The Great French Hospital Food Tasting Experience.


Just last week I was invited to sample hospital cuisine. I was very excited. I had heard all about French hospitals and their meals were legendary.

To make the visit authentic, the hospital decided that it was mandatory also to undergo a minor operation, but insisted that being asleep all the way through It would be a minor disadvantage. In light of the prospective lunch, I willingly agreed.

I could write pages on French hospitals, I have, in our short time in France, seen inside many and  usually the x-ray department, but that’s another story.  What I find the most interesting is how such a huge and complex system that makes up the French health system functions, in my experience so seamlessly.

Having agreed that in order to taste the delicacies on offer from the French hospital canteen I should submit to the ‘intervention’ (operation), I found myself sitting in the specialists ‘bureau’ with my diary open whilst we discussed a suitable date. “Could we fit it in before half-term and whilst ‘husband à l’etranger’ was in France” I asked. A quick phone call down to the operating theatre and my chosen date was booked – just three weeks away.

Stage two was to book an appointment with the anaesthetist and reserve my bed.  Within the fortnight I had enlightened the anaesthetist to my total phobia of anaesthetics and been reassured (somewhat) that ‘ambulatoire’s’ (day patients) were so-called as they did actually leave the hospital at the end of the day on their own feet and not in a coffin. For 50€ I could reserve my bed, 38€ of which was paid for by the state and the rest by my ‘mutuelle’ if I had one; for a little extra I could buy ear-phones and access to a  TV.

The night before the ‘great French hospital food tasting experience’ I received a phone call stating I was first on the list, and would I arrive at 7am, and at 7.15am I had pushed my cheque of 120€ for my operation under the door of the Specialist’s bureau. No matter whether I made it through the experience, the specialist earned his bread and butter!

Disappointingly my hospital bed did not ‘cut the mustard’. No wider than a coffin, I lay on it in a state of total discomfort, and I hadn’t yet arrived in the operating theatre. On the ‘wheelie-table’ in front of me, Alice in Wonderland style lay the smallest of tablets labeled ‘Eat Me’.  Reassuringly the nurse advised me that this was a ‘calmant’ and that once swallowed I shouldn’t make any attempt to move around since I might find myself a little ‘woosie’. Rather alarmingly the bed around me appeared to shrink such that any form of movement at all threatened to catapult me from the bed onto the floor. I clung grimly to the metal side rails.

When I awoke next, I was disappointed to find myself still in the tiny bed still in fear of falling off. I was relieved to hear that in less than an hour I was going to be introduced to my long awaited ‘French dejeuner’, the operation had apparently taken place without my noticing.

Lunch arrived at last. It was a long time since midnight the night before and I had been long anticipating my glass of ‘vin rouge’. Imagine the betrayal at the arrival of a white plastic tray containing, not Confit de Canard et Pommes Dauphinoises, but sandwiches! Anyone who has lived in France for even a significantly short space of time will know that the French do not eat sandwiches, a crusty baguette maybe, but definitely not sandwiches in white sliced bread. The French have no idea how to make sliced bread, which is at it’s best long-life, tough, tasteless and dry; add in sections a few slices of soggy tomato and processed ham in ‘Clingfilm’ and one arrives at some sort of culinary hell.

So here below the menu:

Ham and tomato sandwiches in white sliced bread

Tin (with peel-back lid) of pear compote baby food

Natural yoghurt

Bottle of water.

When ‘husband à l’etranger’ arrived to collect me he was quickly dispatched to the nearest boulangerie to pick up a ‘Tarte au Citron’. After several hours of clinging onto my hospital bed, restorative sugar was necessary.

For future reference,if I am to benefit from the legendary excellence of French hospital food I have to identify which illnesses classify me for the superior cuisine!  As we drove speedily away from the hospital ‘husband à l’etranger’ spotted a group of kitchen ladies hanging round an open door dragging on their cigarettes.

“That’s who made your sandwiches” he said.

I shot them a glare,

“From now on” I said “I’m going to eat at home!”

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4 comments on “The Great French Hospital Food Tasting Experience.

  1. Ha ha! My husband was in our local hospital for nearly a week having tests a couple of years ago and that was exactly the sort of food he had. I didn’t get dejeuner when I was a day patient but I did get a decent width bed at least.

  2. nessafrance says:

    What bad luck! When I spent a couple of days in hospital 3 years ago the food was certainly better than that – lunch was 4 courses, including cheese. But no wine. The problem was that none of it tasted of anything because they don’t use any salt. Now, I don’t use a lot but if there’s none at all it lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. When my husband was in hospital about 10 years ago they apologised for not being able to give him any wine because of what his condition was!

  3. My husband and son have both partaken of hospital food and both nearly starved to death! All the meals were pathetically small and there was only one cup of coffee all day!

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