Recently in Parisian Culture category

La crise de la baguette

Bread

A while back, a food editor in the states asked me to send him daily some ideas for articles that I might want to write-up for them. I thought about it for quite a while, then sent a response for an article with recipes for using up leftover bread, which I tentatively titled: The French Bread Crisis. They kindly responded, thanking me for the idea, but passed on the story. I’m not sure why, but maybe it was because they couldn’t imagine anyone in France having leftover bread lying around.

To avoid this crise, a number of people remarked in the previous post on French supermarkets that they bought Harry’s “American Bread” because the puffy, pre-sliced white loaves lasted quite a bit longer than regular French bread. But I’m still perplexed because what’s the point of living in France if you don’t eat French bread?

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10 Goofy Foods You’ll Find in a French Supermarket

mes 4 croissants opening croissant

1. Mes 4 Croissants

Poppin’ fraîche has gone global and even with over 1200 bakeries in Paris, why would anyone bother walk all the way across the street to get a fresh, buttery croissant in the morning, that only costs 90 centimes, when you can simply unroll a package of doughy crescents and never slip out of that comfy peignoir de bain? For all you lazy types out there, I took a bullet for you and tried them out.

And speaking of taking bullets, when I peeled back the first layer of the package, the dough exploded with a startlingly loud pop, which so shocked me that I jumped as the dough quickly expanded as it burst from its tight confines. I almost had a crise cardiaque.

rolling croissants

The ingredient list was nearly as wordy as the instructions but the upside is that I learned a few words to add to my French vocabulary, such as stabilisant and agent de traitement de la farine. (Margarine, I already knew). As they baked, my apartment took on the oddly alluring scent of the métro stations equipped with “bakeries” that “bake” croissants this way, whose buttery odors may – or may not – be a result of some sort of traitement.

unrolling croissant dough  croissants

One thing I often have to remind people is just because something is in French, like croissant or macaron (or elementary school lunch menus), doesn’t mean it’s a good version of that item. Just like one could conceivably call a hot pocket of dough with some warm stuff in the middle a calzone, after ripping off an end of one of the soft, spongy crescents, in the words of the late, great Tony Soprano..with all due respects, I’ll stick with the croissants pur beurre from my local bakery. Even if I have to put on something other than my bathrobe in the morning to get them.

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La Caféothèque de Paris

coffee roasting

I’ve pretty much said everything I could about the “coffee issue” in Paris here*, but one place that’s trying to buck the trend is La Caféothèque, a shop and café that roasts coffee beans from all over the world. It’s also one of the (very) few places in Paris where I’ve seen a person preparing café express (espresso) correctly, using a tamping device, and actually taking great care with the coffee they’re serving.

A place that roasts and grind their owns beans is no longer a big deal back in America. Of course, it’s gotten a little overdone with all the pomp and circumstance just to get a cup of coffee. (I prefer the Italian model of lining up at the counter, having a quick, well-made shot, then moving on, rather than the whole big to-do in certain places just to get a cup of coffee.) But in Paris, it’s practically unthinkable to roast your own beans, or spend a lot of time preparing the coffee. Yet a few savvy and concerned coffee lovers have opened a handful of coffee shops that specialize in using good beans, properly roasted, and preparing the coffee with care and attention to flavor. It’s a trend that many of us here are hoping will continue.

coffee grinder controls

I was meeting a writer who is researching coffee at La Caféotheque, who’d brought me a lovely gift of coffee beans, just-roasted, from one of those groovy coffee places back in the states.

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Scratchy-Backside Jam

confiture de grattes culs

I’ve sometimes been surprised by how cavalier bodily functions are discussed in France. I consider myself a pretty open person, but sometimes things get discussed that make me a little uncomfortable. And I’ve learned that being undressed in front of others is no big deal. I’ve always been fine with public nudity—well…as long as it wasn’t me—but I’ve had to modify that stance a little since I moved here.

Last week I went back to my sock store and they had a man come and measure my legs. (That may be because my last visit probably sent the elderly salesclerk into her early retirement.) I stripped down to my euro-briefs and he ran that tape measure up and down my legs and around my calves, at one point using his thumb to firmly hold the end of the tape measure down on the end of, um…somewhere relatively private…that would not have made me all that uncomfortable except he did it with all the care of someone trying with great purpose to jam a thumbtack into a concrete wall.

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French Food Stamps

stamps

La Poste takes a lot of knocks. But one of the differences I’ve noticed between France and America is that the public services work a lot better than the private ones here. Part of it, I think, is that the French identity is very well wrapped-up in its vast network of public service programs. And if you’ve read about the rash of the unfortunate suicides by long-time France Telecom employees, it’s been noted that many of them may have become depressed when their employer became more of a commercial (and commercially viable) enterprise than a public service one.

(French Residents: I’ll let those of you insert your experiences with France Telecom here, old and new…)

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Le sandwich at Le Petit Vendome

le sandwich

It wasn’t so long ago that if you were walking down the street, or eating in public in Paris, you might get tsk-tsk’d. When I first started visiting Paris, I remember disapproving stares if you were standing on the sidewalk, jamming food into your craw. Croissants got a pass, because they were sort of designed to be consumed on-the-go. And honestly, who can expect anyone to be handed a small paper bag with a steaming-hot buttery croissant in it and walk more than ten paces before diving in to it?

(I also remember way back in 1979 when I first visited Europe and went to a supermarket, and after my twenty items was rung up and paid for, I discovered that there were no bags to put purchases in. So I had to gather everything up the best I could in my arms and try to get them all back to the youth hostel.)

A couple of years ago there was an anti-eating campaign on the métro depicting an obviously Italian man eating a fat, presumably pungent sandwich, surrounded by other passengers who weren’t so happy sharing the same car with a man and his lunch. That set off another kind of stink and the ads were pulled down for being pejorative.

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The French Bread Machine

I was a little surprised when I moved to France and learned that bread machines were popular here. I was equally surprised to see a generous selection of frozen breads at Picard, the chain of stores that spans across France which sport a comprehensive, and somewhat impressive, selection of frozen entrées, appetizers, main courses, and fancy desserts. Out of curiosity, I’ve tried a few things, and came to the conclusion that most of it tastes like the food you hoped to be served on an airplane, and might be if you were seated in business class.

Interestingly, I have not met a French person that ever had a bad think to say about Picard. In fact, a survey showed that it’s the most popular chain in France. Even people I know who are accomplished home cooks rave about it. I have to say that I like the frozen pitted sour cherries, and the corn kernels taste good to homesick Americans, especially when sautéed with ancho chile powder, butter, and cilantro, but I don’t crave frozen sushi nor do I need (or have space in my freezer for) a bag of already chopped onion pieces.

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French Handwriting

menu

One of the things that really wows me about Paris isn’t the chocolate shops, the bakeries, the outdoor markets, or the way people let their dogs just go wherever they happen to want to go; it’s the handwriting.

The French have always been expressive, and expansive, letter writers. If you don’t believe me, you can find online and in books, elaborate forms, templates, and discourses on how to write a letter in French, including the proper opening and closing phrases to use, which, of course, vary tremendously depending on if it’s a formal or familiar contact you’re penning that letter to.

I tend to want to end all letters simply by saying “Cordialement, David”. Because it just seems so easy and to the point. I’m both cordial and polite at the same time, as well as terse and in my book, that’s the trifecta. Or maybe because I live in the age of Twitter and text messaging and tend to write in sound-bites. Or more likely, I’m just too lazy to do the hours of research to find the right way to open and close a letter in French.

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