In Roanne, France, I was starting into lunch at Le Central, a restaurant of Michel Troisgros, who for over 40 years made a name for himself at a number of his Michelin-starred restaurants. I was surprised when salad came out first, just like in the States.
ME: I seem to recall from my student days in Strasbourg that salads used to be served at the end of the meal.
FRENCH TABLEMATE: When we eat at home, we always have salads at the end of the meal. In restaurants, they now come at the beginning.
ME: So things have changed. Why?
FRENCH TABLEMATE: I am not so sure…
ME: Come on. Guess.
FRENCH TABLEMATE: The American influence, I suppose.
Physiologically considered, salads make no sense at the beginning of the meal, when the leaves seem likely to form a mat of fiber to hinder digestion.
Culinarily considered, it is kind of nice to have something crispy and maybe a little sour (from vinegar) first thing…but that thing doesn't have to be a salad. Pickles serve the purpose much more effectively.
Psychologically considered, I get it. Mothers want kids to "have their greens," so they serve the salad at the beginning of the meal, while the kids are still relatively hungry. After that, the meatloaf is served.
At home, we always have salad at the end of the meal because it makes more sense to leverage the "brooming" effects of fiber at the end of the meal. Also, it's what I'm used to. In this regard, I've concluded I must have some kind of learning disability because I'm always a little surprised when, in a restaurant when I order salad, it always comes out first. I'm always expecting it at the end, like at home and, in the old days, in France. I can't get used to having it first.
Of course, if the salad IS the meal (like the Cobb, pictured) then it makes sense to eat the leafy greens along with the proteins and carbs, and in fact, it may always make more sense to eat the leafy greens along with the proteins and carbs…in other words, maybe salad makes the most sense WITH the meal, rather than before or after.