We were deep into the question-and-answer period when a woman raised her hand and asked, “What’s up with the mustard in this place? Everywhere I go, the waiter brings out mustard.”
She was right, although I’d never really thought about it. Where an American might reach for ketchup, a French person opts for mustard. Mustard with steak, for sure, often with an omelet and sometimes with fries.
Mustard is the national condiment and, while the best-known mustard is named for the Burgundian city of Dijon (actually, Dijon Mustard refers to a specific style of mustard, one that’s smooth and sharp), mustard’s origins aren’t French: mustard was probably brought to France by the ancient Romans.
Knowing a good thing when they tasted it, the French started manufacturing their own mustard and by medieval times it was a kitchen staple. Pope John XXII, living in Avignon in the 14 th century, established the “Pope’s First Mustard Maker,” and two centuries later, Louis XIV, the Sun King, took to traveling with his own mustard pot in tow.
In fact, mustard pots are still traditional wedding presents in France and you can still bring your own little pot to shops like Maille for a refill.
Until someone creates whimsically decorated ketchup pots in porcelain, and until there are chic ketchup boutiques in Paris, it’s a good bet that every cafÃ© condiment tray will continue to come to the table with salt, pepper and moutarde, to which the French would say, tant mieux, so much the better.