Hot Stuff

Some people swear that “It’s impossible to eat badly in France”.

Well it isn’t.

It’s certainly possible to eat extremely well in France – often in the unlikeliest and unpromising places, which is part of the country’s great charm. But restaurant quality is as variable here as anywhere else. Contrary to the image that they try to cultivate, and the undeniably pivotal role of food in the French way of life, not every French person is a natural chef.

Unfortunately, this includes some of the chefs.

This latest musing on the subject of food was triggered by a recent Daily Prompt, with the slightly nudge-nudge title of ‘Ring of Fire’, which demanded to know “Do you love hot an spicy foods or do you avoid them for fear of what tomorrow might bring?”

As a straight response, I’d have to say that – consistent with my Carpe Diem philosophy – I’d just go for it.


I like spicy food. By which I mean that I really like spicy food. Or do I mean that I like really spicy food?

All of the above. The only fear that chilis hold for me is that I don’t wash my hands properly after I’ve been cutting them up. That really can have unpleasant adverse consequences. Otherwise, I’m blessed with a fairly robust digestive tract that’s well inured to the industrial doses of capsaicin that I am wont to shovel into it.

It’s been quite well established that this active ingredient of hot peppers is addictive – and I’d certainly put my hand up to that – but (a) so what? and (b) it also seems that it’s quite good for you. I’d call that a win-win.

France, though, is not the ideal location if you have a real passion for spicy food. If you can’t go to a French restaurant in France and be guaranteed a gastronomic experience memorable for the right reasons, you’d be particularly ill-advised to go to an Indian restaurant in France and expect something that could have come from Brick Lane.

It’s fair enough. Whereas, don’t forget, Britain’s national dish is now said to be Chicken Tikka Masalla, French cuisine is not based on the same principles as Indian or Thai, so it’s hardly surprising that the French palate is not tuned to the same wavelength as the British. 

Rather cruelly, I treasure the memory of going to a group dinner at an Indian restaurant in Abu Dhabi and watching a poor expat Frenchman gamely making do with spaghetti bolognese and chips – as prepared by Indian chefs – because he simply couldn’t handle the heat of even the mildest curry dish.

After some years of hope holding the upper hand over experience, we’ve pretty much given up trying to find a decent restaurant Ruby here in our adopted country. The final straw was at an Indian in a fairly big metropolis about a hundred miles from here. There was an authentic-looking Indian restaurant just round the corner from the hotel where we were staying.  The menu sounded promising enough and I plumped for the Vindaloo, asking the waiter to make it properly spicy. He nodded acquiescently – and brought back something that you could have put in a baby’s bottle without causing any harm.

It was something of a letdown, to put it mildly. Which was just the problem.

I should have remembered some of my business travel experiences. Although I prefer not to.

Among them was the Indian restaurant in mid-Manhattan, all wooden furniture and flock wallpaper, whose menu carried a detailed description of each dish. I ought to have known better than to order the Madras; “succulent pieces of chicken in a sharp gravy”.

I also once made the mistake of going to a Mexican restaurant in Singapore. The food was about as good as you would expect – for a Mexican restaurant in Singapore.

So, while I’m still more than happy to go to a local place if I want some confit de canard, in future when I hanker after something a little more searing I’ll make it myself.

Now, could someone please pass that bottle of Tabasco Hot? My cornflakes could do with a bit of livening up.



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