Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tastecation: Paris

I apologize for my long absence. After three weeks in Europe for work and other travels, I had a bit of a hard time acclimating back to being at home. But I'm back now to tell you all about my Tastecation.

First stop, Paris.

Ahhhh, Paris. If you're on a European Tastecation, you can't miss Paris. French cooking is at the center of all things gourmet. It is famous for its complex (and delicious) sauces, based in butter, or some other delectable fatty substance, typically smothering some exquisitely prepared meat or vegetable. This has, of course, led researchers and lay (fat) Americans to wonder how those annoying French can eat such decadent food and stay so freaking thin! Perhaps it's what some speculate - the wine. Oh, the wine! How can anyone talk about France without mentioning the wine? But I digress.

All of these things are wonderful, and I did enjoy a number of classic French meals, from flambéd crêpes at Crêperie Josselin, to scrumptious crayfish and melt in your mouth soufflé at Aux Lyonnais, to classic Niçoise salad and the most amazing espresso crème brulée (and I don't like crème brulée) at Le Comptoir du Relais. My mouth waters just thinking about this wonderful weekend in Paris. Mmmhmmm.

These things are obviously an important part of a successful tastecation, but my favorite part of Paris is the marketplace culture. In sharp contrast to the complexity of most French meals, you can walk down streets where you see these amazing French dishes in their most basic forms.

Oh you lovely little, squirming crayfish. I will eat you later and suck the delicious buttery goodness off of every surface of your tiny, crustacean body.

And you, my fungal friends, don't think I won't have you sautéd with white wine and butter.

Yes, I do talk to my food. Don't judge me.

But really, you have to go to a market street. And I really mean street.

While the French also have the insanely huge super grocery stores that we have in the United States, they also have a thriving culture of specialty stores and outdoor markets. As a result, an entire street will be lined with specialty stores from meats to cheese to fresh fruits and veggies to bread and, of course, wine. This creates the same convenience of an all-in-one store, with the expertise that comes from specialization.

In addition to the brick and mortar shops are the booths of the open air markets that are only open selected times during the week (also, most of the shops are closed a couple days a week, so make sure to note the hours of your favorite). Here you can get similar food to what you find in the shops in addition to other specialty foods. My favorite is the olive booth. Beautiful and delicious.

As a result of all this specialization, you are guaranteed the best food. You will get a freshly baked baguette from the boulangerie. You can taste the housemade tapenade before purchasing. And my favorite part, you can watch the cheese monger in the fromagerie as she gently squeezes the cheese to make sure it's ripe for you.

You will also find the pride that the French have in French food. No one has to tell them to eat locally. They've been doing it for years (they probably assume that no one knows food as well as they do). And in a trip to the market, you'll see that much of the food is from different regions in France.

And seasons are important, too. When I walked into the fromagerie near my hotel, I immediately saw the sign that said "Le fromage de chèvre, c'est de saison!" Yum. Goat cheese season! We tend to think of just fruits and vegetables as having a season. But spring also brings fresh goat milk and the start of fresh goat cheese. I couldn't pass that up.

So we took our goat cheese, a fresh baguette, and a bottle of wine to the Champs de Mars for a lovely afternoon picnic.

THAT is quintessential Paris life.

And I love it.

1 comment:

  1. MMMMMMMM making me hungry reading about this again.
    The latest Food & Wine magazine gives props to Le Comptoir again, in addition to the little Le Comptoir Booth next to it. We should have stopped there, easily accessible delicious awesomeness.

    Booking my TGV now.