I absolutely love French cuisine, and the food available in the south of France is one of the highlights of living here so far. Ingredients are good quality, fresh and very tasty, and eating in restaurants (although more expensive than I am used to) is an amazing experience! Even at tiny corner shops or bakeries, the vegetables are locally sourced and the bread was baked that very morning. This country does not survive on microwave meals, ready-made sauces and takeaways.
However, the only problem that I have encountered so far is that many traditional French dishes are meat-based – and I am a vegetarian.
From foie gras to duck to steak tartare, the French love meat. This makes it very difficult to order in restaurants, be a guest at a dinner party or even find interesting things to buy in the supermarkets! Because not many people here are vegetarian, meat replacements like Quorn and tofu are hard to find, and very expensive.
Luckily, my Irish housemate is also vegetarian, so we cook together every evening. The problem comes when we go out for dinner in a group, or are invited to someone's house for dinner. French restaurants typically offer only a few main courses. Unfortunately, this means there is usually only one vegetarian option on the menu, so if you don't like it, bad luck! And although most people are very understanding, some don't quite understand vegetarianism: my housemate went to a dinner party and ended up with a plate of rice and salad because "they thought she would at least eat chicken."
However, we are determined not to let this stop us from making the most of France's incredible food. The biggest saviour for me so far has been the enormous range of cheese available. From Camembert to Roquefort and beyond, cheese has become a staple part of every meal.
In addition, we have begun to explore vegetarian restaurants here: they are often less well-known, so they are small, intimate and much less expensive!
Finally, we have discovered more interesting things to cook: rather than having chicken and potatoes for dinner every night like some of our friends, we make exciting dishes like falafel, Mexican enchiladas and vegetable couscous. It might not be very French, but we love it!
Are you or any of your friends vegetarian?