Over the past few years I've noticed that France has been embracing the idea of having brunch at the weekends. Well, they think they are.
One thing I should make clear from the get-go is that province is not Paris. In Paris brunch is everywhere and French people there seem to at least have some idea of what brunch is about (hint, this is what this post is about). One thing that bothers me about Paris, though, is that brunch can be really expensive there. It bothers me that brunch is something trendy there and the prices match this idea. I know that the quality of the brunches is probably better here, but I feel that it's almost as if Paris were trying to recreate a 'perfect' brunch. The brunches I know (Canada, UK, Denmark, Germany, etc.) don't care about appearance and are not trying to live up to an image. From my memory, the most expensive brunch platter at my favourite brunch restaurant in Ottawa costs 12 or 13 dollars plus tax. I've seen some brunches in Paris for 30 euros!
To give you an idea of what I consider brunch and what I eat when I have brunch in my home:
-baked beans (since living in the UK I am hooked on baked beans)
-I would love to have British-style sausages as well, but the only place in France that seems to have these sausages is Marks and Spencer in Paris so no sausages for me here in Bordeaux - any ideas, anybody?
-a fresh baguette
-viennoiseries (croissant, pain au chocolat, pain aux raisins, brioche)
-a plate of freshly-cut fruit (if it's not cut people won't eat it - my platter of fruit always disappears if it is cut)
-pancakes served with my stash of Canadian maple syrup
-tea of coffee (no red wine)
Here is my experience with what French people (well, my experiences are based on what I have seen in Bordeaux) call "the brunch".
A few years ago our friends invited us over for brunch in Bordeaux on a Sunday morning. We were told to come over for 11AM so I thought nothing was amiss. For me, 11AM is a normal time to eat brunch on Sunday.
My husband is French, but before meeting me he had never had a brunch before. His idea of what a brunch was about was developed in Canada, where I showed him what we had for brunch.
We asked our hosts what we should bring and they told us that we didn't need to bring anything. We said we would bring over fresh bread and croissants, thinking that they would take care of the savoury part of the brunch since that part of a brunch needs to be cooked (eggs, bacon, etc.). Our hosts response when we told them that we would bring croissants and bread: long pause and then, "Well, if you want to." I thought that was kind of strange of them to say that, but I was just so excited to be having brunch that I brushed it off.
We arrived at their place and were met by our friend at the door who told us that her boyfriend was in the shower. I thought, "OK, he must be finishing up, he'll come in a minute." We came in and sat down at the table and I thought it was strange that nothing was ready - the table wasn't set at all. We laid the croissants and bread down on the table and chatted for about 20 minutes until her boyfriend finally emerged. We kept on chatting (it was 11.35 at this point) and I started to feel really hungry. I wondered when they were going to pull the eggs and bacon out and start to cook them. Ten minutes later I asked them if I could make some eggs with bacon for everyone. Their response, "Well, sure, I can cook that for you." For me, not for them.
So my husband and I had ham (they didn't have any bacon) and eggs while our hosts watched us eat. I ate a croissant after I had finished my eggs with ham all the while my hosts were watching us eat. I just kept thinking, "What is going on, why aren't they eating?"
By the time I finished, it was just past midday. I had eaten enough. And this is when I heard a bell ringing and our hosts announced...
"OK, yes, the brunch is ready!"
I thought, "What the hell is going on?" I had just eaten the brunch!
That's when I saw our hosts get up and take a dish of roasted duck, potatoes and vegetables out of the oven (a tea towel hanging in front of the oven had masked the light of the oven so I had no idea something was baking in there). My mouth just hung open while they bought the huge steaming dish over and put it on the table. "Here's the brunch!", they announced with excitement. "What the...," was all I was thinking.
"So I was thinking that we would pair this up with this wine from the Languedoc region," said our hosts. The alcohol content in that bottle was nearly 15%!
It was then that I discovered the truth. Our hosts thought that a brunch was a normal lunch meal that people ate a bit earlier than usual on the weekends. In Bordeaux lunch is served at 1PM on Sunday or later (in the north of France people tend to eat earlier). Of course there is not that much difference between eating at 12.15 like what we were doing and 1PM. Our hosts, however, figured that since brunch didn't involve an apéro that 12.15 was a real brunch time (this is true as if we had had an apéro starting at 12.30 we wouldn't have been eating the meal before 1.30).
After that, I swore I had learnt my lesson. But guess what? I fell into the trap again...
A few months after that first brunch I was invited to another one by my neighbour. This brunch was to be held in a hall as it was a club that was holding the event. So there were at least 50 people there.
Just like with the first brunch, we asked our neighbour what we should bring. We offered to bring bread and croissants and our neighbour said, "Oh yes, nobody else has offered to bring that." That was my first warning. At this time, I has this feeling where this was heading, but I still believed that maybe my first experience was a one-off, that only our first hosts didn't really know what a brunch was.
We brought our German friends, who were visiting for a few days, to the brunch with us. When we got to the hall at 11AM, we were in for a shock: they were firing up the grills to cook meat and everyone had brought a dish to share (salads, rice, potatoes, vegetables - all the normal lunch sides). It was a barbeque! We put the viennoiseries on the table and people made remarks like, "Oh, that's interesting, they brought viennoiseries to the brunch!" I had been tricked again. The entire time we were there we kept hearing people say, "What a great brunch this is!" Our German friends were in just as much shock as we were.
Now I know the truth about brunch in Bordeaux and why people kept saying how wonderful they thought my brunches were when I invited them over. It's because they believed that an early lunch was a brunch. They don't understand that brunch involves light cooking and that dishes are not elaborate like the duck I ate with our friends. Do younger French people in Bordeaux have a better grasp of the concept of brunch? Our friends and most of the people at the club brunch have never lived in northern Europe so they haven't been exposed to the 'real brunch'. I still wonder, though, where these Bordelais get their ideas as to what constitutes a brunch? Any ideas?