Absinthe was first used by the French Army in North Africa during the 1880s to prevent disease and purify water. Hailed in the 19th and 20th centuries as a hallucinogen -- and drunk by the cultured bourgeoisie of France -- scientists now think that the 72 percent alcohol content was probably more to blame for visions than any hallucinogen [source: Stimmler-Hall].
Traditional French Food
Creamy cheeses, steaming bread, sugar-dusted pastries that melt in your mouth. The food tradition in France has helped define the slow, simmering sensuality of the culture.
Denis Bisson, the French cultural attaché in the San Francisco French consulate office, says that globalization has changed that culture. "I'd say that perhaps the 'obsession with food' is less and less true, although it remains an important part of the culture. But as tastes tend to be more globalized, and as people have less and less time to cook, gone is the two-hour-long daily three-course lunch with lots of wine," he says.
This isn't the first time French cuisine has seen cultural changes. French cuisine started to take shape after the Middle Ages when they discovered the joys of rare, delicately spiced food. This tradition is still seen, as lightly cooked meats in France still give foreigners pause. They will probably be happy to see, however, that the French no longer serve stork, seals, swans and whale, as they did during the 17th century.
In the 18th century, food presentation became a part of upscale French cuisine. The restaurant culture began to develop in France in the next century, and decoration took a backseat to quality of taste. French restaurants still hold a reputation for careful food presentation.
Traditional dishes in France often differ by region. Northern France favors butter while southern France uses Mediterranean oils. Normandy and Brittany, for instance, use the seafood in nearby shores for a seafood stew called bouillabaisse. French wine from the Bordeaux and Champagne regions are known as some of the best vino in the world.
Because French products are so in demand, the French government formed the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC). The AOC ensures that certain French wines, cheeses, meats and other regional specialties meet strict specifications for production, quality and labeling.
France's history of cuisine is so storied that United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) granted "the gastronomic meal of the French" status as a "World Heritage Treasure" in 2010. To uphold the honor, France plans to market the French culinary tradition through cooking shows and advertising.
French food tradition has always been seen as "elite." But French food is nothing compared to French fashion, which holds a special superior place in culture. So pull up to the runway for a look.