Colonial Food in Interwar Paris
Colonial Food in Interwar Paris

Lauren Janes

Lauren Janes is Assistant Professor of History at Hope College, USA. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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Bloomsbury Academic, 2016


Content Type:

Book Chapter



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Colonial Cuisine in Culinary Literature

DOI: 10.5040/9781474296144.0012
Page Range: 103–126

Between the 1890s and the late 1930s, the increased availability of ingredients and flavors from the colonized world led to the development of many colonial-themed dishes in France. Coconut cake named “Le Dakar,” chicken curry “à l’indienne,” lobsters “à la créole,” langoustines “à l'orientale,” and eggplant “à l’algérienne” are just a few examples of the many colonial-inspired recipes that were published in the home-cooking magazines Le Pot-au-feu and Le Cordon bleu between 1893 and 1939.[1] These dishes reflect an increased interest in France in exotic dining, especially in the interwar period. Despite their popularity, the range of colonial-themed dishes was very limited, relying mostly on tropical fruits and curry powder and adding only a small exotic touch to the periphery of French meals. These magazines also featured articles describing the diets of the colonized and other non-Western others. These articles, which I name “gastronomic curiosity” pieces, exaggerated the alterity of non-Western peoples, often through the trope of disgust. The portrayal of exotic others as the eaters of disgusting foods marked the boundaries of French cuisine and limited culinary exploration. Tropical fruits and curry powders were accepted into French cuisine because they referenced a homogenized, generic, and nonthreatening colonial other and therefore did not transgress the boundaries of acceptable eating. The culinary exoticism found in these magazines further distanced the French from non-Western people, solidifying the borders between colonizer and colonized within metropolitan France. The experience of exotic cuisine I describe here is very different from that portrayed by Faustine Régnier for the second half of the twentieth century in L'exotisme culinaire: Essai sur les saveurs de l’autre. Régnier argues that “culinary exoticism can lead to the discovery of the Other.”[2] I demonstrate here that from the late nineteenth century through the interwar period, culinary exoticism as presented in these magazines consisted not of exploration and discovery but of the repetition of stereotypes and disgust tropes.

My framing of French cuisine draws from the work of historical sociologist Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson, who in Accounting for Taste chronicles the development of French national cuisine in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Ferguson argues that culinary practices became national cuisine through the writing and circulation of culinary literature. “The nationalization of French cuisine, in short, came through its textualization, and it depended on the readers of culinary texts as much as on the cooks or the consumers of the material preparation.”[3] Cuisine itself is not only the written discourse around food and eating, but this textualization also standardizes and nationalizes cuisine. Cuisine “refers to the properly cultural construct that systematizes culinary practices and transmutes the spontaneous culinary gesture into a stable cultural code.”[4] Taking cuisine as a cultural code, this chapter examines how colonial foods were assimilated into or kept at a distance from French cuisine as it was articulated in two home-cooking magazines.

The introduction of the linotype press and new laws protecting the freedom of the press led to an explosion in newspapers and magazines in Paris in the 1880s and 1890s.[5] Included in this expansion were a number of culinary publications. Before 1870 France had a couple of journals by gastronomes, but a new type of culinary publication, targeted at female home cooks and male professional chefs, took off at the end of the nineteenth century. Twelve new titles in this category were founded in France between 1870 and 1900.[6] This chapter examines two of these journals, Le Pot-au-feu: Journal de la cuisine pratique et d’économie domestique (Beef stew: Journal of practical cooking and domestic economy), which ran from 1893 to 1956, and La Cuisinière cordon-bleu: Revue illustrée de cuisine bourgeoise, ménagère, économie domestique (The Blue Ribbon cook: Illustrated review of bourgeois cooking, housekeeping, and domestic economy), which ran from 1895 to 1962. As both of their titles make clear, these magazines targeted bourgeois housewives and their cooks. Their audience included lower-middle-class women, petit bourgeois, who did their own cooking, often referred to as ménagères. They also included middle- and upper-class women, bourgeois and haute bourgeois, who employed either domestic servants who did most of the cooking or, in the cases of the wealthiest families, professionally trained cooks. These women were commonly referred to as maîtresses de maison. Even those women who employed domestic servants and cooks were usually still responsible for choosing menus and instructing servants on what to purchase and how to prepare dishes. They often made their own desserts.[7]

Echoing the concerns of the domestic science community, the first issue of Le Pot-au-feu opened by lamenting the lack of culinary education received by young women, who were “learning how to tap on the piano, but not to make an omelet or roast a chicken.” Le Pot-au-feu dedicated its contents to serving bourgeois and petit-bourgeois women, “equally for young girls (jeunes filles) who, their education finished, busy themselves in their homes, as for the numerous maîtresses de maison who do not employ true chefs, but train their cooks themselves or want to direct them with competence.”[8] La Cuisinière cordon-bleu targeted both the maîtresse de maison and her cooks, as well as chefs (cordon bleus), and “modestes ménagères” who do their own cooking.[9] In 1897, the name of La Cuisinière cordon-bleu changed to Le Cordon bleu: Journal illustré de cuisine pratique. Although this new title was decidedly more masculine and shifted attention away from the female cook (cuisinière), the magazine continued to address issues relevant to female cooks and household managers as well as chefs (male by contemporary definition). Despite the gendered hierarchy that elevated male chefs over female home cooks, French cuisine maintained a certain level of respect for women’s cooking.[10]

Although male chefs, gastronomes, and cooking instructors wrote most of the articles and recipes in both of these publications, they were both led, at least in part, by women and frequently featured women writers.[11] Evelyn Ébrard Saint-Ange was married to the owner of Le Pot-au-feu and authored columns for twenty years under the pen name “la Veille Catherine.” She was most famous for her cookbook based on those years of column writing, La bonne cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange. Le Cordon bleu was founded by a woman, Marthe Distel.[12] In 1896, she opened a cooking school where professional chefs taught courses to her subscribers. The Cordon Bleu cooking school eventually became more famous than the magazine it was designed to support. Henri-Paul Pellaprat was one of the main teachers at the Cordon Bleu school and also a prolific contributor to the magazine. A chef and pastry chef who worked at the famous Café de la Paix, Pellaprat was most well known for L’Art culinaire moderne, which covered haute cuisine, bourgeois cuisine, regional cuisine, and “cuisine impromptue” in 3,000 recipes.[13] Curnonsky, the famous gastronome, praised L’Art culinaire moderne as a “textbook of good living” and called Pellaprat “a fervent feminist who has rendered homage to the finesse, the grace, and the simplicity which these women have contributed to French cookery.”[14]

The fact that these two magazines brought together the world of professional chefs—as writers in both magazines—with the world of bourgeois home cooking makes them an especially rich and revealing source. Culinary literature is both prescriptive and descriptive. The recipes in these magazines reflect an elite view of what French home cooking should be, mostly as determined by male chefs and women who were domestic educators. These authors intended to teach, improve upon, and correct home practice. Yet, the recipes were also reflective of the existing and shifting real practices of home cooks. The long run of both of these magazines suggests that they had a certain level of popularity. Both magazines reflected the concerns of housewives regarding cost, frequently printing stories about inexpensive meals, ways of using leftovers, and the prices of market goods. Each magazine contained sections of recipes submitted by readers and frequently ran recipes that were claimed to be in response to readers’ requests. While this study of home-cooking magazines cannot tell us exactly how colonial ingredients were actually used in home kitchens, it does reveal their role in this bourgeois ideal of home cooking. The ways in which colonial foods were discussed, integrated into dishes, included or excluded from menus, and at times mocked in these magazines show the limits of French acceptance of colonial foods into French cuisine.

These magazines also demonstrate how regional cuisine was integrated into French national cuisine. Although French cuisine is constructed of a formalized set of techniques and draws on the global movement of ingredients, it is also tied to the products and dishes of the diverse regions of France. “The culinary capital associated every identifiable periphery in France with the center. A national discourse not only accepted but actively promoted regional difference but on the assumption that all were subsumed in the greater whole.”[15] Le Pot-au-feu and Le Cordon bleu printed recipes for many regional dishes, especially in the interwar period when gastronomic tourism of France by automobile became popular and elevated interest in regional French cuisines. These national magazines “proposed a national culinary consciousness,” through “the publication of the regional.” Although these texts do not reveal how often French women cooked dishes from other regions, in the early twentieth century “increasingly, the models were there.”[16] A Parisian or Breton subscriber to Le Pot-au-feu, for example, would have the recipe and ingredients necessary to make a quiche Lorraine or a ratatouille. As colonial ingredients also became available during this same period, these magazines articulated a separate colonial cuisine, distinct form French regional cooking. Algerian cuisine, for example, was never presented as a regional French cuisine.

A few colonial-themed dishes gained acceptance in French cuisine between the 1890s and the 1930s, reaching a peak of popularity during the 1930s. As exoticism came into vogue around the Colonial Exposition of 1931, recipes more frequently included products and dishes from the colonies. These dishes relied on ingredients from the colonized world, fit these ingredients into the culinary code of French cuisine, and yet maintained an exotic flair and level of separateness. “Cuisine coloniale,” as it was called beginning in 1931, relied heavily on the most successfully integrated colonial foods: tropical fruits and curry powder, which were assimilable because they were connected to a disembodied generic colonial other and not to specific colonial peoples, which gastronomic literature painted as both different and disgusting.

Gastronomic curiosity

While culinary writing generally discusses food preparation, gastronomic literature is about eating. Gastronomic writing took off in France in the nineteenth century.[17] In the early twentieth century, most gastronomic writing—such as the popular work of Maurice Sailland (pen name Curnonsky)—focused primarily on dining well throughout France. Some gastronomic writing also defined the boundaries of French cuisine by describing the foodways of non-French others. In Le Pot-au-feu and Le Cordon bleu, I identify a subset of gastronomic writing called “gastronomic curiosity.” I call pieces of gastronomic literature about exotic places “gastronomic curiosity,” because they consistently gaze upon the other with curiosity and from a distance. Gastronomic curiosity writing in both of these magazines tended to be of low quality. The authors repeated the expected tropes of exoticism and almost never made any claims to having visited the locations or eaten the food themselves. Occasionally, sections of these articles, or even entire articles, were reprinted verbatim years later under new titles and authors. These articles did not represent an honest effort to understand non-Western peoples, but instead emphasized their alterity, often through the trope of disgust. Gastronomic curiosity articles appeared from the beginning of these magazines in the 1890s through the interwar period. Le Pot-au-feu carried only a few of these articles, while Le Cordon bleu ran gastronomic literature pieces fairly often, sometimes as frequently as once a month, and often as longer articles of about five pages. From the late nineteenth century through the 1920s, gastronomic curiosity pieces almost never contained recipes. This pattern shifted in the 1930s, however. In 1931, Le Cordon bleu started running articles that began with an introduction about a foreign cuisine and then presented a series of recipes from that cuisine. This structure dominated gastronomic curiosity pieces throughout the 1930s. These recipes, however, were still more about curiosity than cooking instruction. They were not intended to actually be prepared by readers and were not integrated into the French culinary code.

This analysis of gastronomic curiosity writing is not limited to France’s colonies, or to colonies in general, but it will demonstrate that non-Western cultures (including those within the French empire) were presented as absolute others and as inferior to the French. Gastronomic curiosity articles often ran in response to what was happening in the news. When a people were in the news, readers might be curious as to their cuisine. This was the argument frequently made to justify the publication of gastronomic curiosity articles. During the Xinhai Revolution in 1911, F. Barthélemy’s article on Chinese cuisine opened with the following line: “At this time when the . . . [Chinese] are revolting against the apathy of the Manchu dynasty, it seems interesting to study the manner in which the Chinese feed themselves.”[18] In 1912, Barthélemy wrote about Morocco because with the Treaty of Fez “in the political news, his readers were sure to be interested in Moroccan diets.”[19] Barthélemy, who wrote many of the gastronomic curiosity articles, was a chef, an instructor at the Cordon Bleu school, and, for a time, editor-in-chief of Le Cordon bleu.[20] He did not claim to be a world traveler or even to have eaten most of the foods he described.

These gastronomic curiosity articles tend to set the examined culture apart as totally different. Disgust was a key component of this cultural distancing. Taste is a conservative sense. Societies and communities raise individuals with relatively fixed and stable understandings of what is edible. Food crosses the boundary between the outside world and the interior self and can not only nourish but also potentially poison the eater. Disgust evolved as a protective response to the physical danger involved in eating, but it is also a cultural product that maintains social boundaries. Despite this conservatism of taste, there is an appeal to adding variety to one’s diet, and this tension between the familiar and the unknown can cause anxiety. Claude Fischler calls this the “omnivores, paradox.” This anxiety comes from the cultural belief in incorporation, that food crosses the “frontier between the world and our bodies,” and becomes a part of ourselves.[21]

Disgust protects eaters from both the physical and social risks of inappropriate food choices. The reaction of disgust is less often a response to an actual taste as it is to the idea of what we are eating (or smelling, touching, seeing, or hearing). It is a fully embodied emotion that nearly requires sensory stimuli, but which also has important social and cultural consequences. As philosopher Carolyn Korsmeyer chronicles, “Disgust is an affective response that can be mustered to patrol social boundaries and norms. . . . Disgust can also have some nasty applications insofar as it is used to categorize persons in unpopular minority groups as ‘disgusting.’ ”[22] By emphasizing foods that would elicit disgust from French readers, gastronomic curiosity articles were distancing the colonial others from the French based on their diets. As Susan Miller has pointed out, “Disgust addresses the relations between what we consider self and what we count as Other, and it stirs, along with its neighbor emotions, as we negotiate the critical problem of how to invigorate and enrich the self through contact with ‘otherness’ without risking our sense of security.”[23] Disgust, therefore, plays a key role in gastronomic curiosity as well as exotic cuisine by defining the borders between acceptable culinary exoticism and transgressive eating. It distinguishes the new and different from the threatening and dangerous. When the foodways of exotic others are described as disgusting, it limits—or even eliminates—the appeal of their cuisine.[24]

Animals and animal food products are central disgust elicitors. In most cultures, only a very small percentage of animals and animal parts are accepted as food.[25] One of the tropes used frequently to elicit disgust in gastronomic curiosity pieces was to emphasize the eating of meats that carried strong eating taboos in France. The eating of dogs was frequently cited in gastronomic curiosity articles to elicit disgust and draw boundaries between peoples. As Marshall Sahlins pointed out, “the categorical distinctions of edibility” among animals depend in part on their differentiated statuses within a society.[26] For the French, dogs were and are companion animals, and are therefore considered inedible. In the context of European imperialism, the value of different meats also separated the French from non-Western others. The authors of gastronomic curiosity pieces often presented others as eating meats that were totally outside of the French culinary code of meat eating.

In a lengthy piece on Chinese cuisine in 1911, Barthélemy countered his own praise for Chinese cooking by focusing on elements French readers would find disgusting. He dedicated two pages of his nine-page article to the eating of dog meat in China, claiming that because dog meat is fairly expensive, it was especially likely to be served at higher end meals that Europeans might attend. This further distanced the Chinese from European civilization by pointing out that even their richest classes ate such taboo foods. He shared anecdotes of British people accidentally eating dog in one case and in another case gifting a prize dog to a Chinese family, only to have the dog be eaten.[27] These stories emphasized the division between Europeans and Chinese, making the Chinese seem all the more primitive.

Barthélemy emphasized dog eating again in a 1912 article on Moroccan cuisine. This time the inclusion appears even more meaningful because Barthélemy had to go far out of his way to fit dog meat into his discussion. He included a paragraph discussing strange foods including dog that Moroccans ate in the tenth century. He cited a tenth-century source as evidence that Moroccans of that time treasured dog meat and also ate black cats, grasshoppers, scorpions, and boiled horse head. This is the only section of the article that is historical. The inclusion of foods from the diets of tenth-century Moroccans, foods that would be considered disgusting by French readers, serves to dehumanize the Moroccans. Barthélemy pointed out disgusting aspects of twentieth-century Moroccan diets as well. In his description of couscous, he described the preserved butter that flavors Moroccan dishes as “very often rancid.”[28] Rottenness, evidence of decay, is a central disgust elicitor, especially when connected with food.[29] Describing an intentionally preserved and aged product as rancid and emphasizing taboo foods eaten a millennium ago painted a picture of Moroccan cultural inferiority. The section on the eating of dogs and other disgusting foods in tenth-century Morocco was repeated, uncited, in Distel’s 1914 piece on Arab cuisine.[30] This repetition shows the recycling of these disgust tropes and their power to define Moroccan foodways for the readers of Le Cordon bleu.

Related to the importance of disgust reactions was the belief that different races and nations have not only different cuisines, but also different palates and even different stomachs, and that certain foods are therefore appropriate for some groups of people but not for others. This topic was of great concern within the growing field of nutritional science, where scientists debated to what extent European colonialists living in tropical climates could and should eat local foods or maintain a French diet.[31] The anxiety about eating the foods of others—of incorporating aspects of the colonized into one’s body—stemmed, at least in some part, from the understanding of diet as a key marker of racial difference. The idea of a primitive “goût” surfaced in a short article in 1913 about geophagy around the globe, including in the Congo, China, Java, South America, and the West Indies. These “eaters of the earth,” the article claimed, eat the earth because the soil in these places is salty and “pleases still the palates of these primitive people.”[32] Geophagy exists in many cultures throughout the globe. What is interesting about this brief article is that it explains geophagy through “primitive” tastes and dismisses any possible cultural, nutritional, or economic reasons for the practice.

This labeling of uncivilized tastes was not limited to the eaters of what the French saw as nonfoods like dogs and earth. The quality of foods was also a key factor in defining national cuisines and palates. E. Myrh’s 1905 piece in Le Cordon bleu describing the process of making couscous includes a discussion of how couscous, which he called the national dish of the Arabs, is eaten with the hands, and how Westerners will be given a large flat spoon to use. The use of utensils is not all that separated the French and Arabs, however. “The lack of freshness of the butter which generally coats the dishes, makes it so the French have difficulty growing accustomed to Arab cuisine.” Myhr concludes that “in summary, the Arab housewives (ménagères) do not know how to cook, and it is in vain that one searches among them for a cordon bleu worthy of that name. There is only one Arab dish that can be accepted by the French taste (le goût français); it is the roasted mutton that the Arabs call chi or méchi.” But the article does not discuss this one Arab dish that is acceptable to the “le gout français.” Couscous was worthy of curiosity, but Myhr did not deem it appropriate for the French to eat; it did not seem to him capable of integration into French cuisine.[33] Myhr portrayed the Arabs, who eat with their hands, cover their food in spoiled butter, and whose ménagères don’t know how to cook, as absolute others. Myhr showed no interest in integrating couscous or other North African foods into French cuisine and did not suggest that his readers should try them. This article was repeated nearly verbatim under the name of a different author, L. Maury, in 1912.[34]

The idea that exotic dishes were not appropriate for French palates and stomachs was not limited to gastronomic curiosity but also accompanied some recipes. On very rare occasions before the 1930s, recipes for savory colonial dishes other than curries were presented. To avoid too close association with “primitive” palates, authors sometimes introduced their recipes by reassuring the reader that they had been adapted to be suitable for French diners. In 1896, the following reassurance accompanied a recipe for lamb pilaf à la turque: “Our readers understand that the recipe for the true preparation à la turque does not agree with our palates or our stomachs, it is for this reason that they will find it here modified and closer to French cuisine.”[35] That a Turkish pilaf would not seem likely to agree with French palates is not surprising, but the use of the word “stomach” is again significant. It seems to imply that there is something physically different between Turkish and French people that limits what they are able to eat. The increased exposure in France to colonial foods in the 1920s and 1930s does not seem to have at all changed this idea that exotic foods needed to be mediated for French consumption.

Some gastronomic curiosity authors also saw diet as a reflection of the character of different civilizations. In the 1911 piece on China, Barthélemy again highlighted his racialized view of diets by claiming that the elaborate Chinese banquet he describes would normally make the European stomach “sick to the point of death.”[36] He then argued that the Chinese diet was a reflection of the qualities of the society:

The manner with which a people feeds themselves is the reflection of their private life, their aspirations, of their genius and marks the tune (diapason) of their social state. So, Chinese cuisine, like her civilization, is several centuries behind; it is in perfect concordance with the character of this race, smart and patient but so stubbornly attached to their old customs that she has up to this point resisted the adoption of the progress of European civilization.[37]

Here Barthélemy explicitly connects cuisine with the level of civilization, so that to eat poorly, or even disgustingly, is a reflection of backwardness.

Barthélemy was inconsistent on the issue of whether the diet was an unchangeable sign of otherness or a vehicle for assimilation. After citing the tenth-century Moroccan practice of eating dog meat and the current flaws in Moroccan culinary culture such as low quality bread, he concluded with this hope for the new French protectorate in Morocco:

We hope that French civilization will bring to the Moroccans not only her benefits from economic and social points of view, but also from the culinary and alimentary points of view and that the modest couscous can soon be, transformed by the French culinary art, present on the table of our gourmets.[38]

It is significant here that Barthélemy was not interested in imposing a purely foreign French diet on the Moroccans, but in elevating “the modest couscous” through “the French culinary art.” Colonialism had the potential, according to Barthélemy, to advance not only Moroccan but also French cuisine. Barthélemy’s take on couscous, published in 1912, was quite different from the view of E. Myhr, first published in 1905 and reprinted in 1912, though their articles also share many of the same disgust tropes. While Myhr dismissed couscous as simply not acceptable to “le goût français,” Barthélemy thought it had gourmet potential once transformed by “French culinary art.” But despite Barthélemy’s hopeful conclusion, the overall tone of his article highlighted the great distance of Morroccan foodways from French cuisine. Even as culinary exoticism gained in popularity and colonial foods became more available in the interwar period, the inferiority of the diets of colonized peoples remained the central theme of gastronomic curiosity pieces.

The fulfillment of Barthélemy’s vision, that couscous would become a part of gourmet French cuisine, has to some extent taken place today, but this transition was a postcolonial reality, brought about by the growing population of people of North African origin in France in the second half of the twentieth century. In the interwar period, couscous recipes were nearly absent from these magazines, appearing almost exclusively in gastronomic curiosity pieces.[39] It should come as no surprise that this dish, described in the gastronomic literature as “rancid,” and the creation of women who do not know how to cook, had little to no appeal to French cooks.

Tropical fruits as acceptable culinary exoticism

The colonial-themed dishes that became more and more common in these magazines in the first forty years of the twentieth century relied on integrating the most approachable colonial foods—tropical fruits and curry powder—into the French culinary code. The names of these dishes and the discourse surrounding them, however, suggest that although they were integrated into French cuisine, they maintained an exotic colonial identity. In the first half of the twentieth century, tropical fruits became more available and affordable to the French, especially to Parisians. Le Pot-au-feu included bananas and mangos in its list of available seasonal produce from its founding in 1893 and added coconuts and pineapples in 1895.[40] In 1908, Le Cordon bleu editor Barthélemy told his readers that fifteen years ago there were rarely bananas and pineapples at Les Halles market, and that the price had been about thirty or forty francs per bunch. By 1908 the price had decreased, “and the merchants sell them year-round in the streets of Paris just like oranges, apples, and pears.”[41] Pineapples were also available canned, and as the French public came around to accepting canned food after the First World War, canned pineapple slices gave them easy access to a hint of the tropics.[42] Parisians also had access to exotic ingredients at specialty stores such as Hédiard. International trader Ferdinand Hédiard opened his first shop in 1854, focusing on the alimentary products from the colonies, especially spices and fruits. In 1878, he opened the Hédiard boutique of colonial products at its current location at twenty-one place de la Madeleine.[43] While bananas and pineapples had become commonplace in Parisian groceries by the 1920s, in 1929 Le Pot-au-feu still pointed out that you could get shredded coconut at stores that specialized in exotic products.[44] Occasionally, most often in Le Cordon bleu, authors argued for colonial agricultural development to make certain colonial foods less expensive and more widely available. This included calls for increased availability and lower prices of bananas and banana flour, and more pineapples from Algeria and the AOF.[45]

The majority of colonial-themed recipes published in Le Cordon bleu and Le Pot-au-feu were desserts relying on these tropical fruits. These magazines almost always presented exotic desserts on their own, not as a part of exotic-themed menus. Although dessert was a part of the basic “proper meal,” it was somewhat peripheral to the success of dinner in comparison to the nourishing heart of the meal, the entrée. Dessert’s presence makes a meal more formal, but it is not a necessary part of the construction of a meal.[46] For bourgeois housewives, desserts were a way to play with exoticism, to vary the menu, and to impress guests by presenting something new and modern but in a way that did not risk upsetting the structure of the meal. Not only did the structure of the meal not change, the structure of the dessert course itself hardly changed. Most of these tropical fruits simply changed the chosen fruit flavor of the dish, without affecting the form of the dish at all. A tart could be a strawberry tart, a fig tart, or a tarte créole with bananas. The dish remained familiar in its overall form. A clear answer to the omnivore’s paradox, exotic desserts offered a space for experimentation that was less risky than serving an exotic main course, where disgust or apprehension was more likely to cause a guest discomfort and ruin an entire meal.

The most striking aspect of tropical fruits for home cooks was that they changed the seasonality of French desserts. Bananas and pineapples were frequently discussed as winter replacements for French fruits such as apples, pears, and strawberries.[47] The freedom from seasonal restraints was even more significant with pineapple dishes, as many recipes offered directions for using either fresh or canned pineapple.[48] Recipes for tropical fruit desserts were often printed from the late fall through early spring, when domestic fresh fruit options were the most limited.[49] As the introduction to a recipe for vacherin à la créole stated, “Pineapples and bananas, these two excellent fruits from the tropical countries, are more precious to us in winter, as they allow us to make delicious frozen desserts which help us to wait patiently for the return of the fruits of our orchards.”[50] The change in the seasonality of desserts through the availability of tropical fruits in the winter was one of the ways in which colonial cuisine changed French cuisine, both for home cooks and pastry chefs.

“Exotic” and “colonial” do not mean exactly the same thing, but as with many of the terms used to describe non-Western food in Le Pot-au-feu and Le Cordon bleu, their meanings are ambiguous and overlapping. As is demonstrated in the following explanation for presenting rahat lokum (Turkish delight) as a colonial candy in 1931, “cuisine coloniale” was more about exoticism than geography or politics:

To conclude our chapter on exotic cuisine at the same time as the magnificent Colonial Exposition . . . we are going to give some recipes for the candies offered to the visitors as they make their promenades across our overseas empire. We are giving the recipe for rahat lokum, which is not especially colonial, because it is Turkish, but which has nevertheless an exotic character that resembles colonial products.[51]

By 1931, the height of Le Cordon bleu’s interest in cuisine coloniale, the author saw some need to justify placing a Turkish recipe in an article titled “Cuisine coloniale,” but this justification was simple—rahat lokum is exotic and therefore similar to colonial cuisine—and exemplified how the definition of colonial cuisine was based on exoticism, not on political borders.

In my analysis of both these magazines from their founding in the 1890s until the Second World War, “exotique” was always used to refer to foods, recipes, or cuisines from outside of Europe. This finding corresponds with Régnier’s analysis of the use of “exotique” in recipes in women’s magazines in France and Germany.[52]Exotique” most often referred to “fruits exotiques” including pineapples, bananas, coconuts, mangos, and persimmons.[53] “Exotique” was also used broadly to describe Creole dishes, vegetables like yams and okra, and non-Western dishes.[54]

In addition, many dishes were exoticized through names that referenced exotic or colonized locations. The meanings of French dish names were not always straightforward, as sometimes the name “à la . . .” and a location was applied to dishes that did not reference that location. At other times, the geographical logic behind names was more evident, explained in the text or clearly linked to colonial ingredients.[55] Desserts containing products from the tropics such as chocolate, coffee, rum, and exotic fruits could be named after any tropical location.[56] As one would expect, the names of desserts featuring tropical fruits often invoked the Antilles,[57] but they often also pointed to African colonies, especially when coconut was the featured ingredient such as in a coconut cake called “le Dakar,” a coconut and chocolate confection called “le sénégalais,” and coconut petits fours called “congolais.”[58] Tropical fruit desserts were also named after other tropical countries, not necessarily exporters of tropical fruits to France. “Pineapples à l’indienne” featured ginger rice pudding in a fresh pineapple, “Hindu cake” and “le Singapoor” (sic) were pineapple desserts, and “strawberries à la Singapoore” (sic) was a strawberry rice pudding with pineapple.[59]

From the beginning of modern French cuisine, its founder, Carême, gave all sorts of geographical and historical names to variants of dishes, names that often did not describe the dish or reference its ingredients. Sometimes, regional and foreign names pointed to the ingredients—for example, “Provençal” generally implied the use of garlic and tomatoes—but often they did not. When Carême translated foreign dishes into French cuisine, he often named them after French towns or historical individuals.[60] So, in a way, the fact that the names of these tropical fruit desserts are not always tied to specific locals is in itself evidence of the fitting of these dishes into the French culinary code. And yet, the fact that the names of these dishes reference exotic locations signifies that despite the working of tropical fruits into traditional French desserts, these dishes remained exoticized. Tropical fruit desserts were never named after French people or places.

The imagery that often accompanied tropical fruit desserts further signaled their exoticization and identification with a homogenized colonial other. Le Pot-au-feu headed a collection of recipes for banana, pineapple, and coconut dishes in 1931 and for banana ice cream in 1932 with the same image of an African village of thatched huts, cited in the caption as from Togo-Cameroun magazine.[61] The dishes themselves, such as soufflé and ice cream, were traditional French desserts, and the dishes did not always have colonial or exotic names. The placement of these recipes under an image of an African village emphasized the exotic origin of the key ingredient and demonstrates that dishes featuring bananas were still considered exotic and colonial in the 1930s, even though bananas had become rather common and easily available in Paris. A 1935 recipe for banana mousse with strawberries elegantly makes the point. The dish was titled “mousse de bananes à la métropole,” and the author pointed out that it was the inclusion of strawberries that made the dish “à la métropole.” So, banana mousse itself was presumed to be colonial, and strawberries made the dish metropolitan style, even though both dishes are based on the traditional French entremet of mousse. In this same recipe, the author mentions that bananas were no longer rare and were looked upon “with the same indifference as apples and pears,”[62] and yet the title still connects bananas with the colonies. Rarity and novelty were not required elements of the most successful exotic dishes.

Curry and the homogenized “oriental” other

“Oriental” seems in dessert recipes to refer broadly to the tropical colonial world, but this meaning was not at all consistent, and “oriental” carried a variety of geographical and cultural meanings when applied to savory dishes. A 1931 piece in Le Pot-au-feu demonstrates the complex meaning of “oriental” and the representation of a homogenized colonial other. This recipe for “eggplant or zucchini à l’oriental” was illustrated with a cartoon of a barefoot black woman with extreme racialized features, stirring a pot over a fire and a similar-looking black man blowing on the fire. The image was cited as having come from the magazine Togo-Cameroun. The recipe makes no references to Africans and mentions only the generic “orientals” who “very often use rice to accompany other vegetables.”[63] The only thing that makes this recipe “oriental” is the stuffing of a vegetable with rice. There are no exotic spices or ingredients. The use of an image mocking the people of Togo and Cameroon to illustrate a vaguely “oriental” recipe for zucchini stuffed with rice and lamb demonstrates the imprecise culinary image of the colonial other. The success of dishes that referenced a generic, homogenized, colonial other is demonstrated in the use of the terms Indian, Creole, and curry.

In Le Cordon bleu, no recipes were named “curry” until “Poulet au cary à l’indienne” in 1908, but before then lobsters “à la créole,” braised carrots “à l’indienne,” squash stuffed with rice “à l’indienne,” and langoustine croquettes “à la indienne” all featured curry powder.[64] Most of the curry dishes with any explicit geographical reference pointed toward India, but not always. Curries could also be “créole,” a term used in both magazines to refer both to the French colonies in the West Indies and to Louisiana. Sometimes, a single article or dish mixed Indian and Creole references. In 1922, a recipe in Le Cordon bleu called for serving “langoustines à la créole” with “sauce indienne” that contained curry powder and coconut milk.[65] A 1931 article on Creole cuisine shows how curry was seen as both Indian and Creole. It featured a recipe for “poulet à l’indienne ou à la créole,” which was one dish that could fall under both names. It started by calling for making the “rice à la Créole” that accompanies all true “dishes à l ‘Indienne” and suggesting that cooks use rice from India. The chicken dish itself contained homemade coconut milk and curry powder, described as “powder of Cary (or currie) a sort of Indian spice absolutely characteristic of all Creole dishes.”[66] At multiple times within this one recipe, Indian and Creole cuisine were presented as connected or even the same thing.

There was some cultural reality behind the mixing of “créole” and “indienne” dishes. After the emancipation of slaves in all French territories in 1848, indentured workers came from India to Martinique and Guadeloupe and brought with them the spices and dishes of their homeland. These spices became influential in Martiniquais and Guadeloupian cuisine where curry is now called “columbo,” named after the former capital of Sri Lanka. Just as there is great regional variety in the Indian dishes know as curries, West Indian curries developed their own unique flavors using local ingredients, including allspice, which were unheard of in Indian curries.[67] This culinary reality, that dishes known to the French and British as curries were created throughout the Indian subcontinent as well as the Antilles, contributed to an understanding of curry as a broadly colonial dish, one not tied to any specific region or peoples.

The geographical and cultural vagueness of these curry recipes was further emphasized by recipes that were named simply “colonial” or “oriental.” For example, in 1914, a recipe for langoustines à l’oriental featured curry powder.[68] Curry was in many ways the epitome of acceptable culinary exoticism and colonial-themed cooking. It was vaguely Indian, Creole, and “oriental,” based on a dish that was itself a colonial construction, a Western representation of various regional Indian and West Indian dishes. Although curry powder was exotic enough to be interesting, it could be easily integrated into the French culinary code. A pinch here or there could take a dish like sweetbreads with artichokes and make it “oriental.”[69]

This generic exoticism was occasionally combined with claims of authentic knowledge of the colonies. In 1934, Le Pot-au-feu ran an article titled “About Curry,” submitted by a “friendly subscriber, a fine gourmet, who has taken long trips to the colonies,” who sent in some information about curry. The author’s “long trips to the colonies” justify her legitimacy and the authenticity of her recipes, but these colonies are never specified. We do not know where in the vast colonial world the author has acquired her claimed curry expertise. The reader is not told if the author has spent time in Pondicherry or perhaps British India, or if her knowledge of curry comes from Martinique, Guadeloupe, or Reunion. The image above the article is a generic colonial image used a number of times in Le Pot-au-feu in the 1930s and features a black woman carrying a shallow bowl on top of her head, surrounded by produce including gourds and a pineapple. Because the image is used with many colonial-themed dishes throughout the 1930s, I do not think it necessarily implies that the author is drawing from Antillaise or African cuisine. The author’s initial curry recipe is a loose set of instructions in which one can use pork, beef, veal, mutton, or chicken, which she explains is “in reality just a sauce or tomato ragout, in which one has added curry powder very close to the end of cooking.”[70] The author’s claim to authentic knowledge of colonial cuisine actually emphasizes the geographical vagueness of this type of cooking. What matters here is that she has spent time in the “colonies,” and can therefore claim expertise without even citing the colonies she is talking about. Her recipes themselves point to another aspect of curry that made it more easily integrated into French cuisine—its utter versatility. Basically, any stew or ragout containing curry powder was called a curry, and this made these dishes remarkably accessible to French home cooks.

The frequency of curry dishes and their inclusion under the category of colonial food highlights the truly global nature of colonial-themed dishes. Pondicherry, the small French colony in India, is never mentioned in these magazines. All explicit references are to British India. Pondicherry did not play a large role in the French culinary imagination of the colonies. In contrast, the British had a more constant flow of people going to and coming from India and proved much more open to colonial culinary influences. Elizabeth Collingham has demonstrated that “whether it was for its taste, its practicality, or its nutritional values, curry was firmly established as a part of the British culinary landscape by the 1850s.”[71] In 1912, Le Cordon bleu published two recipes side by side: one for mango chutney and another for imitation mango-chutney, which “they make in England to give the illusion of mango chutney.” It included green apples, onions, raisons, ginger root, and cayenne pepper.[72] Of course, the French had significantly more culinary exchanges with the British than with Pondicherry, so it is likely that the growing popularity of curry in the twentieth century was in part due to British influence.[73] The fact that curry had become an established part of British cuisine was surely a contributing factor to its fairly broad acceptance in France. Not only was its colonial reference vague, but it had already been accepted by other Europeans.

Based on the frequency and type of curry recipes published in these two magazines, the incorporation of curry into French colonial cuisine seems to have occurred about fifty years later than in England, taking place from the beginning of the twentieth century through the 1930s. In 1908, Pellaprat, writing in Le Cordon bleu, declared of Indian chicken curry, “This dish which belongs to foreign cuisine, thanks to the favor it enjoys amongst the gourmets, has obtained its naturalization papers and has been adopted long ago by French cuisine.”[74] The images accompanying the article also reflected the idea that this was a French curry. They included no exotic visual tropes as colonial recipes so often did, but instead featured a French woman butchering a chicken, and a French chef.

Another key aspect of curry that made it assimilable to French cuisine was that the French already had a repertoire of stews, ragouts, and sauced meat dishes to which curry powder could be added. In other words, this new ingredient fit into the established lexicon of techniques that defined French cuisine. In addition, the cook could easily control the level of heat and exotic flavors by limiting the amount of curry powder used. The way in which curry was adopted into French cuisine is demonstrated in a 1908 recipe for “chicken curry à l'indienne.” The only foreign element in the dish is a teaspoon of curry powder in the béchamel sauce. The dish included one teaspoon of curry powder in a rich sauce serving six to eight people. So, the amount of curry in this “chicken curry” was quite minimal. As culinary exoticism became more in vogue in the 1930s, the flavors of French curry dishes seem to have stayed the same. Le Cordon bleu published a very similar recipe in 1938, calling for only a teaspoon of curry powder in the béchamel sauce to cover one chicken’s worth of “chicken curry.”[75] The spice mixture had been assimilated, integrated into French cooking, and the flavors of the dish adjusted for French palates. Similar to tropical fruit desserts, this type of mild chicken curry dish had a hint of exoticism but was not risky or threatening. Its preparation was familiar and its mild flavors were appealing to the palate of French cuisine. This dish of “chicken curry à l’indienne” containing béchamel sauce had nearly nothing in common with anything cooked in India, and yet—as demonstrated in the rhetoric surrounding these recipes—curry retained its vaguely colonial association and exotic allure.

Colonial cuisine in vogue in the 1930s

Curry was by far the most popular savory colonial dish, and the only one to really be integrated into French cuisine as it was created and presented in these two magazines. On very rare occasions before the 1930s, other savory colonial dishes were presented. To avoid too close association with “primitive” palates, recipe authors sometimes introduced their recipes by reassuring the reader that they had been adapted to be suitable for French diners. A 1934 recipe for Algerian eggplant was introduced as follows: “This totally local preparation was asked of us insistently, and was found to be excellent. We prepare it with a bit more refinement than over there to make it more suitable for all stomachs.”[76] This passage reveals an understanding not only that stomachs are different and capable of digesting different foods, but also that to refine a dish with French cooking methods was to make it available to “all stomachs.” French food here is assumed to be universally accepted, a global standard for good food. The increased exposure in France to colonial foods in the 1920s and 1930s does not seem to have at all changed this idea that foreign foods need to be significantly changed to cross the boundaries into French cuisine.

Thanks to the International Colonial Exposition of 1931 (ECI), the “French media had a new infatuation” with empire as a great increase occurred in coverage of all things colonial in print and on radio from 1929 through 1932.[77] This media trend also clearly influenced both Le Pot-au-feu and Le Cordon bleu, as both magazines increased their coverage of colonial cuisine in 1931 and cited the ECI as the motivation for their coverage. Both magazines were also involved on the ground at the ECI. The Cordon Bleu cooking school promoted rice consumption at a small cooking school in the Indochinese section of the exposition. Le Pot-au-feu also had a stand at the ECI along Lake Bercy, situated in the more purely recreational section of the exposition. Le Pot-au-feu opened its issue commemorating the ECI with an explanation that the regular column covering “regional cuisine” would be replaced for the rest of the year with “la cuisine coloniale” as “fashion demands.” The introduction went on to explain:

Let us not be carried away by these extraordinary cuisines, our facilities are not made to roast a whole sheep, and a coconut tree will not take hold in the corner of a studio.

But we adapt the products of colonial France, quite simply à la française: we will make every effort with these few chosen [products] so that you will find them delicious and always worthy of Pot-au-feu.[78]

The colonial issue of Le Pot-au-feu focused much of its attention on recipes for tropical fruits, containing separate sections on bananas, pineapples, and coconuts. It also included gastronomic curiosity pieces about fish sauce and couscous, and reviews of the year’s new colonial cookbooks. The few savory “colonial” recipes included Cuban pilaf, a rice salad called “Malagasy,” and an omelet and stuffed eggs “saïgonnais,” which included crab meat. The issue also repeated a curry recipe that had run a couple of years earlier and printed a short recipe for “Elkheleau,” which was a type of African beef jerky. The Elkheleau recipe was subtitled “amusing recipe,” setting it apart as a curiosity. The edition did live up to its promise to give recipes for products from the colonies, as tropical fruits and rice were included in most of these recipes. There were, however, very few dishes from the colonies, and some of those that were present were—even within this colonial cuisine edition—set apart as “amusing.” It is especially telling that there was no recipe for preparing couscous. Couscous remained—in 1931 and throughout the 1930s—an object of gastronomic curiosity and not a recipe that was promoted to Pot-au-feu readers.[79] Overall, Le Pot-au-feu’s enthusiasm for the vogue of colonial cuisine passed with the end of 1931. After that year, very few colonial dishes outside of tropical fruit desserts and curries were printed. The 1931 index included the category “regional and colonial dishes,” which included all of the savory colonial dishes (though not the tropical fruit desserts) printed during the year. In 1932, that category in the index again became simply “regional dishes.” Through the rest of the 1930s, Le Pot-au-feu continued to print recipes for fruit desserts and curry dishes, but it only very rarely included other savory colonial-themed dishes.[80]

Le Cordon bleu opened its special section on “cuisine coloniale” by stating that it would dedicate a column to the “cuisine that can be made with colonial products. The cooking schools of the Cordon-Bleu want to make their contribution to the patriotic work of putting to use (mettre en valeur) and appreciating all the alimentary resources of our Colonial Empire.” The article included three rice recipes and two for chayote, a type of squash that had been imported into France from Algeria and the Antilles since at least 1913. The rice recipes called specifically for “riz de Saigon,” the first time a recipe in Le Cordon bleu directed users to use rice from Indochina.[81] After this initial article in June, Le Cordon bleu ran four more articles in the “cuisine coloniale” series between July and November. The second article in the series was taken directly from Léon Isnard’s Gastronomie africaine. Isnard was a French chef who settled in Oran and then in Mascara, Algeria, running hotel restaurants.[82] The sections reprinted in Le Cordon bleu describe the preparation of couscous (including the process of making couscous itself) and the roasted lamb dish mechoui. Neither one was a recipe one could follow in a Parisian kitchen, but they were more descriptive pieces that fall under the category of gastronomic curiosity.[83] The third article in the series highlighted Creole and Indian dishes that had gained some acceptance in France, including a chicken curry that the author cited as quite popular and a recipe for okra cooked à l’antillaise. The author claimed that okra could be found fairly often in restaurants.[84] The fourth piece discussed the use of manioc in the Antilles and of manioc flour in France during the war, followed by three recipes using manioc flour.[85] The last “cuisine coloniale” article was the previously discussed recipe for Turkish delight, cited as appropriate for the theme because it had the requisite “exotic character akin to colonial products.”[86] Throughout 1931, Le Cordon bleu continued to run recipes using tropical fruits and curry as well as more recipes for Indochinese rice. Their coverage—in this year of the vogue of colonial cuisine—of other dishes specifically inspired by the colonies was limited to curiosity pieces, a recipe for okra, three using manioc flour (a product that I have seen discussed nowhere else in the culinary literature of the period), and a detailed recipe for Turkish delight. In the 1931 Le Cordon bleu index, all these recipes were listed under a separate heading titled “cuisine coloniale,” and were not integrated into the rest of the index, which was organized by type of dish (desserts, poultry, hors d’oeuvres, etc.). They were clearly set apart as intriguing curiosities, not integrated into the part of the index a cook would use to find a recipe for a meal. The “cuisine coloniale” heading appeared only in 1931. While tropical fruit desserts continued to be listed in the desserts section, these savory colonial dishes were clearly not integrated into the culinary code of Le Cordon bleu.

In addition to the spurt of coverage of colonial cuisine in these magazines, three colonial-themed cookbooks came out in 1931. Charlotte Rabette’s La cuisine exotique chez soi par Catherine, Anne Querillac’s Cuisine coloniale: Les bonnes recettes de Chloe Mondésir, and Raphaël de Noter’s La bonne cuisine aux colonies: Asie, Afrique, Amérique were all published in 1931.[87] These three works, along with French-Algerian chef Leon Isnard’s Gastronomie africaine (1930), provided the sources for many of the new colonial cuisine recipes published in these magazines in the 1930s.[88] After 1931, colonial-themed recipes outside of curry and fruit desserts appeared infrequently in Le Cordon bleu and Le Pot-au-feu.[89] When other colonial cuisine recipes did appear, they were most often accompanied by introductions that shared many of the tropes of gastronomic curiosity articles, setting the colonial recipes apart as oddities.

An interesting series of articles by Gaston Derys in 1937–38 combined interest in “cuisine coloniale” with the tropes of gastronomic curiosity in a way that continued to exaggerate the alterity of the colonial other. Three colonial-themed articles, “Cuisine antillaise,” “Cuisine algérienne,” and “La cuisine nègre,” appeared in Gaston Derys’s regular series on foreign cuisines.[90] Other cuisines covered by Derys in 1936–38 included German, American, Chinese, Italian, and many others. Derys was a gastronomic writer who published books on the foods of France and signed all his articles citing his membership in the Académie des gastronomes. These articles contained quite a few recipes, but they first opened with a piece of commentary from Derys. This commentary followed many of the tropes of gastronomic curiosity articles from earlier in the twentieth century that sought disgust reactions from readers. These were especially evident in “La cuisine nègre,” where Derys pointed out that he had left out of the article recipes for “grilled grasshoppers, fly pâté, purée of termites with mint, serpents, rotten meat, [and] herbs lubricated in gastric juice and stomach extracts.” “We know,” Derys claimed,

that the Zulus are fond of large caterpillars, and other tribes of fried ants. But we wanted to provide recipes that could be realized in France, so in transposing them, we have removed all those that offered a disgusting nature or are too vehemently distant from our culinary conceptions.[91]

In other words, he did not include recipes for the inedible things eaten by black Africans. In another context, Anthony Pagden has shown that since the early contacts of the Spanish with American Indians, the inability to determine what was edible—especially the eating of “lower” species of animals such as bugs—was considered a clear sign of barbarism by European colonizers.[92] This trope clearly remained powerful in 1937, as Derys demonstrated African inferiority by listing foods Europeans would call inedible.

The disgusting introduction surely served to limit if not eliminate any potential interest among readers in actually preparing any African recipes.[93] Most of the fifteen short recipes included in “La Cuisine nègre” came from either Rabette’s La cuisine exotique chez soi par Catherine or Querillac’s Cuisine coloniale: Les bonnes recettes de Chloe Mondésir. Many of the dishes actually could not be made in France, because they called for esoteric ingredients not available in the metropole. The annual index of the magazine is revealing. Like the dishes from Derys’s other gastronomic curiosity articles, these recipes were not integrated into the annual index. The index listed the names of the articles under the category “miscellaneous,” but the recipes were not included in the rest of the index. These exotic dishes were clearly set apart as curiosities, not integrated into the part of the index a cook would use to prepare a meal.

Derys’s articles were always accompanied by cartoon images. In the colonial-themed articles, these racist cartoons showed exoticized images of colonial others hunting, shopping, farming, cooking, dining, and sometimes just standing in exotic attire. The images included a woman in a burqa and a group roasting a whole animal on a spit in the article on Algerian cuisine; a smiling man with a bottle of rum and a woman with a large basket on her head in the Antilles article; and African men carrying a python, carving a giant living tortoise, and butchering an elephant in “La Cuisine nègre” (see Image 2). These cartoonish images further establish the alterity of the other being discussed, emphasizing their vast differences from the French reader. In the case of the portrayal of black Africans, the images are especially derogatory and mocking, portraying Africans as the “large children” Derys believed them to be.[94]

These images, though disturbing for their racist portrayals, are not particularly surprising inside these pieces of gastronomic curiosity. What is especially noteworthy is that they—along with the similar cartoons of Indochinese men that accompanied the Indochinese rice ads that ran during this same period—were placed alongside the more common recipes of established colonial cuisine later in the 1930s and 1940s. A 1939 recipe for Martiniquaise mousse (containing rum and bananas) featured three images of women and men with fruit from the “Cuisine antillaise” article.[95] A short article for a Creole gratin (containing Indochinese rice, leftover fish, white sauce, onions, a “pinch” of curry powder, and shredded cheese) was headed with an image of an Asian man kneeling and presenting a bowl to an older Asian man.[96] The image, repeated from earlier Indochinese rice ads, seems to accompany this Creole dish because it contains rice. This dish exemplifies the type of colonial cuisine that did become part of French cuisine by the late 1930s: It featured an ingredient from the colonies, was easy to prepare, and as a gratin, it fit the form of familiar French dishes. The pinch of curry powder made the dish vaguely Creole and therefore slightly exotic, but in a family-sized dish, a pinch of curry powder would have only very subtle effects on the flavor. The name of the dish, “gratin à la créole,” fit the French culinary code by vaguely referencing the ingredient—curry—which defined this variation’s distinction from a more classic gratin. This colonial cuisine lasted beyond the interwar period, as did its imagery. A 1946 recipe for Turkish moussaka featured an image of an Arab building but also a cartoon, first printed in “La Cuisine nègre” in 1937, of a barefoot black African man with exaggerated racial features blowing on a fire. The presence of the cartoon is not explained in the text, and it signals to the reader that this dish is from the exotic colonial world—ever so broadly defined (Image 3).

2 In these racist cartoons that illustrate Gaston Derys’s article, “La Cuisine nègre,” black Africans are portrayed as eaters of the comically inedible. Gaston Derys, “La cuisine nègre,” Le Cordon bleu, February 1, 1938, 64–8. (Bibliothèque nationale de France.)

The vogue of colonial cuisine in culinary literature that surrounded the 1931 Colonial Exposition proved to have a rather limited impact on French cuisine as it was produced and reproduced in these magazines. Dishes from the French colonies, like couscous, gained almost no traction, appearing nearly exclusively in gastronomic curiosity pieces. The deep alterity of the colonial other, repeatedly reinforced in gastronomic writing, made most colonial dishes inaccessible to French diners and cooks because they appeared utterly inassimilable to French cuisine. Colonial tropical fruits and curries were, however, integrated into French cuisine. These dishes tended to reference a geographically ambiguous and disembodied colonial world, one that did not elicit disgust or apprehension because it was associated more with vague exoticism than with actual colonial people. Significantly, fruits and curry could also be fit into the French culinary code—added as twists to French dishes that were then given names that referenced exotic locals. This colonial cuisine, a subset of French cuisine in which the dishes much more closely resembled well-known French dishes than anything actually from the colonies, developed over the beginning of the twentieth century and was already taking shape before the short-lived vogue of the so-named “cuisine coloniale” appeared in 1931. It was this vague exoticism, which lumped all the colonies together, that many colonial administrations tried to counter in their presentations at the 1931 Colonial Exposition. The following chapter examines the use of food by colonial administrations as they attempted to articulate their distinctive place within Greater France and within the overall culinary atmosphere of the exposition, which reflected the vague exoticism of colonial cuisine.

3 An interwar image of the generic colonial other applied to Turkish cuisine in 1946. “La cuisine bourgeoise de saison: Le moussaka à la turque,” Le Cordon bleu, no. 998 (August 1946): 4. (Bibliothèque nationale de France.)

[1] H. Pellaprat, “Gâteaux d’entermets: Le Dakar,” Le Cordon bleu, no. 774 (1923): 622; H. Pellaprat, “Entrées chauds, poulet au cary à l’Indienne,” Le Cordon bleu (1908): 561; Noel Peters, “Escalpes de homards à la créole,” Le Cordon bleu, no. 157 (1898): 9; Ch. Durand, “Cuisine modern: Langouste à l’orientale,” Le Cordon bleu (1914): 129: “Aubergines à l’algerienne,” Le Pot-au-feu, no. 16 (1934): 245; “Salade malgache,” Le Pot-au-feu, no. 7-8-9 (1931): 111.

[2] Faustine Régnier, L’exotisme culinaire: Essai sur les saveurs de l’autre (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2004), 17.

[3] Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson, Accounting for Taste: The Triumph of French Cuisine (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2004), 33–4.

[4] Ferguson, Accounting for Taste, 3.

[5] Nancy Jocelyn Edwards, “The Science of Domesticity: Women, Education and National Identity in Third Republic France, 1880–1914” (PhD diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1997), 168.

[6] Amy Trubek, Haute Cuisine: How the French Invented the Culinary Profession, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000), 83.

[7] Rich, Bourgeois consumption, 81, 87.

[8] “Notre programme,” Le Pot-au-feu, April 15, 1893, 2.

[9] “Notre programme,” La Cuisinière cordon-bleu, January 6, 1895, 4.

[10] For more on the gendered hierarchy between male professional chefs and female home cooks, see Ferguson, Accounting for Taste, 140.

[11] For more on the male chefs and instructors who authored most of the articles, see Trubek, Haute Cuisine, 84.

[12] The title of Le Cordon-bleu was spelled with a hyphen until it was dropped in 1906. For the sake of consistency, I follow the catalog of the French National Library in referring to it by its later title, Le Cordon bleu, without the hyphen.

[13] Henri-Paul Pellaprat, L’Art culinaire moderne: La bonne table française et étrangère comprenant plus de 3000 recettes (Paris: Bellegarde, 1936).

[14] Michael Field, introduction to Modern French Culinary Art, by Henri-Paul Pellaprat, ed. René Kramer and David White (Wenatchee, WA: World Publishing Company, 1966): xiv.

[15] Ferguson, Accounting for Taste, 129.

[17] Ferguson, Accounting for Taste, 84.

[18] F. Barthélemy, “Cuisine étrangère: Cuisine chinoise,” Le Cordon bleu (1911): 607.

[19] F. Barthélemy, “Cuisine étrangère: Cuisine marocaine,” Le Cordon bleu (1912): 304.

[20] Trubek, Haute Cuisine, 84.

[21] Claude Fischler, L’Homnivore (Paris, Éditions Odile Jacob, 1990), 63–6. Behavioral psychologist Paul Rozin has demonstrated the significance of this belief in incorporation. See especially, Paul Rozin and April E. Fallon, “A Perspective on Disgust,” Psychological Review 94, no. 1 (1987): 23–41; Jonathan Haidt, Paul Rozin, Clark McCauley, and Sumio Imada, “Body, Psyche, and Culture: The Relationship between Disgust and Morality,” Psychology & Developing Studies 9, no. 1 (1997): 107–31; Paul Rozin, Jonathan Haidt, Clark McCauley, and Sumio Imada, “Disgust: Preadaptation and the cultural evolution of food-based emotion,” in Food Preferences and Taste: Continuity and Change, ed. Helen McBeth (London: Berghahn Books, 1997): 65–82.

[22] Korsmeyer, Savoring Disgust, 9. See also William Ian Miller, The Anatomy of Disgust (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997); Martha Nussbaum, From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

[23] Susan B. Miller, Disgust: the Gatekeeper Emotion (Hillsdale: The Analytic Press, 2004): 191.

[24] For a contemporary example of this phenomenon, see Lisa M. Heldke, Exotic Appetites (New York: Routledge, 2003), 126–7.

[25] Rozin et al., “Disgust: Preadaptation and the cultural evolution . . .,” 68.

[26] Marshall Sahlins, Culture and Practical Reason (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1976), 171–4.

[27] F. Barthélemy, “Cuisine étrangère: Cuisine chinoise,” Le Cordon bleu (1911): 609–11.

[28] Barthélemy, “Cuisine étrangère: Cuisine marocaine,” Le Cordon bleu (1912): 306.

[29] Korsmeyer, Savoring Disgust, 17.

[30] M. Distel, “Cuisine arabe,” Le Cordon bleu (1914): 103–4.

[31] Neill, “Finding the ‘Ideal Diet,’”1–28.

[32] “Les aliments bizarres: Les mangeurs de terre,” Le Cordon bleu (1913): 57.

[33] E. Myhr, “Le kouscouss,” Le Cordon bleu, no. 174 (1905): 135–6.

[34] L. Maury, “Cuisine marocaine: Le kouscous,” Le Cordon bleu (1912): 296–7.

[35] “Pilaff d’agneau à la turque,” Le Cordon bleu, no. 76 (1896): 379.

[36] F. Barthélemy, “Cuisine étrangère: Cuisine chinoise,” Le Cordon bleu (1911): 615.

[38] Barthélemy, “Cuisine étrangère: Cuisine marocaine,” Le Cordon bleu (1912): 306–11.

[39] In one exception to this rule, couscous was integrated into a regional French meal in 1937 in a dish titled “ratatouille marocaine.” This dish consisted of ratatouille served alongside couscous and lamb, which made it Moroccan. Note that serving ratatouille, a regional dish from Provence, alongside couscous was enough to make it “Moroccan.” This dish did not appear in the annual index of recipes. “Du nouveau,” Le Cordon bleu, June 1, 1937, 314.

[40] “Novembre gastronomique,” Le Pot-au-feu, November 15, 1893, 5; “Avril gastronomique,” Le Pot-au-feu, April 1, 1895, 104.

[41] F. Barthélemy, “Les fruits exotiques: La banane,” Le Cordon bleu (1908): 82.

[42] Martin Bruegel, “How the French Learned to Eat Canned Food, 1809–1930s,” in Food Nations: Selling Taste in Consumer Societies, ed. Warren Belasco and Philip Scranton (New York: Routledge, 2002), 115.For more on tropical fruits in French cuisine, see Alberto Capatti, Le goût de nouveau: Origines de la modernité alimentaire (Paris: Albin Michel, 1989), 187–212. In a chapter titled “Les tropiques chez soi,” Capatti argues that colonial products, especially fruit, were only acceptable to the French public when they were denatured through canning or preserving (in the case of fruits) or homogenized (in the case of rum). This denaturing was necessary in part because the yellow flesh of tropical fruits recalled the yellow fever of their tropical origins and the dangers of a land seen as inhospitable to whites. Although I certainly agree with Capatti that the French showed great timidity in the first half of the twentieth century toward colonial and exotic foods, I disagree with his explanation that this was primarily because of the foods’ association with geographical locations and climates. French timidity toward exotic and colonial foods stemmed much more from a discomfort with colonized peoples than with locations and climates, and tropical fruits were the most acceptable form of culinary exoticism.

[43] For more on Hédiard, see Alberto Capatti, Le goût de nouveau, 187.

[44] Marianne, “3 Macaroons à la noix de coco,” Le Pot-au-feu (1929): 334.

[45] Barthélemy, “Les fruits exotiques: La banane,” 80–4; “Connaissances utiles: Une nouvelle farine, la farine de banane,” Le Cordon bleu (1909): 165; “Bananes-ananas-noix de coco: Recettes choisies de quelques fruits coloniaux,” Le Cordon bleu, no. 7–8–9 (1931): 115; F. Barthélemy, “Les fruits exotiques: L’ananas,” Le Cordon bleu, no. 566 (1908): 25–8.

[46] For an analysis of the “proper meal,” see Bruegel, “Workers’ Lunch Away from Home,” 265. For more on the meanings of the structure of meals, see Mary Douglas, “Deciphering a Meal,” in Food and Culture: A Reader, ed. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik (New York: Routledge, 1997), 36–53.

[47] Pierre, “Tartellettes meringues à la Chloé,” Le Pot-au-feu, no. 12 (1938): 309.

[48] H. Pellaprat, “Gâteaux d’entremets: Gâteau hindou,” Le Cordon bleu (1910): 186.

[49] L. Duverdier, “Gâteaux d’entremets: L’oriental,” Le Cordon bleu (1910): 557; L. Duverdier, “Gâteaux d’entremets: Le martiniquais,” Le Cordon bleu (1912): 133; H. Pellaprat, “Menus expliqués du Cordon bleu,” Le Cordon bleu, no. 823 (1927): 24.

[50] L. Durverdier, “Vacherin à la créole,” Le Cordon bleu (1912): 61.

[51] Pellaprat, “Cuisine coloniale,” Le Cordon bleu (1931): 311.

[52] In her own analysis, however, Régnier embraces a broader meaning of exotic, equating it with foreign. Régnier, L’exotisme culinaire, 31.

[53] “Novembre gastronomique,” Le Pot-au-feu, November 15, 1893, 4–5; “Nouveaux kakis,” Le Pot-au-feu, February 1, 1896, 43; Y., “La Banane,” Le Pot-au-feu, February 20, 1904, 60–2; “Comment on utilise les ananas en cuisine et confiserie,” Le Cordon bleu, no. 566 (1908): 15–24; F. Barthélemy, “Les fruits exotiques,” Le Cordon bleu, (January 1, 1908): 25–8; F. Barthélemy, “Les Fruits exotiques,” Le Cordon bleu (1908): 80–4; H. Pellaprat, “Entremets sucrés,” Le Cordon bleu (January 1, 1910): 12–4; L. Durverdier, “Gâteux d’entremets: Le cubain,” Le Cordon bleu (1911): 579–82; F. Barthélemy, “Les fruits exotiques,” Le Cordon bleu (1912): 260–4; “Sirop d’ananas,” Le Pot-au-feu, April 4, 1914, 108–10.

[54] La Veille Catherine [pseud.], “Haricots rouges à la créole,” Le Pot-au-feu, October 15, 1897, 313–4; E. Myhr, “Cuisine exotique,” Le Cordon bleu (1908): 98; P. Robert, “Cuisine bourgeoise: Filet de boeuf à la marocaine,” Le Cordon bleu, no. 686 (1913): 7–10; “Plats exotiques,” Le Pot-au-feu, September 10, 1927, 382; “La cuisine coloniale,” Le Cordon bleu (August 1, 1931): 223–4.

[55] See for example “Formule 1264,” Le Cordon bleu, no. 226 (1899): 411; Carle Pons, “Pilaff d’agneau à la syrienne,” Le Cordon bleu (1906): 377.

[56] See for example “Crème brésilienne,” Le Pot-au-feu, no. 7–8 (1935): 114–16.

[57] Pellaprat, “Entremets sucrés,” Le Cordon bleu, January 1, 1910, 12–4; Duverdier, “Gâteaux d’entremets: Le martiniquais”; Carle Poms, “La mousseline martiniquaise,” Le Cordon bleu, no. 926 (1939): 35–6; “Les Entremets à l’ananas,” Le Cordon bleu, no. 950 (1938): 28–29; “Tartelettes à la créole,” Le Cordon bleu, no. 9 (1938): 227.For more on antillaise recipes, see Régnier, L’exotisme culinaire, 104–5.

[58] H. Pellaprat, “Gâteaux d’entermets: Le Dakar,” Le Cordon bleu, no. 774 (1923): 622–3; H. Pellaprat, “Nouveauté gourmande: Le senegalais,” Le Cordon bleu, no. 844 (1929): 73–5; “Congolais,” Le Pot-au-feu, no. 7 (1937): 36.

[59] F. Barthélemy, “Glaces: Ananas à l’indienne,” Le Cordon bleu, no. 518 (1906): 18; “Entremets de saison,” Le Cordon bleu, no. 774 (1923): 623–6; Pellaprat, “Gâteaux d’entremets: Gâteau hindou,” Le Cordon bleu (1910): 186.

[60] Ferguson, Accounting for Taste, 72–4. See also Régnier, L’exotisme culinaire, 26.

[61] “Bananes-Ananas-Noix de Coco,” Le Pot-au-feu, no. 7-8-9 (1931): 115; “Glace à la banane en rocher ou en écorces,” Le Pot-au-feu (1932): 99.

[62] C. Rivière, “L’Entremets de cuisine,” Le Cordon bleu, no. 919 (1935): 332–3.

[63] Martigues, “Aubergines ou courgettes farcies à l’orientale: Utilisation des restes,” Le Pot-au-feu, no. 15 (1931): 227.

[64] H. Pellaprat, “Entrées chauds: Poulet au cary à l’Indienne,” Le Cordon-bleu (1908): 561–4; Noel Peters, “Escalpes de homards à la créole,” Le Cordon bleu, no. 157 (1898): 9; E. Myhr, “Formule 1302: Carottes braisées à l’indienne,” Le Cordon bleu, no. 232 (1899): 559–60; E. Myhr, “Cuisine étrangère: Courge au riz a l’indienne,” 493–7; J. Morard, “L’art d’accommoder les langoustes,” Le Cordon bleu (1906): 633.

[65] “Cuisine des grands restaurants,” Le Cordon bleu, no. 768 (1922): 494–5.

[66] “La Cuisine coloniale,” Le Cordon bleu (August 1, 1931): 223–4.

[67] Jessica B. Harris, Beyond Gumbo: Creole Fusion Food from the Atlantic Rim (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003), 35, 206.

[68] Ch. Durand, “Cuisine modern: Langouste à l’orientale,” Le Cordon bleu (1914): 129–34.

[69] Ch. Durand, “Entrée chaude de boucherie: L’escalopes de ris de veau à l’orientale,” Le Cordon bleu (1911): 85.

[70] “A propos de curry,” Le Pot au feu, January 15, 1934, 13–4.

[71] Collingham, Curry, 138.

[72] H. Pellaprat, “Entrées chauds, poulet au cary à l’Indienne,” Le Cordon bleu (1908): 254–5.

[73] A 1911 gastronomic curiosity article on “La cuisine indienne” discussed the British colonialists’ use of Indian domestic servants and did not mention Pondicherry. F. Barthélemy, “Cuisine étrangère: La cuisine indienne,” Le Cordon bleu (1911):163–8.

[75] “La bonne cuisine bourgeoise,” Le Cordon bleu, no. 951 (1938): 72.

[76] “Aubergines à l’algerienne,” Le Pot-au-feu, no. 16 (1934): 245.

[77] Pascal Blanchard, “National Unity: The Right and Left ‘Meet’ around the Colonial Exposition (1931),” in Colonial Culture in France since the Revolution, ed. Pascal Blanchard et al., trans. Alexis Pernsteiner (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014), 188.

[78] “Retour en arrière pas en avant,” Le Pot-au-feu (1931): 102.

[79] Le Pot-au-feu did print a recipe for couscous in 1929. This recipe, however, was within a piece about Jewish cuisine, and therefore maintained its separation from French national cuisine. “Chronique gourmande,” Le Pot-au-feu (1929): 103–4.

[80] The few examples included “Assiette angkor,” Le Pot-au-feu, May 15, 1934, 144; “Aubergines à l’algerienne,” 245–6; Une créole [pseud.], “Hors-d’oeuvre malgache,” Le Pot-au-feu, December 1934, 370–3.

[81] Pellaprat, “Cuisine coloniale,” 170–1. See also “Chayotte à l’algerienne,” 346–8.

[82] Léon Isnard, La Gastronomie africaine (Paris: Albin Michel, 1930).

[83] “Cuisine coloniale,” Le Cordon bleu, July 1, 1931, 198–9.

[84] “La cuisine coloniale,” 223–4.

[85] H. Pellaprat, “Cuisine coloniale: Le manioc,” Le Cordon bleu, no. 874 (1931): 255.

[86] Pellaprat, “Cuisine coloniale,” 311.

[87] Charlotte Rabette, La cuisine exotique chez soi par Catherine (Paris: Éditions de portiques, 1931); Anne Queillac, Cuisine coloniale: Les bonnes recttes de Chloë Mondésir (1931); Raphaël de Noter, La bonne cuisine aux colonies: Asie, Afrique, Amérique (Paris: Dêpot général de l’art culinaire, 1931).

[88] Isnard, La Gastronomie africaine.

[89] The collection of Le Cordon bleu at the French National Library has some gaps in the 1930s. Therefore, I was not able to access 1932–34 and most of 1935, including the indexes. However, based on the previous and following years, I am confident that my observations still apply for the 1930s as a whole.

[90] Gaston Derys, “Cuisine antillaise,” Le Cordon bleu (January 1, 1937): 10–4; Gaston Derys, “Cuisine algérienne,” Le Cordon bleu (May 1, 1937): 234–9; Gaston Derys, “La cuisine nègre,” Le Cordon bleu, February 1, 1938, 64–8.

[91] Derys, “La cuisine nègre,” 64.

[92] Anthony Pagden, The Fall of Natural Man: The American Indian and the Origins of Comparative Ethnology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 87. Cited in Rebecca Earle, “‘If You Eat Their Food . . .’: Diets and Bodies in Early Colonial Spanish America,” The American Historical Review 115, no.3 (2010): 703.

[93] For an analysis of a similar phenomenon in contemporary food writing, see Heldke, Exotic Appetites, 126–8.

[95] Poms, “La mousseline martiniquaise,” 35.

[96] Carle Pons, “Commont doit-on utiliser les restes,” Le Cordon bleu, March 1, 1939, 136.