I’ve decided to dedicate a whole post to what I normally eat here in France. People have asked me about it and I’m sure people who have never been to France are curious; after all, French cuisine is supposed to be world famous, and the food of a country is so indicative of its culture. So without further ado, here is my list, by no means complete:
- Duck – Remember that scene in Forrest Gump where Bubba is talking about all the different ways to cook shrimp? Well replace “shrimp” with “duck” and that’s about how every menu in the South of France reads.
- Foie gras – A very important sub-category of duck is Foie gras. It means “fat liver” in French, and that’s exactly what it is. It’s the liver of a duck who has been stuffed with corn. Foie gras was actually outlawed recently in California when they passed a law banning the sale and consumption of food produced by the force-feeding of animals. This has led all of Toulouse and South West France to passionately hate California, insisting that they don’t force feed the ducks.
I’ve only had foie gras once so far, but I personally don’t see what the big deal is. To me it has the texture of tofu and is a bit sour. But it’s popular during the Christmas season, so maybe I’ll learn to like it.
- Pâté – Pâté means “paste” in French and that’s pretty descriptive. Pâté consists of groud meat and fat that you spread on bread and eat. I like the consistency and it comes in different meats and different yummy flavors like “Tomatoes and Basil” or “Olive oil and garlic”. I eat this almost every day, I’m a fan. It also is ususally made from duck, although not necessarily.
- Bread – Yes, everything you have heard is true. The French eat bread for every single meal. And it’s usually fresh, baked and bought that morning. I’m a big bread fan, so this cultural aspect is something that I will miss when I go back to America. Croissants, baguettes, brioche (soft sweet bread)… mmm. One time, when Michel was out of town, Liliana came to apologetically inform me that she had not bought bread for dinner and didn’t feel well enough to go buy some. She was clearly not expecting my nonchalant reaction of “Ok”. “But what will you eat??” she asked, very worried. I laughed and said “You know it’s possible to eat dinner without bread”, a thought that had clearly not occurred to her before. That night I became the first person in France to eat dinner without bread.
- Cheese – Everything you have heard about this one is also true. There are so many different types of cheese, one for each day of the year, they joke. I hate to admit this, but I’m not a huge fan of French cheese. I suppose it’s just too refined for my simple American taste buds, but I haven’t tasted that many that I like.
- Sausage – It’s dried, it’s fatty, and it’s shaped like intestines. All my favorite things!
- Wine – I feel like this list is one big stereotype, but hey, stereotypes come from somewhere! Wine is served every night with dinner, but I usually opt for water. We all know how much I love water.
- Quiche – Everyone knows what quiche is right? I’m a big fan of quiche. Michel’s specialty is quiche Lorraine (ham and cheese), and Liliana makes an awesome leek quiche.
Other than the items listed above, what we eat is not that different from what my family eats in the US. For dinner we’ve had soups, different meats, vegetables, salad, etc. Unfortunately, I’m saddened to report that there is a decided lack of chips and salsa.
In addition to different foods, there are also different rituals and rules surrounding food in France. To give you a real insight into French culture, let me share with you some of the egregious food errors I have committed since being here.
- Eating cheese with the wrong type of bread. This actually happened before I came to France, when Vlad and I were in Atlanta. I can’t remember exactly what I did, but I think it involved spreading soft cheese on a croissant (soft bread). Apparently soft cheese goes on hard bread, and hard cheese goes on soft bread. Or maybe it’s the reverse. Anyways, I told Vlad to get over himself, I can eat whatever bread/cheese combination I want!
- Eating meat and cheese/ pâté and cheese together on bread. I know right? How dare I! One day for lunch, Vlad and I were eating a combination of these things and I thought “Hey, I like this meat, and I like this cheese, why not eat them together?” Oh no. Apparently when you do that you can’t appreciate the flavor of each individually. Then to really make him fall out of his chair, I ate pâté and cheese together on bread. His response (always in good humor): “I can’t believe you would disrespect the pâté that way by diluting it’s taste with cheese. It’s a good thing my father’s not here to see this.” It’s a wonder sandwhiches ever caught on here…
- Drinking tea before/with dinner. This one had something to do with the taste of the tea not being complimentary with the taste of what we were having for dinner, and the dinner ruining the healing effect of the tea. Or something like that. All I know is that when Liliana and Michel entered the kitchen before dinner to see me sipping on tea, uproar ensued. My seemingly simple logic of “My throat hurts now, therefore I want relief now” couldn’t sway them. “Besides” Liliana insisted, “it’s best to drink tea before going to bed.” “I can fix more tea before going to bed.” There was no possible retort to that one, and the protests subsided. I’m still scratching my head about this one.
In response to all of the above instances, I wanted to put my hand on my hip, do a sassy finger snap, and shout “I can eat whatever I want!” And that is big difference between France and the US.