It was a working vacation. Me, assigned to interview cookbook author Patricia Wells at her Provençal farmhouse. My wife, a personal chef, dedicated to expanding her menu repertoire. So, we ate our way across France. Steak frites on the Champs-Élysées. Salade Niçoise along the Riviera. In bistros and brasseries, cafés and Michelin-starred meccas, we said no to nothing, seeking new food experiences. Foie gras and escargot? Mais Oui!
Knowing the language helped. At least while ordering lunch. Yet it was at a Bouchon in Lyon— those warmly welcoming, Beaujolais-flowing, family-run taverns — where I was reminded how food truly is the universal language. Seated elbow to elbow at long communal tables, bouchon customers share prodigal plates of charcuterie, fresh frisée salads with chunks of salty lardons, heaping bowls of blanquette de veau, and bottomless glasses of Cotes-du-Rhone. Seated next to us were three other couples: Newlyweds Stefano and Gia from Italy, who spoke passing English. Recently-retired Mateo and Sara from Spain, who could speak a little French. Plus Jack and Nigel from the UK, who knew some Spanish.
We ate and drank together. We talked — or tried to — about where we came from and what we liked to eat there. If one of us couldn’t be understood, another would translate in their tongue, filling in the gaps. All while filling our bellies with saucisson, goat cheeses and surprisingly cheap Maconnais. The Italians talked of Tuscan food and “cucina povera” (poor cooking), using simple ingredients. The couple from Barcelona boasted of their Mercado de La Boqueria, one of Europe’s largest markets with foods of all nationalities. The Brits defended their cuisines, aptly noting London’s unmatched variety of diverse cultures. We were told Americans have the very best beef, even though I was savoring every bite of an entrecôte au poivre. (And every time I taste French Peppercorn Finishing Sauce from LeSauce, I’m right back there all over again.)
All around the world, we celebrate holidays with food, comfort ourselves and each other with food, and happily socialize — all with food. It transcends borders, nationality, ethnicity and age. Preparing and sharing meals enables us to come together as a global community, where even complete strangers can connect and feel close. Especially when the one language they all have in common is good food. [ ... ]