So Far So Good: 10 Delicious Things from France
I eat with way too much gusto for my own good and waist size; I’ll try almost anything, but I draw the line at bugs, organs, and blood. In my ever-so-slightly overactive imagination, I pretend I’m Meryl Streep, as Julia Child, in the scene from Julia & Julia where market sellers generously hand her bite after bite to taste and then hover and coo over her as she eats it, because they know she appreciates food as much as a French person. In the movie, her husband Paul (the amazing Stanley Tucci) says it’s because she’s “charmed every French person in France,” which is my personal mission, too. In reality, I don’t think I’ve charmed anyone at all, but I have found that a smile, a solicitation of opinion (“Que preferez vous?”), and a few genuine “mercis” are appreciated and almost always result in something good, and sometimes even a few sample tastes. (Like Julia!)
Free tastes are nice because Paris is expensive. The farther I can stretch my limited money, the longer I get to stay in France, so unfortunately, outside of my daydreams, I don’t go to Michelin-starred restaurants every day. But you can eat really well in France for not a ton of money—at least that’s what people tell me, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do. That’s why this list of delicious things might feel a little random, and to people who’ve lived here a while, boring. Where’s the escargot? The boeuf bourguignon? The foie gras? All I can say is if you want to read about those things more than once a month, you’re probably gonna have to send me lottery tickets or find a new blog.
Without further word adieu, I present, in no particular order, a completely incomplete list of yummy things I’ve eaten in France so far. (Locals or in-the-know visitors, I’d love to hear your favorites, too: please feel free to email me with suggestions of things you’ve tried and loved at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
1) Torsade from corner bakery in the Marais (whose name I don’t know): The difference between a torsade au chocolat and a pain au chocolat is like the difference between, say, Yao Ming firing up threes and me shooting some hoops at the Y. The torsade does not f**k around and I respect that in a pastry. Chocolate is woven all the way through, so you get consistent taste in every bite, unlike a lot of (still delicious) pain au chocolats I’ve tried, which have a singular dry hunk of chocolate in the middle but before and after, leave you a little high and dry. I won’t turn my back completely on the pain au chocolat—we’ve had a real good run, friend—but it simply cannot compete with the sheer volume of chocolate and butter in the torsade, and when it’s warm? Forget. About it.
2) Le Felteu: Maybe I love this place (in the Marais) because it feels like a cross between a biker bar and a home-style village resto; I don’t know, but I’m ready to go back. The lamb is the thing to order, but I liked the sides even better: carrots with butter and thyme, crispy green beans with butter, lemon, and some herb I couldn’t identify but will if I eat them again, and potatoes. Oh. Holy. Crap. The FREAKING POTATOES. A lot of butter, crème fraiche, and more butter. The picture doesn’t do them justice, but believe me when I say that I think about these rich, creamy, gut-busting potatoes at least once a day. (Usually in yoga as I’m balancing on a toe and sweating like an overworked farm animal.) Next time, I’m ordering only the vegetables; I’ll just need to figure out how to ask for that in French before I go. Le sigh.
3) Burrata cheese at Le Ganneron in the 18th: We randomly landed here one night looking for a place to have a drink. We met some nice French men at the table next to us, regulars at Le G, and they recommended this burrata cheese. Super simple but absolutely fresh, it’s topped with olive oil and basil, tomatoes surround it, and it oozes cheesiness when you cut into it, which you then sop up with your baguette, naturally.
4) Onion gallette from the Sunday marché Raspail: Every Sunday, the marché Raspail is all bio (French for organic), and there’s a guy at the end who sizzles up crispy onion gallettes. Get one if you’re here. You’ll have to wait in line, but it’s worth it. (I’ll post a pic of this later – going Sunday.)
5) Carottes Râpées: I’m sure this isn’t a big deal to people who’ve lived here for a while, but I’m mildly obsessed with these carrots – and carrots have never gotten a lot of play in my food daydreams, and yet somehow they appear twice on this list of delicious things. These are absolutely everywhere in Paris. Because they’re so finely grated, they soak up the oil-and-vinegary mixture they’re prepared with and they strike a nice balance of soggy-crisp. Word on the street is that this is what French women eat when they want to lose weight. Which means I should probably eat more of these. (Read more and see a another pic on David Lebovitz’s blog.)
6) Roasted chicken with potatoes: My friend Rana declared this to be “one of the best things in France” and I can’t disagree. The potatoes make the combo, though, because they sit at the bottom of the roaster, soaking up the chicken drippings and getting crisp.
7) Allain Milliat fresh fruit juice: Scene: it was hot and we had just walked up a very steep cobblestoney mountain to get to the top of Le Baux des Provence (me in heels, no less). We were sitting on a terrace, in the middle of a lush green garden, surrounded by the vast gorgeousness of Provence. I ordered this fruit juice because Sandrine’s mom had one, and I couldn’t get over the vibrant tangerine color of her apricot juice. I ordered raspberry; it was fresh, refreshing, and beautiful, a bright hot-pink-and-magenta pop, slightly thick, but more from actual fruit substance, not in the too-sugary-thick way a lot of fruit juices are. Hoping to track these down in Paris as a once-a-week treat.
8) Boninis, random bakery at Rue des Petits Champs and Rue Méhul in the 1st: This bakery doesn’t make a single one of the “best” lists I’ve seen, but I don’t care. I love their boninis, which are similar to beignets (and maybe bonini is “beignet” en francais?), but theirs are way more moist in the middle. Maybe they’re made with brioche; I don’t know. I only let myself order one when I go, which makes the French ladies who work there giggle a little. Clearly those ladies have not seen the list of things I eat, otherwise, they’d not only stop laughing and support my only-one bonini decision, they’d also probably cut it in half.
9) Salade de brique de chèvre: For a country that prides itself on markets full of fresh produce, you have to search pretty damn high and low to find a good salad in Paris, one that’s made with anything besides iceberg lettuce and a few sad mixed greens. (Sometimes I can’t contain the fresh-food California snob in me.) That’s why I love this salad (another staple on brasserie menus, so probably boring to the locals). The chèvre on crisp, warm toast mixed in with the greens pulls the average French salad out of the dumper and transforms its middling existence to greatness, thanks to all the different tastes and textures of crisp lettuce, creamy cheese, and warm toast.
10) Grand Marnier crêpe: Crispy sugar granules + warm liquor = caramel with an alcoholic kick. Even better when you eat it beachside in Cassis. Bonus: they give you these handy tongs to help maneuver it into your mouth and they have a ginormous bottle of Grand Marnier available so that you can pour more over the top after it’s done. Merci beaucoup, crêpe guy.