Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Baguette, S'il Vous Plait

Sorry to keep you waiting for a little longer than normal, but hopefully this post will serve as some redemption for my recent lacking.  But, to explain, this past weekend was our much-anticipated trip to Paris, so to slow things down and enjoy life as the Parisians do, I left the computer behind, saving the humungous amounts of work for later.  So now as I sit here at 11:00 PM, finally returning to the real world, I am very pleased to change things up slightly and present to you my 3-day account with French food.  And what a food experience it was. 

Although Paris in general turned out to be something slightly different than I expected in the sense that it was by no means all fashion and glamour, the food did hold true to its reputation.  Before departure, many told me that it didn’t really matter where I ate because the French take pride in their cuisine and want to make sure that visitors get the best possible fare anywhere.  For the most part the food really was amazing, even at the simple corner restaurant/cafés, with just few minor flaws and some very important lessons learned in the aspect of Paris dining.  So although it is very hard to cover the entirety of French food with one blog post, I did taste enough to give you idea to the cuisine.


Literally any street that I walked down in Paris was equipped with a creperie or ten.  Crepes, originally from Brittany, are now so are so prevalent, that many consider it to be France’s national dish, and range from sweet to savory and minimalist to exquisite.  It was quite a sight to watch someone make the crepes as they ladled out the thin batter onto a flat circular hot plate over a foot in diameter.  Then taking a wooden rod, they skillfully spread the batter to the edges.  Crepes are so thin that by the time the batter was completely spread on the pan, the crepe was ready for a brief flip to the other side.  

When almost done, they added the toppings.  I was very shocked by the EXTREME popularity of Nutella in Paris, which is by far the most popular crepe filling.  Other toppings included lemon juice and sugar, chestnut cream, and jams, but nothing beat the Nutella and thinly sliced banana combo.  It was served in a paper cone, and, on the cold weekend we visited, the hot steam pouring from the inside was by far enough to warm me up.  The first few bites were the crispy crepe edges, but as I reached further down, the crepes became a little more soggy and spongy, but in a good way, and every bite was filled with hot chocolaty goodness.  I didn’t visit anywhere fancy enough to have the opportunity to try Crepes Suzette, but to be honest, plain Nutella did just the trick.

The Boulangerie

A Boulangerie, which can also be found anywhere,  is a really amazing combination of bread, pastry, and sandwich shop, and no matter which one I went to, the food was always fresh and of the absolute best quality.  Because they offer such a range of baked wonders, they really are perfect for anytime of the day.  I stopped in one for a quick breakfast and was overwhelmed with the choices of croissants (butter, chocolate, raisin, or almond), chouquettes, brioche bread, and of course more crepes.  I succumbed to a beautiful classic buttery croissant and was astounded by the flavor, the perfect crispy and flaky exterior, and the chewy, multi-layered moistness inside.  

One particularly good boulengerie also provided me with the best French baguette I’ve ever had in my life.  Perhaps it was because I was in the Paris state of mind, but when they placed that warm parcel of bread into my hand, I just got a wonderful warm feeling inside.  I paired by bread with a huge slab of creamy Brie cheese and a bottle of red wine and ate it right next to the Eiffel tower on a bright sunny day, resulting in the best moment of the entire Paris trip.  

And finally, the boulangerie was a great source for dessert.  Although the éclairs, miniature fruit tarts, and cream-filled profiteroles were enticing, I succumbed to the display of huge, colorful macarons, available in almost every flavor.  I chose the hazelnut praline, and was in bliss during every nibble of that crunchy yet moist and sticky dessert.  

 Steak Frittes

And as much as I would have liked to, I didn’t eat only carbs all weekend.  One evening, I did indulge in a typical French yet simple dinner of steak frittes at the nearest café with an English menu.  And although I’ve had better fries, the steak was really excellent for the fairly reasonable price.  It was a tournedos cut of beef, so basically in American terms, I got the cream of the crop, the filet minion. It was cooked perfectly medium too, still slightly red in the center, and so juicy and flavorful.  It was served with a selection of three delicious sauces (pepper, tartare, and béarnaise) a side salad, and a rich and fluffy chocolate mousse, packed with true dark chocolate flavor.

So although I sampled some amazing classic French food, the experience with Paris dining wasn’t always the best.  Obviously the language barrier, which, although unavoidable, was troublesome and made ordering somewhat difficult.  I found myself eating many sandwiches without any clue as to what was inside.  Food was also VERY expensive for unexpected items. The bread and pastries, which were the best I’ve ever had, were dirt cheap, while the cafes and restaurants made me fork over and arm and a leg for a bowl of soup or a nothing-special salad.  Finally, the biggest problem was the Parisians take on water.  I’m pretty sure they must just learn to live in extreme states of dehydration because that’s what I had to resort to.  Unless I wanted to pay ridiculous amounts for bottles or risk some sort of disease from my hotel’s bathroom sink water, I just had to be thirsty.  I even had a stressful situation with a cranky waiter who, taking advantage of the American tourists, gave us mineral water when we asked for tap water and charged 14 euro for it.  And when asking if he made a sort of mistake, he replied, in slightly different terms but meaning the same thing, that because we didn’t ask for tap water in proper French, he took advantage of our naïveté to take our money.  Here are some tips to Paris dining that I wish I had had in hindsight.

Yet as I flip through the pictures I took of all that I ate, I forget the bad experiences and my heart yearns for just another taste that wonderful food.  It was amazing and nothing will ever top my bread and cheese Eiffel tower experience, but by the end, I craved my London food.  I missed its comforting aspects, the familiar chain restaurants, the labels written in English, etc.  But mostly I missed the English mindset on food.  Because the British are not known for their cuisine, it lacks a pretentious quality that I found tiresome in Paris.  I also missed the friendly customer service, the takeaway options, and the large lattes (I just can’t deal with strong tiny espresso the French like).  So this morning, although slightly missing the crepes, I happily tucked into some fresh fruit and porridge and a nice cup of coffee, happily reflecting on the new experiences and enjoying the old comforts.

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