So how is French hospital food anyway?

Ever since I checked into a clinic in Toulouse on April 13, for back surgery that took place the next day, family members and friends and readers of Radio Free Daglan have been asking kindly how I am doing. (Fine, thank you.) And several have asked about the food I’m being served, wondering if French hospital food is up to the standard of well, French food. Sadly, the answer is no.

A few days ago, when my wife Jan discussed my ongoing experience with a friend who’s a retired doctor, he confirmed: “Oh yes, French hospital food has always been known for being terrible.” (In the spirit of balanced reporting, a friend who had surgery in Périgueux last year says the food at her clinic was quite good.)

Just to orient you, Toulouse is a large city about 180 or 190 kilometres south of our village of Daglan, and I’m here because my surgeon came highly recommended. He has indeed been great, and so has the care and attention I’ve received — regular blood pressure readings, regular blood tests, careful medication, and on and on. No complaints, and much praise.

But the food is another matter. In fact, I’d say that the food here has been as bad as what I’ve experienced in North American hospitals — ranging from under-seasoned to just plain weird. Without meaning to depress you, let’s have a review of the kitchen’s output.

Out of all proportion. For one thing, portion sizes seem all over the map. My worst visual image is the memory of a dinner plate on which sat a piece of meat (I’ve long since forgotten what it was) with fully half of the plate piled high with soggy, way-overcooked green beans. Even if they had been good, I would have eaten a quarter or maybe half of them.

Plastic makes perfect … While it’s not fashionable to like plastic-wrapped, prepared foods, sometimes they can be a godsend — given the alternative. So I’ve had a fair number of little plastic containers of yoghurt, apple sauce, soft cheeses, and so on.

… but not always perfect. After one dinner, I cleverly stashed away a cellophane-wrapped hunk of pain d’épice (gingerbread), thinking it would make a nice breakfast the next morning. Wrong. It was cut too thick; was incredibly dry; and was virtually tasteless.

 Bread? Just like Tuscany! If you’ve ever been to Tuscany, you’ll remember how tasteless the bread is there, because it lacks salt. Same thing here. Every lunch and every dinner, I get a large roll, which I never eat. It’s also hard, and dry. The French may “need” their bread, but I don’t.

Breakfast choices. There’s typically a choice of three things at breakfast — coffee, tea or hot chocolate.  Except for today (croissants on Sunday!), your drink comes with a large, tasteless bun or roll, plus a pat of butter and some (nice, plastic-enclosed) jam. With my vast powers of persuasion, I’ve convinced the staff that I also need an apple juice with breakfast, and that seems to have been accepted, finally. But I believe I’m seen as one of those crazy North-American-or-British breakfast lovers.

Regional specialties. One of my favourite foods of southwest France is cassoulet, the stew of flavourful white beans with meats like sausage (yum!) and confit de canard (yum yum!). I know several restaurants where it’s worth ordering, but as for the hospital, not so much.

Fresh (meaning uncooked) does work. Several times I’ve been offered a piece of fresh fruit for dessert, and that’s generally been fine — an apple, a banana, a kiwi fruit, an orange. It would be better if the orange were an eating orange instead of a juice orange, but it’s still a great change from something that the kitchen had tried to improve.

Now I’ll give you a look at a slightly untypical meal (because it was fairly good). For today’s lunch, the salad was a traditional French salad of finely chopped white cabbage, with a small mince of ham and cheese. Not bad. The main course was billed as sauté porc aux pruneaux, which pleased me because pork with prunes is not only a French classic but also a personal favourite. As you’ll see from this photo, the prunes were well hidden, and may have been no more than the few dark flecks appearing in the sauce. Seemed more like “pork in a barbecue sauce,” but it was tasty, and the pork was reasonably tender. Here’s my plate:

Pork and potatoes as the main course for Sunday lunch.

Pork and potatoes as the main course for Sunday lunch.

And here’s the rest of the lunch — the cabbage salad in the foreground (which I did finish), and then the roll and a beignet for dessert, neither of which I touched. I also was given a (plastic-wrapped) thin piece of blue cheese, which I didn’t eat because I tend to like blue cheeses only if they come with a decent piece of bread.

A glass of cool water, and a side salad, are highlights.

A glass of cool water, and a side salad, are highlights.

Of course, there was the ever-present tumbler of water.

Wine? Surely you jest. Haven’t had a drop since lunch at Le Petit Paris in Daglan on Sunday, April 13. It’s been a while, but I’m focussed on getting better. (Okay, and with the occasional whine about food.)

This entry was posted in Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Travels in and out of France and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to So how is French hospital food anyway?

  1. alifemoment says:

    Hospital? It looks like coming from a restaurant!!! 🙂

  2. aschlar says:

    ….where is the white linen tablecloth and napkins. LoL I guess to top it off the only white glove treatment is latex…be well and let’s get back to those serious French meal reviews and snaps!

    • loren24250 says:

      On the plus side, my wife points out that our food-and-wine budget is doing very, very well these days. But yes — I can hear Le Vieux Logis and Le Grand Bleu calling out to me! Cheers, Loren

  3. Sue Kirby says:

    Best wishes for your recovery. We enjoy reading your blog, particularly on a grey, dull day like today in the UK. We were lucky enough to be at our house near Cenac between 9-20 April enjoying uninterrupted sunshine. Before dining at Le Petit Paris, we walked round Daglan and spotted your house on the basis of the one wisteria plant. Sadly no-one there but your lovely cat. Get well soon.
    Sue and Andy Kirby

  4. lepeyruzel says:

    Hi Loren, so good to see you back “in print”. Glad the operation was successful. Hopefully you will continue to make a smooth and full recovery. I have spoken to Jan a couple of times and she did tell me how awful you found the food at the hospital. I have to say that when I was in the Clinique du Parc in Perigueux I thought that the food was really quite good. Wine was offered at every meal (I did manage to decline). When I told Roy about your food experience he did say that I was “always easy to please” !!! Not sure if that was meant as a compliment!!
    Bon courage for the weeks ahead.

    Lots of love and best wishes.

    Letitia & Roy

  5. Judy Ford says:

    Hi Loren, great to have you back on your blog, keep up the convalescence with thoughts of making up for all the Hospital food when you get home. Judy and John x

    • loren24250 says:

      Thanks very much! And by the way, Samantha and Fabrice have been big supporters/helpers/cheerleaders as we went through the long process of planning for the surgery, and then actually having it done. Hope to see you in the GDA this year!

  6. Double D's says:

    The last time “you know who” had a stay over at our local Toronto hospital I was told that the budget per meal, per patient was exactly one dollar. Not sure if that was fact but judging from what we saw and tasted it was probably true. Lots of servings of things that were mostly 99% water; like water, broth, and jello. Did you know that airplane food comes from the creative minds of those that started in Hospital food but were sent away because they were “just not fitting in”? Hopefully the crappy food is part of the strategy to speed your recovery home and to a much finer restaurant.

  7. loren24250 says:

    Double D, well I leave tomorrow for the clinic where I’ll have more serious physiotherapy. What the French call rééducation. (Memories of Mao…) Your thought about the food may be on the mark — “What would get him to really, really want to leave? I’ve got it — drab, weird food.” Speaking of airline food, in a book I just finished, two guys are in first class on a plane and have just been served. One has a steak, and the other asks him how it is. “Steamed it just right,” he replies.

  8. Peter and Dawn says:

    Glad to hear everything went well and your are on the road to recovery. You will be back on the gourmet trail before you know it. Cheers, Dawn and Peter

  9. marshp2013 says:

    Welcome back Radio Free Daglan! All I can say about your hospital food experience is that they must have brought in meal planners from Canadian hospitals. And no wine — can that really be France? I’m wondering if the food is designed to take the strain off the French health system by making patients anxious to leave. Hope you have something better to review soon!

    • loren24250 says:

      Thanks, Paul! Well today I leave the hospital/clinic in Toulouse and travel by private limousine (okay, ambulance) to a physio clinic in the hamlet of Montfaucon, or Falcon Mountain. How appropriate is that?

      We shall see about the food…

      • marshp2013 says:

        Just found your reply, sorry for the delay. Yes, falcon mountain — appropriate or what? Let me know if you see any falcons flying by your window.

  10. Lesley says:

    I thought that the ‘food’ was the one thing that was not covered by the state and your insurance. I remember (badly) paying €10 a day for my husband’s awful food – definitely no wine.
    Welcome back to the real world and after your re-education it won’t be long before you are back on your bike! Good Luck.

  11. Loren & Jan, glad to hear about the move to Monfaucon – I’ve heard the food’s not too bad there!! Love from Anne-Marie (J-P is bookselling in Bordeaux today & tomorrow)

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