French food treasure from their country. Two pairs of eyes narrowed as they focussed on me. It was obvious that they were confused to find that someone living in England actually liked to cook. 

“My father-in-law is French and he introduced me to them. I saw them in the supermarket and thought I’d take some home.”

“Ah, yes. Of course. Because in England ze food is so bad.” Uniform 2 was laughing now. “So you have to come to France to buy REAL food. Hahaha.” That wasn’t quite accurate, although I wasn’t about to argue with two men carrying guns.

During the course of the examination of my mogettes quite a queue had built up behind us, but the uniforms didn’t care. They were now interested in how I was going to cook my mogettes.

“My father-in-law said I should soak them overnight and then cook them with a bouquet garni, a little onion and some carrots. I’ll probably serve them with chicken or duck.”

“Ah, yes.” Uniform 2 was practically dribbling. “I love ze mogettes.”

“So why ‘ave I not ‘eard of zem?” asked Uniform 1. “You say you can buy zem in ze supermarket?” he asked me. Suddenly, the ‘ENGLISH’ was the expert on French beans instead of a suspected terrorist with explosive in her shopping.

“Yes,” I said, trying to zip up my bag and make way for the grumbling travellers behind me, “You can buy them in the supermarket.”

As I walked away from the Uniforms, they were still discussing mogettes, which just goes to show that even though the prevalent French attitude to English eating habits needs some correcting, it’s true when they say that if you want to enjoy a really passionate discussion in France, just start talking about food. And hopefully now there exist at least two more Frenchmen who know that sometimes, just sometimes, those folk across La Manche might know a bit more than just their onions when it comes to food.


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