In France, chocolate is a food group. Along with yogurt and bread, chocolate has an importance that Americans may have difficulty understanding. In the US, chocolate is generally found in what we could call “candy bars,” such as Snickers or Kitkat. These are decidedly in the category of candy and junk food. Pure bars of chocolate are more available than they previously were, especially European brands such as Lindt or Ritter Sport, but in the “regular” American grocery store, they are generally reserved for the baking aisle. This is not the case in Europe. Here, the chocolate aisle is about 15 ft long, and the varieties are endless: Dark chocolate with a touch of sea salt from Guerande, hazelnut mousse, crème brûlée, etc, etc.
Even more surprising, perhaps, for an American, is that in France, chocolate is considered an important and even healthy childhood food. It does indeed contain Magnesium, Phosphorous, Iron, fiber, antioxidants, and has recently been shown to have a variety of other health benefits. Unfortunately, the benefits are likely diminished the more crème brûlée one adds…
A brief glance at the breakfast cereal aisle (breakfast cereal is actually not traditional here and the varieties are more limited) tells you that chocolate is classic breakfast fare. At least half of the breakfast cereals you find are chocolate flavored or coated in chocolate.
Special K has a particularly delicious chocolate variety here should you ever have the opportunity to try it.
Children also often drink hot cocoa with plenty of milk for breakfast. Banania, a cocoa mix with banana flakes, is a classic children’s product whose iconic ads feature a Senegalese colonial soldier. This image has often been criticized for its demeaning representation of a black man, but it remains an important part of French advertising history.
Other chocolate breakfast foods include a tartine, which is a piece of baguette cut in half and spread with something or other, in this case with nutella or some other chocolate spread, and pain au chocolat, a folded croissant with pieces of chocolate inside. Even cream cheese here comes in a chocolate variety.
And children don’t only eat chocolate for breakfast. While snacking is highly discouraged in France (snack food advertisers are even required to display a disclaimer saying that snacking has a negative impact on health) and children learn early not to snack, one snack is traditional. This is what is called the Quatre heures or Four o’clock, basically the after-school snack. One popular Quatre heures is a chocolate sandwich. The first time I saw my husband whip up one of these, I laughed. But it is no joke. You simply take a roll or baguette, slice it open, and place inside several squares of chocolate. Close and serve.
Nothin’ wrong with that.