The food here is fantastic. And I mean even the bread and the butter. Sometimes it is the simplest things that are the best and most flavorful. You can find just about anything here, as at home. The grocery stores are smaller, and for the most part more ‘modern’ although I use that term loosely. But for the least, the prices are displayed electronically, and the big chain stores have a gray-scale theme to the shelves and overall interior of the store. Bringing your own bags is a must. There is not such a thing as plastic bags. In this way, the French are more frugal. For either the expense of production or cost to the planet – everyone brings their backpacks, caddies, and reusable bags.
Because the stores are all within walking distance for most of Ruel Malmaison, and because there is a bread shop, a butcher shop, a frozen food shop, a vegetable shop, and a general shelved goods shop, the trips to the store are often small. There is no such thing as a Wal-Mart or Costco here. Crazy, I know. But it also means that almost everything here is always sold fresh. Which means that there are most trips during the week to replenish the food supply. But given the option between Wonder bread – nutrient enriched and bleached – or the crispy warm ‘flute’ baguette one can find on every street corner, the choice is a clear one. Of course they sell such things as our beloved Wonder bread and French’s mustard, but my impression is that they are the sort of food that one has when one goes underground because of an impending nuclear apocalypse.
The portion size is also remarkable. There are no such things as gallons, or super size. Everything is in moderation, and while somethings can be astoundingly priced – indeed 24 euros for 4 200 gram steak filets – other things such as Baguette can be bought for less than a Euro apiece. The best bakeries are almost always queued with people, a constant stream, and so there is a lot of waiting here in France. I do promise though that the bread is often worth it. It is also a good measure of where the best bakeries are, for the best ones are filled with people.
Every meal is a three course meal, starting with a soup or pâte – of which even the cheapest pâte here rivals the most expensive pâtes stateside. Then there is the main dish, usually with meat of some sort, and dessert is most often a cheese and bread. Then to wash everything clean, we eat fruit. Clementines are unlike anything else I’ve ever had; my guess is because Spain is right next door and so they are fresher than when we get them stateside.
Bread here is a staple of life. We never throw the uneaten bread away, choosing to refrigerate it instead. We use it to clean our plates, to dip in soup, and for our dessert cheese. After the cheese and bread it is often followed by a coffee. Aromatic and strong, the Arabic blend Phillipe had rivals – surprise – the luxury ‘organic’ coffee at home. While I am not much one for coffee, when I do drink it, I am quite the coffee snob. (But of all my snobberies, it is mustard in which I will always turn up my nose. This has not happened here.) Needless to say, I have been quite pleased with how nice and tasteful most everything I’ve eaten here has been.
Phillipe laughed when I asked for milk with my coffee, but he said that it was my taste and not his. So I’ve learnt that milk is a strange thing in coffee here. However, he put honey in his warm milk, so I think we are on even footing. The sugar also is cubed here. Truly it is a matter of “one lump, or two?” It reminds me of my late grandmother, who looked down her nose at anyone who would dare serve her granulate sugar for coffee. I wonder if they even sell granulated sugar here…
What I am looking forward to are the Crepes de Nutella, the ones that one finds from any street vendor; the memory of which has stayed with me since my last trip to Paris. I know France is famous for its wines, and while wine usually puts me to sleep immediately, I promise dear reader that there will be commentary on it.
I am looking into cooking classes here, and while some of them are upwards of 100 EUR for a 2/3 hr class, I did find a class, that costs as little as 15 EUR. The class is taught in french however, but I think that it is a good way to practice my french culinary skill.
What they say about the French attitude has not been the case so far, but it is early yet. Perhaps it is a ticking time bomb, and where and when I will get the red faced french man wagging his finger in my face, I cannot say.