We’e been travelling to France regularly before we decided, on a whim, to try basing ourselves here back in March 2017. But I have trouble finding my way around French supermarkets: I just can’t find stuff. I mean, it’s the kind of thing you expect when you’re on your holidays, right? But I kinda would have thought I’d have it figured out within a few months. But no!
Baking ingredients especially elude me. Including cream – which I talked about a couple of months ago…
In New Zealand and in the UK – countries whose supermarket layouts aren’t hugely different, and which I have happily mastered, sultanas and raisins etc are classed as cooking ingredients. You thus find them in the ‘baking’ section, which includes all your flours and sugars, dried fruits, raw nuts and usually seeds. This is always, in my experience, logically situated close to make-them-at-home desserts such as jelly, and the all-important instant custard powder.
In French supermarkets the baking section consists of various kinds of white flour, bread making mixes, irritating packets of multiple sachets of ‘levure chimique’ (aka baking powder) and that kind of thing…
ASIDE: Why French manufacturers feel the need to package it in sachets of a-bit-more-than-two-teaspoon’ measures I don’t know. The French’s love of over-packaging is as bad as everyone else’s, or possibly a bit worse). There are similar packages with sachets of ‘levure boulangère’ (yeast), various vanilla sugars and things like that. Not sure why we need pre-vanilla’d sugar either, but I haven’t done a lot of French cooking. Oh yes, they have the nasty chemical mix to fix your cream (see cream link above) in this area too… so weird.
Anyway, where was I?
Oh yes – confusing French supermarkets. So those baking basics are there, with some cake decorating bits nearby (don’t hope for food colouring outside of blue, red and yellow), and sugar generally in the same area.
Ordinary brown flour? Well, sometimes, but often not… try the ‘organic’ section.
Dried fruit? No-ho. Dried fruit is FRUIT. So head on back to the fresh fruit & veg area, look around the walls, on shelves above the fresh produce and on aisle-ends and you should find it. Here’s a handy glossary of dried fruit in France:
- Sultanas = ‘raisins’ and you might find them in browny black and in green if it’s Saint Sultana day, or something.
- Raisins = no they don’t, in my experience. Try mixing some chopped prunes in with sultanas for that darker raisin-y flavour.
- Currants = ‘raisins de corinthe’. These Christmas mincemeat and Welshcake staples appear to be regarded as a special ingredient and over-packaged to prove it. Really? BLISTER PACKS OF CURRANTS? Let’s just hit up the Antarctic with our hairdryers shall we? You can find them less plastically packaged though, so don’t lose faith. (I know plastically wasn’t a word, but it is now).
- Mixed peel = ‘oranges confite’ (they don’t seem to do it mixed, only orange peel). I couldn’t find it last Christmas and ended up making my own. Since then it’s in every shop I’ve visited – hiding among the sprinkles and overpriced chocolate chips (just throw a bar of chocolate in the food processor? Works for me!). Making it was great and I’m going to save my orange and lemon peels in the freezer through the year and make more.
Know yer oats
The other thing I found it hard to locate was oats. For ages found it hard to remember what they are called too – they are poetically called ‘flocons d’avoine’ (which actually literally translates as flakes of oats, but it sounds much flouncier in French).
I like to make muesli sometimes and in New Zealand and England I would buy big 1.5kg sacks of oats and make a big batch. Can’t find in France. Most shops have cereal oats in the cereal section – usually British ‘Quaker Oats’ in a box. Some supermarkets have their own brand, also boxed – not too expensive for 500g.
But if you can’t find them and ask someone, in my experience you get taken to the organic section & passed a bag of the fat, flat rolled oats. Which are ok, but I find them a bit hard work to chew through at breakfast. Call me lazy!
My advice on buying dried fruit, nuts for baking etc: find a health food shop with a wide range of VRAC’ (translates as ‘bulk’ – loose stuff in help-yourself type dispensers, often including oats, beans, seeds, nuts, dried fruit etc and you can re-use bags too thus doing your bit for the climate emergency in the process). These shops seem to be the organic shops like ‘Biocoop’, or the gardening and stuffs shop ‘Botanique’ – I haven’t come across a regular style health food shop that isn’t necessarily ‘bio’. Who knows why.
New countries, as I’ve said before, aren’t just about learning a new language and navigating a new culture – there are all sorts of little things that you encounter on a day-to-day basis that can throw you, make a quick trip out a long trip, or just have you plain stumped.
It’s all part of the adventure. And I hope wee posts on the internet like this one help you out just a little bit. If not directly, perhaps they’ll help you put your own new-country niggles and frustrations into perspective.
Can you p.s. a conclusion, or should that be an appendix? Either way, I’ve realised that France is simply not a country that uses a whole lot of dried fruit, It’s not a fruit cake, Christmas pudding, fruit scone, dundee cake kind of a country. Which will be why the dried fruit takes a bit of a back stage. I’m sure if I were French trying to bake my favourite things in England I’d find some similar frustrations. If you’re French and reading this – let me know!