Salon International de l’Alimentation, better known as SIAL, just concluded in Villepinte, Paris. No matter where you looked, you couldn’t have missed the Indian contingent, and I’m not referring to exhibitors like Satnam Overseas. We were a motley bunch of executive chefs and F & B Managers, importers and food writers, looking at what France has to offer the gastronome, and figuring out what would be applicable to Indian conditions.
So crucial is the Indian market to French food products, that Sopexa the co-host of SIAL, is toying with the idea of setting up a SIAL in India: currently, though the grand-daddy is in Paris, others exist in Canada, Brazil and China. In fact, if Rajiv Singhal of Sopexa Delhi has his way, the next SIAL that is held will be in India; he’s looking at one sometime next year.
The French attitude to food is on display at SIAL. In fact, I’d go a step further and claim that the very existence of Sopexa embodies the French mind-set on matters gastronomic. It’s a quasi-government organization, present in 40 countries, that seeks to promote French food products. They make no distinction between wine and, say, butter and they certainly don’t hard-sell one brand against another: opening up markets for French produce and products is their single-minded objective.
At SIAL, the French stalls were my focus, though I did the rounds of other countries’ products too. In particular, I wanted to see whether the concept of AOC (appellation d’origine controllée) or historically controlled regional agriculture, had any place at all in an exhibition as huge as this one. It appeared that it did: several stalls showcased AOC products like wines, cheeses, meats such as hams and foie gras that are guaranteed to come from a certain region within France. More than that, there was a stall set up just to disseminate information about the concept of AOC.
The French approach to showcasing their products stood in stark contrast with that of a few neighbouring countries. When I asked an Italian packager of basil crushed in olive oil whether his product came from Genoa (which is famous for the aroma of its basil), he assured me that on the contrary, his product was used by the Genovese as the real thing! Nearby, a stall selling ‘Himalayan Salt’ shame-facedly confessed that it was actually Pakistani salt.
French journalist Dominique Chaillouet was not amused. He is the only known journalist whose area of expertise is AOC products. After expressing interest in the basmati rice case, he reeled off facts and figures. Of the 711 products that are protected by place of origin, 147 of them are in France. And no, he’s not scared that hype will put unsustainable pressure on the land, forcing farmers to resort to sharp-shooting practices. It’s his opinion that production of most AOC products is barely 1 or 2 percent of optimum amount, except in the case of foie gras production where the figure is around 11 percent.
Caption: My heart was gladdened by the Emmi stall, where the Swiss dairy giant had exhibited their latest offering: mango lassi.