The Lou Messugo Blog - life in the south of France from a British/Australian TCK's perspective, bringing you French culture, travel on the Côte d'Azur and beyond, expat issues and a little bit of je ne sais quoi all mixed up with a hefty dose of photography.

Posted by on in Food & Drink

What is Goûter? It's tea-time, kids!

Definition:  Goûter v. to taste, n. a light meal in the afternoon.  

gouter1Goûter is an institution in France without a real equivalent in British culture.  It's tea-time, almost religiously eaten at 4.30 pm, almost exclusively by children as they come out of school, consisting solely of sweet treats.

My first experience of goûter was as an 10 year old on a French exchange for a month at school in Vernon near Paris. Most of that exchange was horrendous but it introduced me to the delights of squares of chocolate in a chunk of baguette and the classic tea-time biscuit "Prince".  Oh, what a treat!  Chocolate in bread has got to be one of life's greatest simple pleasures.

Now, as a mum in France, goûter is very much part of everyday life.  When I first started giving my children afternoon snacks to keep them going I would insist on pieces of fruit, dried fruit and raw vegetables.  At birthday parties I would always serve sausage rolls, crisps and sandwiches but no one touched them.  I remember feeling quite mortified when a French mum remarked "savoury at goûter, gosh, how odd!" (in French of course) as the realisation dawned that it just wasn't done.  But, hey, I gouter2wasn't French and I wouldn't change just because I was in France, I'd continue my resistance to a 100% sweet tea (for just a little bit longer!)  More than ten years later I realise how much of my adopted country I've assimilated as I now take a packet of chocolate biscuits or a pain au chocolat to the school gate along with everyone else!

The thing is, dinner in France is usually served around 8 to 8.30 in the evening and children eat with their parents so they need something to keep them going.  Primary school and maternelle (pre-school from 3-6 years old) have the longest school day in the world, from 8.30am to 4.30pm and the kids usually come out starving.  If they are then going straight to sports or other extra-curricular activities (which is very often the case particularly on Tuesday evenings as there's no school on a Wednesday) they need to eat goûter on the trot.  Hence the packet of biscuits at the school gate.  If they eat at home the snack may consist of a tartine (open sandwich) with jam or nutella, or a croissant or chocolate in bread or some biscuits (usually chocolate, are you gouter3getting the theme here?) accompanied by a glass of milk or Grenadine. French children are brought up on Grenadine in the way British have Ribena. It's a mixed red fruit cordial (not pomegranate as the name should suggest, grenade meaning pomegranate) diluted with water.  It's so sweet it makes your teeth curl!

Whether you approve of this sugar intense snack or not, it can't be all wrong when you consider the fact that French children suffer far less from obesity than in other industrialised countries.  Yes it is beginning to creep in now but that's probably more related to fastfood and the ever increasing presence of readymeals than this age-old mid-afternoon snack.  It is still very rare to see an overweight child in most of France and I can honestly say there are none in our local primary school of 600 or so kids.  

Is this yet another example of the French paradox?  What do you think of this?



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  • Guest
    Philippe Saturday, 05 November 2016

    I came to Australia from France as a child and my parents fed their children this meal. It was very pleasant to arrive home from school to chocolate and biscuits.

  • Guest
    Lindsay Bamfield Saturday, 02 January 2016

    Like you I first came across the end-of-school treat of chocolate in bread on an exchange visit to France back in 1969. Along with the breakfast-time hot chocolate in a bowl it started my love of food around the world!

    I enjoyed your post!

  • Phoebe
    Phoebe Thursday, 31 December 2015

    I just had a "petit gouter"- Bread with butter and grape jelly, with hot chocolate -- and had forgotten what the word was for that in French! ...For those of you who love the croissant with chocolate ("pain au chocolat"), try this: butter aslice of white bread (or piece of a baguette), lay half a bar of chocolate on top (even Hershey's would be okay!), fold and eat! Sounds bizarre to Americans but it's delicious! It's not a "pain au chocolat," but it really is good. Bon app'! : )

  • Guest
    sarahhillwheeler Thursday, 17 April 2014

    Interesting post, love my pain au chocolats at breakfast, and am now seriously tempted to follow French tradition for afternoon tea, fascinating how embedded in French culture this appears.

  • Guest
    Honest Mum Monday, 14 April 2014

    Oh wow, yummy and so interesting that the French appear to understand moderation so they can enjoy sugar without all the awful side effects-thanks for linking up to #tastytuesdays

  • Guest
    Sophie at Franglaise Cooking Friday, 11 April 2014

    Despite living in the UK for nearly 4 years now we still talk about, and have, goûter. I was like you first of all in France, with my seeds, crackers, carrot sticks etc, but soon realised it was all about the chocolate! French Hubs and his twin brother used to shock everyone when they were younger as they would devour bread and charcuterie for their goûter!
    We have "sirop de grenadine" and "sirop de menthe" here, and our eldest's friends always want "French squash" when they come over!

  • Guest
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} Wednesday, 09 April 2014

    My daughter would love it if I served her a sweet gouter after school. Her favorite snack currently is bread smeared with chocolate spread, so the baguette with a piece of chocolate seems like it'd be a tidier option. I had never heard of Ribena until we moved to Malaysia, so I thought it was a Malaysian drink. I guess they must have acquired a taste for it from the British who used to rule here.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 09 April 2014

    How funny to think Ribena is big in Malaysia. What a funny legacy form the colonial past!!

  • Guest
    Marcia Wednesday, 09 April 2014

    "It's so sweet it makes your teeth curl!" My kind of sweet. Interesting that they're less obesity in France. So what do you give children who don't like chocolate? (That would be me.)
    Thanks for linking up this week, Phoebe!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 09 April 2014

    Jam! Kids have jam or honey on their tartines too, it doesn't really have to be all about chocolate!!

  • Guest
    http://Sara (@mumturnedmom) Tuesday, 08 April 2014

    I hadn't heard of gouter until I read Bringing up Bebe, and it's interesting that the French have such a low rates of obesity, but I wonder if it's because food is treated differently. No demonising of snacks, so no cravings for the forbidden, and family meals eaten together not rushed in front of the TV... #TastyTuesdays

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 09 April 2014

    I think the "no demonising" that you mention Sara is crucial. You're absolutely right.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Monday, 07 October 2013

    Lovely comment Linda, I wish I could make you a choccy baguette too. You'll just have to come back. :)

  • Phoebe
    Phoebe Monday, 07 October 2013

    I loved France for many reasons, but especially for the chocolate croissants. I sure wish I were French so I could celebrate with this every single afternoon. Your pictures sure captured memories I have of visiting. Thanks for sharing. I wish you'd make one of those and send it to me. :-)

  • Guest
    Catherine Thursday, 21 February 2013

    Sixty five years ago in Australia I had a bread and butter and sugar sandwich after school. How about that?

  • Guest
    Phoebe Tuesday, 26 February 2013

    I bet you loved that Catherine! Such decadence! Thanks for sharing your experiences with us.

  • Phoebe
    Phoebe Monday, 04 March 2013

    hundreds and thousands is really just brightly coloured sugar isn't it, so that would make most English birthday parties guilty of serving bread and butter and sugar sandwiches! I do like the sound of this sandwich though Catherine, scrummy!!

  • Phoebe
    Phoebe Wednesday, 13 February 2013

    Makes sense to me!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Saturday, 16 February 2013

    Glad you think so! :p

  • Guest
    Corinna Tuesday, 12 February 2013

    My children's idea of heaven but as I do not live in France, I still insist on the piece of fruit - often with a biscuit or piece of fruit cake!

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