French food is really good. Another shock! I hope you were sitting! But what I really mean is that American food is really bad. Not all of it, of course, but if I go into a restaurant chosen at random in the U.S.A., I will expect that the vegetables will be mediocre and out of season, the proteins are frozen, and at least one item will have been pre-made and poured out of a packet. In France, choose any random restaurant in any little village and you can expect the following:
- the produce is fresh and in season
- the bread was made this morning at a local bakery
- all of the meat and dairy is fresh
- the sauces are made in-house, from scratch
- 80% of the products being served are local.
All of this means smaller menus (generally) and more similarity among dishes from place to place. It also means that if you order a salad, it will be fresh, filling, and delicious.
|Chèvre chaud from our local brasserie - hot goat's cheese, honey, and walnuts|
|Duck salad with warm potatoes, in the tiny village of Murol|
|Salmon carpaccio salad from a chain restaurant in downtown Clermont-Ferrand - the only place that was open on a Sunday. This was my first meal in France!|
Kids' menus are more popular than I imagined they would be! Unfortunately, the 'menu enfant' tends to mimic its American cousins - lots of fried foods, few vegetables, ketchup abounds. It's nice for Lincoln and Sylvia to have some familiar options, but often we'll encourage them to share an adult meal instead. "Le burger en partage pour les enfants, s'il vous plaît, avec les haricots verts." Here are a couple examples of kids' meals in France.
|Calamari "beignets" with fries. That was a weird one!|
|Pastries, of course. Always pastries.|
We do eat at home a lot, too! But I'm still adjusting to the French style of housekeeping and cooking. Our refrigerator is about 1/3 the size of the one we had at home, and the freezer is about the volume of a shoebox. One walks to the outdoor market on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings to buy fresh produce, cheese, meat, bread, and other necessities. Small supermarkets exist about every fourth block and contain small packages of everyday necessities - including excellent bottles of wine for 3-5 Euros apiece.
All of this means that I'm shopping constantly, and still learning to resist the temptation to buy one of every single gorgeous vegetable on market day - there'll be another one in a couple of days! Fruits and vegetables rot within two days, too, which really grosses me out when I think about how long it lasts in the United States. Clearly it's been treated with some kind of preserving agents, and that's distressing.
Making our favorites from home is a challenge. I don't have a transformer for my KitchenAid yet, so I can't make bread or some of my favorite baked goods. I tried pizza the other day, and it was alright, but shredded mozzarella and pepperoni are impossible to find. I did locate "for pizza" cheese in a Carrefour store, but it was 30% Emmental. Evidently in this region, Emmental cheese is for everything. It's shredded, sliced, and ubiquitous - and it tastes weird on pizza. I can find fresh mozzarella easily, but it's not what I wanted for pizza, either. Still, yum.
Ben and Jerry's is here too, but we haven't indulged yet.
Now let's talk about the local specialities. First among them: TRUFFADE.
|The one on the left was the best - and it had the cheese "for pasta." Still contained Emmental.|
|If your mouth isn't watering, I don't know you.|
Sliced potatoes, cantal cheese, garlic, and salt. Cooked in a cast-iron skillet and served with salad, bread, and jambon - another ubiquitous food in Auvergne! It is heavenly, and it's available everywhere, even in the hot summer. Next up: les entrees.
Entrees in French are appetizers. This was at a place in Place de Jaude, the tourism and commercial center of Clermont. As always, everything is seasoned perfectly - and Lincoln even liked the escargots!
|Foreground - garlic butter escargots (snails) served en croute with a beautiful sauce underneath. Background - charcuterie plate with foie gras.|
|Another local specialty - aligot. Mashed potatoes with melted cheese whipped in.|
Last Friday night, we went out to dinner with our good friends the Priors, and unfortunately fell victim to the French habit of eating dinner late. This would be fine for the adults, but the kids have been going to bed at 8:00, and on that night, dinner started at 8. At Josh's suggestion, we tried Le Kitchen - and it was wonderful. I didn't get a picture of our gorgeous salads, but the menu enfant had truffade for Lincoln, and beef stew with green lentils for Sylvia. Josh's and my food was even more impressive.
|A very happy man, with a very rich dish containing foie gras.|
|Mashed potatoes, summer vegetables, and duck breast roasted with a 'yakitori' style soy glaze. Heaven.|
|The mademoiselle with her coufidou. The tenderest piece of beef I've had in France was inside that beautiful bowl!|
We paid the price for keeping the kids up too late, and I wound up carrying a very tired Sylvia home on a bus rather than walking back to where we'd parked the car. Josh brought our desserts home and we had them for breakfast the next morning, which I foresee happening again in the future!
The food in France is just as delicious as you'd imagine, and I'm off to go eat some more of it. If only I could include fresh bread, pastries, and unpasteurized cheese in a care package, I would! Since that won't work, you'll just have to come and visit.