For questions culinary, leave it to the French to have all the answers. The people who can make a feast out of the simplest of ingredients on the most ordinary of days have, of course, also mastered the wintertime menu of what is often called "comfort food".
In warmer climates like that of the UAE, meals are less likely to vary with the seasons. But for those living considerably nearer the Earth's poles, dishes meant to provide respite from achingly cold days and depressingly long nights are de rigueur.
In Russia, it might be borscht. In China, oxtail soup. In England, bangers and mash. In North America, macaroni and cheese.
In France, well, they have mastered a dozen dishes that qualify as comfort food and spice up the menus of cafes and bistros in December, January and February, and most of these were on display last month in Paris at the annual Salon Saveurs des Plaisirs Gourmands food show.
More than 400 artisans and producers set out their wares in gaily decorated booths and for four delectable days they offered samples of their products to some 40,000 visitors, including hearty winter fare such as aligot, cassoulet, fondue and mushrooms, hoping that visitors would buy the ingredients in large quantities to prepare in their homes.
Even for the French, the Salon Saveurs seems a sort of culinary heaven on earth, and it is no accident it is scheduled in late autumn every year, just in time for the holiday season.
"We come to Paris to introduce these products of quality and to teach people about what we have in our region," said Pierre-Alain Gagne, who was representing a cheese producer from Romans-sur-Isère, at the foot of the Alps. "Everyone is here. It works for everyone. The food lovers find the products they want, and the producers find the kind of customers they want."
In Gagne's case, he was offering samples of a memorable goat's cheese, which he seemed to be selling in some volume.
In another aisle, Comet Michel, from La Cabane Landaise farm near the Pyrenees, was particularly busy, offering samples of foie gras, duck confit and duck sausage, all of which are common on winter menus. She said the seasonal "speciality of our family" were plump capons that they raised on the farm and served with plenty of mushrooms.
French chefs could simply give themselves a pat on the back for their achievements, given that Unesco last year recognised French cuisine as part of the "intangible cultural heritage of humanity", making France the first country honoured for preparing supper with such panache.
However, Clotilde Dusoulier, a Parisian food writer and owner of the food blog Chocolate & Zucchini, suggests that what makes French comfort food so varied and unique are the country's numerous microclimates: from the soggy north-west to the frozen mountains of the Alps and Pyrenees, to the sunshine-dominated south.
"In France, at least, winters are different from one region to the next, especially in terms of what ingredients are produced in the winter time or stored to last you through the winter, and this, to some extent, governs what you eat," she said.
"In the south-west, they stock beans and preserve duck meat and sausages. In other parts of the country, it's about root vegetables kept in cellars, and you will have more foods that are potato- and vegetable-based.
"In general, looking at wintertime food, you have to look back at times when there wasn't much commerce from one region to the next, and what people stored to last through the winter was what they ended up eating."
Winter dishes in France have an almost spiritual quality, evoking images of warm dishes from a hot oven on a cold day.
Dusoulier said: "Everyone's favourite probably is whatever their mother made when they were children. It brings back so many good memories. For me, I remember gratin with vegetables and some béchamel."
Raphaële Delerue was offering tastes of fondue, an Alpine creation, at the Salon Saveurs. She said that for her, comfort food represents recipes "you like to feel in your heart".
She added: "In winter, when it's cold, you want to reheat yourself, and you're hungry and want to fill yourself, and a lot of these dishes, like fondue, don't take a lot of time to prepare, and the whole family can gather at the table and eat out of the same pot."
Another feature of comfort food in France is wild game, including venison and rabbit bagged by hunters in the autumn.
"As a child in Besançon, I could not enter the forest at certain times of the year because the hunters were inside," said Isabelle LaGrange, who now lives in Paris. "I could hear the 'bang-bang' and I knew that we were going to have biche [venison] on our plates sometime soon."
Luisa Chu, a Chinese-American chef and writer who has worked in several Michelin-starred kitchens, has a soft spot for American "mac-and-cheese".
Is French comfort food the best in the world?
"Sometimes I think that, especially with chocolat chaud and Kouign-amann [a round, crusty cake from Breton], but I really can't say that.
"One of my favourites is my family's oxtail stew, from my father's side of the family, but really perfected by my mum. It's like a pot au feu but with only oxtails, plus a little ginger, garlic and soy sauce."
Catherine Hugues, a French seller of gourmet olive oil, once lived in Phoenix, a torrid city in the south-west desert of the United States, and she remembers that menus "didn't change much in the winter because Phoenix doesn't really have a winter.
"But here, in France, we eat what is available in the season. We will not try to eat salad or tomatoes or aubergines; they are out of season. Instead, we will eat a fondue from the mountains, and lentils or cabbage that we have saved for the winter.
"Eating the right ingredients is at the heart of what you call comfort food."
Melted Tomme cheese from the Auvergne blended thoroughly with mashed potatoes to produce a smooth, heavy dish that seems to send tingles of pleasure from the mouth directly to the brain.
A rich, slow-cooked white bean stew from the south of France, usually served piping hot and containing duck or goose. Numerous regional variations exist, but it is a staple on menus all over the country in the winter and a meal that sticks to your ribs, as the saying goes.
Cheese melted in a pot and set out on the table, allowing diners to dip bread or vegetables into the pot and extract a rich and caloric pick-me-up. This is favoured by skiers after an exhilarating day on the slopes, or by families who want some quality supper time in front of the fire.
Pot au feu
A slow-cooked beef stew with vegetables, this is sometimes known as the “quintessential dish of French family cuisine”. In times past, the dish would cook continuously over an open fire, with new ingredients added as others were eaten.
* Leah Reiter