UNESCO on Tuesday declared French cuisine one of the world's cultural treasures, the first time gastronomy has been added to a list aiming to protect intangible slices of a nation's heritage.
Experts from the UN cultural organisation, gathered this week in the Kenyan capital, said France's multi-course gastronomic meal, with its rites and its presentation, fulfilled the conditions for featuring on the list.
The "world intangible heritage" list, which until now numbered 178 cultural practices -- including the Royal Ballet of Cambodia and Mexico's Day of the Dead festival, was drawn up under a 2003 convention, now ratified by 132 countries.
It delivers grants to help fund the protection of cultural practices in much the same way that UNESCO protects sites of cultural value or great natural beauty.
The UNESCO experts singled out French gastronomy as a "social custom aimed at celebrating the most important moments in the lives of individuals and groups".
France's ambassador to UNESCO Catherine Colonna hailed the inclusion, saying it "makes a contribution to cultural diversity".
"The French love getting together to eat and drink well and enjoy good times in such a manner. It is part of our tradition -- a quite active tradition," she added.
How wines are paired with dishes, how the table is dressed, the precise placing of glasses, for water, red and white wine, knife blade pointing in and fork tines down, are all seen as part of the rite.
Francis Chevrier, chief delegate of the French mission in charge of submitting the UNESCO bid, also welcomed the decision.
"It's very important that people realise, in villages in Africa and everywhere, that when you have knowledge of food it is a treasure for your community, and something worth cherishing," he said.
Songs, dances and traditional know-how from 31 countries were up for consideration at the Nairobi meeting, ranging from Spanish Flamenco, to China's traditional art of Peking opera.
The inter-governmental committee meeting here since Monday is considering 51 cultural practices from around the world for inclusion on the Convention of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Other submissions include Meshrep, the harvest festival ceremony of northwest China's Turkish-speaking Muslim Uighur people, to oil wrestling in Turkey's Kirkpinar region and falconry in 11 countries.
Croatian Ojkanje singing, the Meshrep and two other Chinese cultural practices were entered in a class of threatened traditions.
Delegates overruled some participants's concern over China's restriction on Meshrep, with UNESCO director terming the objections "unrealistic."