I’VE always assumed I’d be the sort of person who would like French onion soup. I like soup, generally. I’ve got a French GCSE. And if you asked me which was my favourite bulb-shaped allium, onion would be in the top two.
In fruit machine terms, that is three lemons, and I would expect a load of flavour and approval coins to spill out all over my shoes like somebody having a dream about winning big in Vegas in a sitcom.
So convinced have I been that I would like French onion soup, I had never actually had any. I mean, I am equally convinced I wouldn’t much like bungee jumping and don’t feel a pressing need to disprove my prejudice. I know how difficult it is to keep my own shoelaces tied all day, so the idea of somebody tying a knot capable of staying tied when something with the body weight of an actual body is yanking on it all the time is beyond my intelligence.
Nevertheless, I found myself in a situation last week where I could actually have French onion soup.
Moreover, the only other soup on offer was replete with cream and milk.
I don’t like cream and milk. I am not lactose intolerant, but if you tell me, “Oh, there’s only a bit of cream and milk in this thing I am giving you, you won’t even notice,” I will tell you I am lactose intolerant just to make you stop. I am not above lying to not get what I don’t want. I will notice. The only reason you don’t notice it is because YOU like it.
Essentially, I was being railroaded into finally breaking my French onion soup duck. I walked up to the till. “French onion soup, please,” I said, for the first time in my life.
“Regular or large?” asked the cashier.
“Regular,” I said. “Let’s not go mad at this stage.” She smiled at me, indulgently. Which surprised me as she had not been privy to my internal monologue. Perhaps she smiles indulgently at all her customers.
She ladled the rich broth into a polystyrene cup, bagged it up, and I was away.
I walked back to the office, genuinely excited that I was finally going to have French onion soup. I had a spring in my step and a smile on my face. People walking past me no doubt thought, “He’s smiling like that woman on the till in the sandwich shop.”
I sat down at my desk, removed the lid from the cup. “Are you having soup, Gary?” asked an observant colleague.
“Yes, I am. It’s French onion soup and it’s my first time.”
“You’re nearly 40, it’s your first time having French onion soup?”
“No, it’s the first time I’m having soup as a concept. Leave me alone.” I plunged the plastic spoon into the steaming nectar and lifted it to my lips, blowing on it slightly to cool.
It’s rubbish, isn’t it?
I was expecting something rich and sweet and mysterious. The consummate consommé. Something which explained the Gallic enigma.
What I got was weak Bovril, homeopathic oxtail soup, a beef rumour. With onions in it. Which fell off the spoon and landed in the polystyrene cup leaving a spatter pattern all over the desk which a police forensic scientist would no doubt identify as “classic French onion soup rookie spill”.
I have never been so disappointed in my life. I do not blame the shop in question.
It was probably moderate to excellent French onion soup. But I had invested so much expectation in my first experience of French onion soup, that I was setting myself up for a fall.
Not only that, but I now believe that all my preconceptions are now questionable. It was the worst thing I had ever bought, because it has proven that my judgment and my prejudices are baseless.
Apart from the bungee jump one. I am not an idiot.
2 thoughts on “Column: May 25, 2011”
Gary – I’m saddened to hear of your suboptimal F.o.s experience … However, I don’t believe you should dismiss French onion soup after trying it once, from a place that serves it in a polystyrene cup. I suggest you take this soup quest to the next stage & treat yourself to some of the proper stuff, made by an actual chef, in a proper restaurant – then make your mind up. If you really want to push the boat out, find an actual French restaurant – maybe even with a French chef, then go hog wild. I sense this could become a quest 😉
Find a recipe from a reputable chef and make it yourself – assuming that you can cook