I must have been about 8 or 9. My brother ordered poulet frites followed by mousse au chocolat at every restaurant that holiday, my sister wrapped a headscarf around her head, refusing to wash her hair, declaring never to go camping again, while I recall being mesmerised by children at the neigbouring table playing naughts and crosses on the tablecloth!!!
Our family holidays were camping adventures in the heart of France, but Dad would always insist on eating out at the local village restaurant. I think it worked out cheaper than sweating over a few gas rings. This is when I discovered the conviviality and freedom of a no-fuss, no-frills, French bistrot.
As a child brought up in a typical middle-class British household, where bread rolls were placed on side plates, elbows were strictly forbidden from the table and dunking, wiping and licking were definitely frowned upon, you can imagine my thrill at the sight of French family dining – baguette placed directly on the table before being clutched in the right hand, taking the place of a knife, pushing, scooping and then cleaning up the sauce into a delicious doughy ball of perfection. Loud, joyful conversation. Baguette everywhere, crumbs galore.
But it was the table scribbling that really set my heart alight. It took a good few visits before Dad conceded to my badgering and I finally got permission to write on the table! I cannot describe how liberating, how joyful and creative it is to doodle on a paper tablecloth. From that moment, I fell in love with French cuisine.
The beauty of French cuisine is that those memorable holiday restaurants, serving simple, home-cooked dishes on paper tablecloths still exist today. In fact French Living prides itself on keeping this French culinary tradition alive, sans pretention, and definitely with paper tablecloths.
The French bistro? “C’est un café ou un restaurant où l’on mange de la cuisine bourgeoise ou traditionnelle sans façons sur des tables dites de bistro, recouvertes de nappes en Vichy, ou de plus en plus en papier. Le service est simple et rapide, mais la cuisine est souvent délicieuse. Les plats emblématiques des bistrots sont pour les entrées, le céleri rémoulade,
|Les harengs pommes a l’huile|
les harengs pommes à l’huile,
et les terrines de toutes sortes.
Les classiques des plats de résistance sont ceux de la cuisine bourgeoise : boeuf bourguignon, blanquette de veau, pot au feu, hachis Parmentier et abats multiples et variés.”
A place where you can eat traditional dishes, without pomp and ceremony, on bistro tables, covered with chequed table cloths, or most frequently these days on paper tablecloths. The service is simple and quick,but the food is delicious. Typical dishes include grated celeriac, herrings and boiled potatoes, pates and terrines, beef bouguignon, French shepherd pie and often offal of all sorts.
Traditionally, the Parisien bistrots would be used by workers at the end of the day or for lunch breaks. Many in Paris were frequented by artists such as Degas, Balzac, Zola, Renoir, Prevert, Doisneau who would scribble on corners of tablecloths, later to be turned into works of art.
Take a look at these wonderful pieces of art all created on bistrot paper table cloths – Around The table – histoire en nappe http://joelle.naim.free.fr/joelle-naim/nappes_mondes.php
One of the most famous Paris bistrots include Chez Chartier who not only use paper tablecloths but will write your order and the bill on them!
I love these French phrases and words that sum up the French bistrot and its paper tablecloths:
l’ambiance sympa et bruyante
French Living – minimal fuss, delicious home-cooked dishes, a relaxed, unpretentious setting where table writing, doodling and creativity is positively encouraged.
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