Le Goûter comes from the French verb, goûter, which means to taste; it’s pronounced “le goo tay”. It’s the British equivalent of afternoon tea, sometimes called “high tea”, where you eat something to keep you going until dinner. The French traditionally eat dinner around 8pm (sometimes later), so the goûter can involve a little more food than just a cake or two.
While the British might eat scones with jam and clotted cream for afternoon tea, there are usually savoury sandwiches, too. But in France, Le Goûter is always sweet. It might be crêpes with chocolate, cream cakes or pastries, or perhaps a pain au chocolat that mums hand to their kids on the way to an after-school activity.
The French always claim that they don’t snack. Le Goûter is thought of as a meal in its own right, so it isn’t considered snacking. Much like the apéritif, which involves crisps, nuts and tapenades, this isn’t snacking because it’s a key meal with its own name and traditions. It is a social occasion – the perfect opportunity to catch up with old friends and get to know new ones – not something you do by yourself. It’s a key part of French culture portrayed in the 1911 painting “Le Goûter” by Jean Metzinger.
If you’re invited to participate in a Goûter with someone else or a group of people, it’s always better to take something homemade if you have the time to bake. If not, make sure you take bring something from a bakery or chocolate shop, no matter how small. If you arrive with just a pack of biscuits from the local supermarket, however, it will look like you haven’t made an effort, regardless of the price or brand. And remember the presentation; packaging is everything when you hand your contribution over to your host or hostess, who will hopefully reward you with a dazzling smile and a big merci beaucoup!