For the most part, the French do not snack. But when they do, they make it sound so much better. Although popular as an after school treat for children, le goûter – a late afternoon snack – has become part of the French culture as much as afternoon tea is in England.
Le goûter, pronounced “luh goo tay”, happens around 4 PM, when children are getting out of school and workers are heading into the last 1-2 hours of work. At this time, children will rush home in a frenzy to get a delicious treat, just enough to satisfy hunger or a craving, but not enough to spoil the appetite for dinner.
You may also see adults in France heading into this same frenzy around 4 PM, when the typical afternoon lull has set in. French workers, professional and non, will take to cafes and tea houses to grab their own snack – I’m sorry – le goûter.
But you won’t find potato chips, candy, or beef jerky during this ritual. For French children, le goûter typically includes a piece of bread spread with chocolate or nutella – France’s equivalent to peanut butter.
But of course, adults wouldn’t want to eat the same thing as children for le goûter. Adults have more sophisticated treats like chocolate croissants, macaroons, or fruit tartes – usually accommpanied with strong coffee or tea.
Now, I’ve said time and time again that French women do not snack. And, if you ask a French woman if she snacks, she will undoubtedly say no. Yet, the French woman most likely does practice the tradition of taking le goûter. However, she does not consider this snacking, because le goûter is not considered snacking. It is more like a refined, cultural experience to share with friends, family, co-workers, or even by yourself.
I wonder … maybe le goûter is the French way of secretly being able to snack without admitting that they snack. Hey, I want to do that! Well, being the notorious francophile that I am, I just had to try see what this new afternoon delight was all about.
So yesterday, about 3:30 PM, I delved into the office treats that were leftover from a catered lunch. There were so many pastries to choose from that it was difficult to make a decision…
I selected three blossoming beauties – a chocolate chip brownie, a pecan-chocolate square, and a chocolate chip square. Seeing a pattern here? Even for the French, chocolate is key for le goûter, so who am I to break tradition, right? I had one bite of each treat, to see which one I like the most. I ruled out the brownie immediately. It was mediocre at best and who wants to waste calories on something that’s mediocre? Next, I had the pecan bar, which was tasty, albeit a little dry. I had one more bite of that, then moved on to the chocolate chip bar. This pastry actually had little chocolate chips in it and melted caramel. Although it, too, was a little dry, it was the best tasting of the bunch so I ate the whole thing with a little peppermint tea. I needed to offset the sugar. Besides, sweets always seem better when you have them with tea.
Of course, this wasn’t the first time I had an afternoon treat, but it was my first time having le goûter. And, I can honestly say that it’s not that much different from my typical afternoon pick-me-ups. But, even still, just saying that you are having le goûter is so much more refined than saying you’re having a snack.
So the next time your 3 PM hunger rolls around, don’t snack, grab a pastry and coffee and enjoy your le goûter with the rest of the sophisticates. Yours truly included!