Bingeing on bulge-friendly charcuterie and cheese over a glass of wine or whisky is on the way out in France as trendier -- and sometimes lighter -- appetisers invade drinks time.
The pre-dinner aperitif, or "apero" as it's more commonly known, was described by French writer Paul Morand in 1926 as "the Frenchman's evening prayer", practised ahead of a long and abundant evening meal.
AdvertisementBut as the French like everybody else see their busy lifestyles squeezing traditions, fashionable circles increasingly are throwing out calorie-heavy pre-dinner drinks.
People in the know instead are opting for the "aperitif dinatoire", a breezy buffet-style stand-up or sit-down encounter combining drinks-time with dinner-time.
"In the olden days, the enjoyment of food was almost a sacred affair," said Xavier Terlet, a food consultant for the SIAL international food fair. "But after 2000 many of the old traditions were packed off to the attic."
"Nowadays we're into eminently modern concepts such as molecular cuisine, we eat lots of little things with our fingers, such as tapas and vegetables. The 'aperitif dinatoire' has taken over from the 'apero'".
And even the French language has become tainted as hosts and hostesses nowadays offer "des finger foods" or "le dip" in true US or English style.
On offer are bite-size bits of avocado and crab, tiny veggie tapas or tomato-and goatscheese crumble in a verrine, the trendy upmarket appetizer that consists of a number of components layered artfully in a small glass.
In a country where people usually made their own, even France's top frozen-foods chain Picard offers special appetizer fare such as spoon-size pies stuffed with chestnut cream, garlic mushrooms or spinach and parsley.
Top of the range however are appetizer enhancers spawned in the brave new world of molecular gastronomy, sold complete with chemistry-set measuring spoons, sodium chloride, natural aromas and pipettes.
The scientific paraphernalia, the latest enemy of gastronomic tradition, is being launched in France this month by a small company called Phode which says the substances can deconstruct and transform both drinks and foods.
Champagnes and other sparkling wines for example can be enhanced by molecular creations from its 50-euro (73-dollar) kits "to liberate new aromas, new pearl-like textures," said Phode director Daniel Eclache.
Said Remy Lucas, head of a food trends agency, CATE: "Meals are now being destructured. This is a longterm trend. People are spending less and less time eating."
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