Recently in Parisian Culture category

Le casque

bike helmet

One of the great things about living in Paris is that it’s a pretty good city for bicycling. It’s relatively flat, the city has installed a network of bike paths, many one-way streets have been accommodated with a special lane off to the side for bicyclist going the other way (provided you don’t mind the terror of seeing a car coming at you full-speed, head on), and in spite of what’s between those previous parentheses, Parisians actually respect bicyclists. Even though pedestrians n’existe pas, I think that comes from the fact that a lot of drivers are actually cyclists themselves, or were in the past.

But unlike America, where people like to do things like see how close they can sideswipe cyclists, just for fun (often with a “Hey, the road is for cars!” – before speeding off, chuckling at how clever they are), bicycles are just a natural part of the streets and roads in Paris. One does need to be careful, though, because people in Paris drive like they walk, and there doesn’t always seem to be much sense of order to it and spatial relationships are…well, sometimes those n’existe pas as well.

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L’évier

sink1

One of the things I absolutely insisted on in my kitchen was a huge sink. Since I spend roughly 11 to 18% of my day standing over it, considering some women spend a fortunes on tall shoes, and there are men who spend a lot of money on fancy, oversized watches – and vice versa – I thought I was entitled to a big sink. However finding one was a whole ‘nother story. Long gone are the days of “French farmhouse sinks” and any that you are likely to find are either still firmly installed in French farmhouses – and aren’t for sale – or the ones that are for sale are only available in America and England.

I didn’t think it would be so hard to find a big, simple, white sink of generous proportions, but it took me two months of searching and walking past sinks with decorative curls and swoops carved into them, which are marvelous places for gunk to collect. And perhaps to hide any bits and crumbs, there were no shortage of sinks in colors like aubergine (eggplant) or citron vert (lime green), or with basins so tiny that they would barely hold a regular-sized dinner plate. I finally tracked down the one company in France that makes the one large sink that is sold here. And, as is often the case, there was a rupture de stock and no one seemed to know when they’d be available again.

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Ice

ice water

My new refrigerator has an ice maker. After living in Paris for close to ten years, I’ve kind of gotten used to not having ice-on-demand. And when out and about, I’m now used to being served drinks with just one puny ice-cube bobbing sadly on the surface of a tepid drink. So now, when I go back to the states, I’m always a little overwhelmed by the oversized glasses filled to the brim with brisk, frosty, cracklin’ ice cubes. Because I’ve rounded the corner of converting to some of the European habits (although the 5hr cycle on my dishwasher still baffles me – what the heck is going on in there?) I sometimes have to slip into that “Can I have water with no ice, please?” mode, which pegs me squarely in the minds of American waitpeople as one of “those” customers.

But the glacial movement that’s spread across North America doesn’t seem to be reserved just for France; it seems that there is a European conspiracy against the chilly beasts. One I got used to no ice, I really stopped giving ice much thought. But when visitors come, they would always want me to ask the café waiter for some extra ice for their drinks. Then the glass of ice arrives, with a long spoon, which they shovel into their drinks, scraping the bottom of the glass so as not to miss one single drop of the still-cold water.

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3/4

rose and strawberries

One of the things about the French that’s pretty well-known is that they certainly enjoy their wine. While statistics point to declining sales and consumption, I’d still dare to say that wine plays a very important role in French culture, as well as an integral part of its cuisine. And for that second one, I’m especially grateful.

I like wine, and being from California – and working in restaurants all of my life – I’m certainly no stranger to the pleasures of “the grape.” But even though wine has been simplified in America to boost consumption, such as wines with fruit-flavorings (I guess ‘grape-flavored’ wine isn’t enticing enough), there still is a bit of elitism associated with le vin. Yet in France, wine is no big deal and the wine aisle at the supermarket is just as big, if not bigger, than the mustard, coffee, paper towel, vinegar, sterilized milk, pasta, cereal, baby food, jam, and rice cake aisles – combined. It even threatens the yogurt selection in terms of scope, variety, and flavors.

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10 Ideas for Food Trucks in Paris

Pierre Hermé Truck

Aside from a few crêpe stands here and there, Paris isn’t a city known for street food. And malheureusement, that Pierre Hermé truck isn’t open for business…although wouldn’t that be nice.

(However if it was, I would probably race around my house in search of spare change every time I heard it coming toward me, like I did when the Good Humor ice cream truck approached when I was a kid. Or haranguing my poor mother to dig furiously through her purse to dig up 40 cents for a toasted coconut ice cream bar to calm down her semi-hysterical child.)

Sure, come mid-day, the sidewalks of Paris are packed with people scarfing down les sandwichs (sic), which seem to have taken over as the lunch of choice in Paris. It’s nice to see the crowds and lines at the local bakeries, but it’s sad to see the long(er) lines at Subway sandwich shops, which I suspect are because people are craving a little creativity with what’s between the bread. And while the one Subway sandwich I had in my life was inedible – I didn’t realize you could screw up a sandwich…until then – I think the locals are fascinated by the varieties offered. Plus they’re made-to-order, and served warm.

The French do have versions of les ventes ambulantes, such as the pizza trucks parked alongside the roads in the countryside and there are the gorgeous spit-roasted chickens sold at the markets and butcher shops in Paris. But recently an American launched a roving food truck in Paris to staggering success, and a second one followed her lead. And judging from the line-up, it’s mostly French folks angling for a bite to eat.

While I’m happy for my fellow compatriots, and I love a good burger as much as the French seem to (judging from the crowds), I can’t help thinking how kooky it is that American cooks get to have all the fun, and some French cooks might want to get in on the action. Here’s a few ideas I’ve been thinking about…

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The Padlocks of Paris

Pont des Arts, Paris

The love locks are a curious phenomenon in Paris. Although Parisians have a reputation for being romantic, they’re not necessarily known for spontaneity. Strikes are planned well in advance so everyone can prepare, people have their favorite bakeries which they frequent regularly, and folks keep to themselves on the métro. One might say that moderation is generally the watchword – one doesn’t want to be too gregarious, overtly emotional, or act in ways that might be too forthcoming or in a manner which might draw undue attention to oneself.

hearts - Pont des Arts, Paris

The city itself also doesn’t like to take any chances and perhaps rightfully so, to preserve the look and feel of Paris. So much so that when love locks appeared a few years ago on the Pont des Arts, there seemed to be some mystery to what actually happened to them during one fateful night.

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La baguette

baguette

Some time ago I switched my allegiance to grainy bread. Perhaps it was because I was thinking, “If I’m going to eat all this bread around here, I should at least be eating grainy bread.” Or perhaps I got bored with the one-note flavors of white bread, and began enjoying the fuller flavors of whole grain loaves. But over the last few weeks, while I’ve been in between kitchens (and toasters), I now wake up each morning with the sole goal of scoring a fresh baguette for breakfast.

I’m often asked what I would miss about Paris when I’m not here, and although you can pretty much get anything you want nowadays anywhere in the world (thank you, internet…well, I think…), the bread in Paris is still pretty great. Not every bakery makes a good baguette, but when you get a perfect specimen, one that crunches audibly when you bite through the crust and the inside has a creamy color and a slight tang from a bit of levain – save for a swipe of good butter or a bit of cheese – anything else is simply unnecessary.

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Pear-Fennel Soup

 pear fennel soup

I just learned a few more words to add to my French vocabulary while in the throes of remodeling this week. I already wrote about the five or six words in French for sink. And I finally got the difference between a mitigeur and a robinet (a mitigeur has one knob “mixes” the water, and a robinet has two knobs). Fortunately the word is the same no matter what size sink you have. Well, unless you have a commercial sink, in which case it’s a mélangeur. So if you ever come to France and want to find a faucet for a hospital sink, you can thank me for saving you three weeks of work.

Speaking of work, my quest for regular floor tiles finally came to an end last Friday. I was looking for off-white tiles that had to meet three criteria; 1) They couldn’t be insanely expensive (which wiped out about three-quarters of the tiles I saw), 2) They couldn’t have beige in them (Why would anyone want white tiles tinted with beige, which right out of the box makes them look old and dirty?), and 3) They couldn’t be ugly. (I know they’re just going to see the bottom of your shoes, but why are the majority of tiles ugly?)

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