Things I stock up on in French supermarkets

As a frequent traveller to French France there are a bunch of things I try and buy a bunch every time I’m over there.

Our recent school trip had the super wheeze of stopping off in a hypermarket instead of using motorway services, which was a really effective way of exposing the students to an opportunity to use their transactional French, and just have a glimpse of every day French life.

And there was also a chance for teachers to shop.

Some things I always, or nearly always buy in French shops:

Coffee filters. So much cheaper in France than England!

Olive oil. Ditto.

Bonne maman jam. A luxury brand in England, but an every day one in France, so it’s cheaper over there. I have very pedestrian tastes, so I pretty much only buy fraise, and sometimes gelée de mûres, but there is a huge range of fruits available too. P is rather partial to châtaigne – chestnuts – which comes in a jar with a brown gingham top.

Speculoos spread. We found this for the first time last year, but it has since become available in English supermarkets too. See also Dan Lepard’s recipe made with English mixed spice.

Carambars. This is a very recent addition to my lexicon, influenced by Dom’s MFL blog. Delicious sweets, each one with a truly corny French joke on. You can also make them into a tarte. I’m afraid I bought four bags – two fruit flavour, one original, and one pâté de nougat, and I have just sat for days troughing them. I don’t understand all the jokes – the ones based on puns on names of French sportspeople are especially difficult – but it’s fun to see what I do get. If there are any left I could use them as rewards in lessons, or use them with this reading comp resource and this youtube advert:

Classroom tat. The last few years I have a quick look to see if there’s anything I can use for teaching. One of our “ofsted ready” preparations is about use of authentic materials, so things like calendars, maps, exercise books, stationery, etc call all help with that. The last few years, there has been a real trend for American 50s chic amongst the tat in French supermarkets, which has been a bit of a pain. I’m still on the look out for a large French / German perpetual calendar I could use on the board, but ultimately I think I’m just going to have to make one.

Moving on to matters more alcoholic and less suited to school trips…

Pastis. Available in England. A nice refreshing aniseed summer drink with ice and water that goes cloudy when you dilute it. It’s also a super ingredient for cooking fennel as many ways of cooking it lose its gentle aniseed flavour.

Crème de…. Crème de cassis is a blackcurrant liqueur, a little like alcoholic ribena. It’s used with champagne to make a kir royal, or white wine to make a kir. It’s a similar idea to flavoured syrups in American coffees. It makes a lovely simple cocktail, takes the edge of any slightly nasty white wine, and since it’s a liqueur served in a glass of wine, is pretty effective at taking the edge of you too. Crème de cassis is widely available in the UK, but (sing it with me) much cheaper in France. Much more interestingly, though, are the wider varieties of crème de… that you can use in the same way. Pêche is an old favourite, as is framboise, but this time to mix things up a bit I’ve come home with bottles of crème de pamplemousse rose and crème de cérise. One of my favourite drinks of late has been a gin-and-tonic-and-pink-grapefruit-juice, so pink grapefruit is a flavour I use a lot.

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