‘Continental breakfast’ is a phrase that strikes fear into the hearts of many who remember hotel breakfast offerings of a few decades ago. These were the days before TripAdvisor. Stale plastic croissants, miniscule sachets of apricot jam that defied all attempts to open them and lukewarm instant coffee. No wonder the ‘Full English’ was so popular. Of course, there’s no such thing as a continental breakfast. Every European country has its own traditions. From boiled eggs, cured meats and pickled vegetables of a Polish sniadanie to the hot chocolate and churros of Spain. So, what’s a traditional French breakfast, and can you veganise it?
The basic baguette is vegan
Breakfast isn’t really a major meal in France, that’s reserved for the lunchtime two-hour dejeuner. In fact, that first meal of the day can be as simple as a tartine and a cup of coffee (even instant is acceptable, too). A tartine is just bread spread with butter, jam or that French favourite Nutella. The vast majority of jam – confiture – is generally vegan. Honey is off the menu, of course, and although Nutella contains milk alternatives are out there. Many bio shops stock vegan chocolate spread, and the Jardin Bio range, found in supermarkets, does a delicious dark chocolate spread that is labelled vegan. And the good news is that baguettes are vegan.
What’s with the drinking bowls?
You’ve probably seen the fluted ceramic bowls in supermarkets, and indeed on breakfast tables. Yes, some French really do drink out of bowls. These are traditionally called cafe au lait bowls; this breakfast drink being a mix of espresso and warm milk. The bowls are also used for hot chocolate, especially for children. Not only do people drink directly from the bowl, but they also like to dunk a croissant into the creamy liquid, or a chunk of stale baguette, complete with butter and jam. If you want to swap out your cup of rocket fuel (or English Breakfast Tea) for a bowl of coffee or chocolate, these are both easy to veganise with any of the many plant-based drinks available.
What about pastries?
Croissants are not usually daily fare for most French, especially as many people start work quite early. Along with other sweet pastries and brioche, they’re often reserved for weekend and holiday treats. Outside of Paris you’ll find it difficult to track down vegan viennoiseries fresh from a boulangerie. The problem, of course, is that the flaky pastry is full of butter. So, croissants, pain au raisin and pain au chocolat may be off the vegan breakfast menu. However, if you are prepared to try out some of the many mass-produced bakery goods that you’ll find in the supermarket then a couple of vegan options may be available. One is La Boulangere B’Vegan croissants, and another made by Pasquier. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to track down any of these (except for at Sainsburys in the UK), but I have it on good authority that the vegan croissants are quite tasty.
So, is it just baguettes and brioche for breakfast?
The French do love their baguettes and the good news is that they are vegan. However, the government’s nutritional advice urges the population to eat a produit latier plus fruit, fruit juice or cereals for fibre. These are all easily veganised; just swap dairy yoghurt for a soya, rice or coconut dessert. The breakfast cereal or muesli habit is catching on here, too. Although you’ll need to check the labels very carefully for added milk powder (look for LAIT in bold). Other French favourites are breakfast bars, like the famous Lu Belvita and those strange toasts that are as hard as rock. Again, you need to study the labels carefully, as very few of these would qualify as SFV. However, I did find some ‘accidentally vegan’ Lu Belvita biscuits.