I went to France under the naive impression that all of the food would be amazing. That’s a great deal to live up to, but I thought the culinary capitol of the world could easily handle the weight of this opinion.
During our first few days in Paris, both Michael and I were a tad disappointed with the food. We came to several conclusions. One: we were not on a culinary tour. Battling jet lag, navigating a new city, fighting fatigue and the whims of mother nature, as well as sore feet we were often left to choose a place that was simply close to wherever we were at the time. We did find that if you pay a bit more money, and perhaps ate at a posh cafe outside a swanky hotel, just shy of the Opera House, your Salad Nicoise was going to be quite good. And you happily paid 4€ for a Coke, because your salad was tasty!
Two: Paris is largely a tourist city. Catering to the palates of international people, things are often reasonably priced and kept simple at small cafes IE a ham sandwich consisting of slices of bread, a small dish of butter and several slices of ham (what we know as prosciutto). No exaggeration, Michael had this – during our first meal in Paris in fact.
Three: Michael and I eat well a great deal of the time and are spoiled by living in the Pacific Northwest and its fantastic food options. I don’t believe we are snobby about food, however we have certain taste expectations.
Have no fear, once we found our groove, not only in Paris, but throughout our entire trip, we managed to stumble upon some great restaurants, cafés, and crêperies.
All the crêpes we had were amazing. Typically a savory crêpe often eaten for lunch is called a gallette and a sweet crêpe is a crêpe. In Amboise, I had an amazing gallette of tomato, pesto, warm goat cheese (including the yummy mold) and olive oil, it was full of flavor and a perfect lunch. In the town of Fougères I ordered a tasty gallette with anchovy, onion, cheese and tomato. I was quite pleased with myself as this was not a typical American choice, but it was very good and I think the waiter warmed to me once he figured out that I quite liked it and ordered it on purpose. The sweet dessert crêpes were just as wonderful.
Not once did we experience bad bread, inferior sweets, poor chocolate, unacceptable macaroons, defective pastries or awful ice cream. Everything in that group was fantastic. We did have ice cream at the famed Berthillon on the Île Sanit-Louis in Paris and it is as good as they say. We were lucky and didn’t have to stand in a mile long line. I don’t even want to know the fat content, but judging from a thin coating on the roof of my mouth, it had to be pretty high in butterfat. C’est la vie, no? And the macaroons, which I had never had before due to an assumption of their texture, were wonderfully chewy, sweet and an unexpected delight!
I have to say, one of our favorite meals (of which there were several) was made up of items we chose from a farmers market in Borges. Later that day our tour group was going to have a wine & cheese tasting at a chateau and we needed to gather items to eat for an outdoor picnic. Nervously managing our way through this market on limited French and an abundance of good humor, we succeeded in ordering a nice thick slice of foie gras pâtè (the way it’s typically served in France), some fantastic green herbed olives, a fresh baguette, some ham and two lovely slices of apple tart. Michael and I sat with the others eating our picnic and reveled in our success and gourmet feast.
The cheese as they say did in fact smell like an “angels feet”. Camembert, Pont l’Evêque, and Livarot are three standard Normandy cheeses we sampled. The Camembert was gloriously creamy. The other two were indeed worthy of a stinky cheese award. I however, favored the small rounds of goat cheese (chèvre). As I mentioned, the mold is on the outside and served as such. What the Americans are missing out on is . . . all (or a good deal) of the flavor is in the mold. And it’s good for you! Mold is even the source of penicillin. Of all the things we have in America one can die from, I really don’t think moldy cheese is a big threat!
I did in fact get my fill of foie gras whilst on the trip. I believe we had it at least four times and in my opinion the best was the generous slice we picked up in the markers market in Borges, as mentioned above.
Our last dinner with the group, our guide Julian arranged for the restaurant to have escargot on the menu. It was on my list of things to try while in France and I had not seen them on any menus our entire trip. I was quite excited. This excitement was short lived, I was chewing my first one and it was darn near frozen in the middle. I thought this may have been a isolated incident, but no. They were all cold and the garlic herbed butter was a congealed lump that didn’t go down very well. Not to mention you have to work to get them out of their shells with an interesting tool (think the movie Pretty Woman). Alas. I shall keep an open mind and simply have a do-over the next time they are available to me.
In the end, I was quite pleased to learn that I can make a mean rendition of many French classics, with the help of Ina Garten’s France cookbook, as I did before leaving on this trip. I am looking forward to visiting several of the recipes with the memory of France fresh in my head. When embarking on a new adventure, one certainly tries to apply the phrase “When in Rome . . .”. I feel I learned a great deal and experienced first hand a country’s food culture.