Free Falafel!

There’s a little bit of a war going on here in Paris on the rue des Rosiers, in the Marais. The Rue Des Rosiers is the Jewish street, sporting several good (and a few bad) bakeries, a few chic clothing stores, but a string of fafafel stands and restaurants. The most famous, L’As du Falafel, is always crowded, and teeming with locals, who come for their Heeb-Hop (Hebrew-Hop, as we call it), and tourists, who’ve read about L’As du Falafel in their guidebooks.

I always feel sorry for the other places on the street. There’s often deserted, while the throngs of people line up at L’As in search of their falafel-fix. The only time they seem to generate any interest is when L’As du Falafel closes for the Sabbath, on Friday nights and Saturdays. But a few weeks ago I started noticing handwritten signs on the place across the street, Mi-Va-Mi, with slogans like “Taste and Compare”, daring to take on the Ace o’ Falafel, just across the street.

Today as I stop by to get my weekly falafel, making a beeline for L’As, I notice a swarm of missionaries agressively confronting passers-by with plates brimming with warm falafel, followed closely by someone with a guest-check book, pen-to-the-paper, ready to take their order. The scene was curious, since the French haven’t quite grasped the concept of ‘Free Samples’ (or competition). When I asked a French friend why anyone rarely offers samples, I was told “Because it’s not ‘correct’. But there’s a guy at the fromagerie on the Î’le St-Louis who’s making a killing offering samples to passers-by, mostly tourists, who get one taste of great French cheese, and invariably come in and make a purchase.

Correct or not, that dude is rakin’ it in.

So although there’s no such thing as a free lunch, especially in Paris, there’s lots of free falafels to be had this week as the street is abuzz with people bearing heaping bowls of freshly-fried falafels. I don’t know how long it will last, and the offer doesn’t extend to those who’ve already purchased. (I tried to get one of the falafel-pushers to augment my half-eaten sandwich, but being très Paris, there’s little interest in the customer after the sale.)

And in an unlikely show of unity, as I was finishing up, I saw one of the fellows from L’As du Falafel pop one of his crisp falafels in the mouth of his main competitor, a woman who was offering falafels from Mi-Va-Mi. She stopped, took a taste, and nodded in agreement before going back to offering her falafels to all takers.

So perhaps there’s something to be said for the absence of competition.

(Although I appreciate the presence of free samples.)

L’As du Falafel
34, rue des Rosiers
Tél: 01 48 87 63 60

Mi-Va-Mi
27, rue des Ecouffes
Tél: 01 42 71 53 72

Stupid Boy

One of the hardest things about living in any foreign country is, of course, the language. Seriously, learning any language is really hard I’m sure, but anyone who can master French, who wasn’t pushed from the womb and spent their lifetime in an all-French speaking environment, I take my chapeau off to you. For the rest of us, it’s a challenge. Even the most mundane task, like writing a check, often requires a consultation with le dictionnaíre.

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English ain’t so easy either. And perhaps, inadvertently, they’re closer to the truth.

Last week, for example, I was looking for hand lotion (sans le dictionnaíre). As I combed the aisles at Monoprix, I finally found the moisturizer aisle, lined with lots of pretty pink and white bottles. So I picked a few up, reading the labels. After a careful reading and I finally found one that seems like what I was looking for, “Hmmm, that seems about right,” I thought to myself. As I go, I notice I’m getting some strange looks from the women milling around me, but assume it’s because they’re not used to people reading the labels of moisturizers as if they were Camus. As I make my way to the caisse, the cashier, while standing in line, I re-read the label, picking up a line on the label noting the lotion I’m toting around was intended for cleansing, um, shall we say, ‘intimate areas’. And presumably not for men.

(And even if I was, do you think I’d share that with you here?)

So it was no wonder that I got a few strange looks going back, trying to be non-chalant, and returning it to the shelf avoiding eye-contact with anyone in the process.

I’ve gotten in so much trouble mangling the language it’s no longer funny (well, actually it is…) One of my most infamous stories, that I think I may have recounted here before, I was at my favorite épicerie and I wanted red currant, or groseille jam.
So in my picture-perfect French, I said, “Je voudrais le confiture de gros selles (which I pronounced as ‘gross sells’), s’il vous plait.” She looked at me, her eyes incredulous that she couldn’t possibly believe her ears.
It was after a moment, I realized I meant groseilles (pronounced ‘gro-zay’).
I had asked for Big Turd Jam.

But even the French have trouble with their own language. I was at the Petit Palais museum recently with a gal pal (see video above), and came across a Nature Morte, which literally translates to ‘Dead Nature’, but actually means ‘Still Life’. There was one Nature Morte ‘aiguière’, a still life of a peeled orange. So I asked the attendant what an ‘aiguière was, and she was stumped. So she asked another attendant, who didn’t know either. It’s not even in my dictionary, which boasts 120,000 traductions. (Béa…help!)

About a year ago, I had just returned for leading a tour to Italy. My group visited Biella, a city famous for its mountaintop convent. One you’ve made the climb up to the majestic mountain, ensconced in the convent is a Madonna, made of black wood. She’s known, of course, as The Black Madonna (not to be confused with the Jewish Madonna, in America.)

At a dinner party back in Paris, I was recounting how exciting it was to climb this mountain in Italy, to see the ‘Verge noir’.
“It’s amazing, so beautiful to see,” I continued, “and people came from all over to see and worship the verge noir!”

Meanwhile, everyone’s looking at me with a bit of shock, and panic. As I keep talking, I’m explaining the beauty and magnificence of le verge noir. “It’s fantastic. Really a magnificent work of art”, until a friend leans over and says that he thinks I mean the magnificent ‘vierge noir’, the black virgin.

Not the magnificent ‘verge noir’, the black penis.

Ahem!

So I took it with a grain of salt when a French friend started calling me “Stupid boy!, which I told him was somewhat impolite. Then I realized what he meant to say, perhaps, was “Silly boy.” Or I hope he meant to say that.
Now to Anglophones, they are two very different things, but to a non-native English speaker, they’re rather different in meaning. “Don’t be stupid” is far different than “Don’t be silly.”

And, yes, sometimes even I am a stupid boy. For example, I know very little about some things, like Armagnac.
But the great thing about being a wonderful, giving, and caring person, is that occasionally you get rewarded for it and lavish gifts get bestowed upon thee.
Or me.

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The Best Armagnac in the World

After leading a Paris Chocolate Tour last spring, some of my guests bestowed upon me these lovely bottles of Armagnac. Of course, I was thrilled especially since the packaging revealed they were from Michel Chaudun’s chocolate shop and one had a lovely box of his superb chocolates discreetly hidden inside. But I wasn’t aware of how truly special those bottles were. When I wrote Kate about them, who lives in Gascony (the epicenterfor Armagnac), I could hear the gasp all the way to Paris, and she told me that I didn’t just have “the best”, but that I had “the best of the best”.

Living in France, I like to try a new cheese, wine, or whatever I can get my hands on (except tripe, which I don’t feel any great need to familiarize myself with), tasting new things while mulit-tasking and expanding my vocabulary. And although I thought my precious bottles of Armagnac might remain on my Too Good To Use shelf, they didn’t for very long.

So I may be a ‘Stupid Boy’, but I do know about baking and chocolate. And so you’re not a ‘Stupid Boy’ (or girl) you might want to know that Champagne Chocolate Truffles don’t contain any Champagne, but are made with Cognac. I got into an online tiff on eGullet with someone who insisted I was wrong (and some of those eGullet folks get real nasty). She had seen a New York-based French chocolatier on television pour Champagne into his truffle mix. When I went to look at his recipe, sure enough, he did use true Champagne. He also called for a specific brand, and after some checking, I found out…surprise!…the Champagne company is one of his many sponsors.

But for the most part, Champagne in truffles means Cognac and derives from the old French term champaigne which means ‘open-field’, according to the Bureau National Interprofessional du Cognac.
(If that woman from eGullet is reading this, take it up with them, girlfriend…)

Both Armagnac and Cognac are distillations made from grapes, varieties which are generally not used for making ordinary table wine. Like Cognac, Armagnac is a region in France. It’s closely associated with Gascony and it’s cuisine (prunes and Armagnac, for example) and produced in the Pyrenees.

Cognac is farther north, on the Atlantic coast, near where oysters are farmed off the Ile de Ré. The salt from the region is famous as well. Armagnac is distilled once, while Cognac is distilled twice and I find when tasting the two, Armagnac feels more rugged to me, which is part of its appeal. Its flavors seems to be fuller and more complex while Cognac is more delicate and refined. It’s been said that “Cognac is the girl you can bring home to meet your parents, while Armagnac is the one you keep hidden away.”

So if I was making chocolate Champagne Truffles, theoretically I’d have to use fine Cognac. But if I had a choice of what to drink, I’m working my way through these bottles of Armagnac, which I’ve decided I’m not going to let sit on the self for too long.

What do you think I am…stupid?

Nuts and Bolts

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Site Changes

You may have noticed I’ve been making several design changes to the site, and I’ve been adding entries about travel to Paris. Since I get so many request, I’ve adding my tips for those who are planning to visit the city, including hotel recommendations, transportation notes, and astuces to make your visit to Paris more fun from an insider’s perspective. You may have noticed I’ve added a few other features to the site, including the Categories on the left-hand side of the screen so you can find things easier (or waste more time while you’re at work). I’ve updated the Links page too, annotating the links and added lots more places, and listing many more sites of friends, for you to visit.

There may also be some goofy-looking posts in the near future, as I’m experimenting with a new blogging tool, Qumana, which formats words into HTML for me, since when you see évêché I need to type the symbolic equivalent of (B)(em)%eacute,v&ecirc,ch%eacute,(/em)(/B) on my mini-Mac laptop screen. So excuse any missteps and misplaced photos while I test out the new tool, and preserve my eyesight too.

Chocolate Tours in Paris and Normandy

We’ve just announced, on my Chocolate Tours page, news about my next Paris Chocolate Exploration with Mort Rosenblum, in May 6-12, 2007. This is a repeat of last year’s sell-out Paris chocolate tour, where once again, our lucky guests will be warmly welcomed into the private workshops my favorite chocolatiers, including Jacques Genin and Jean-Charles Rochoux, and participate in a delicious private chocolate tasting at La Maison du Chocolat.

Since announcing the tour at the beginning of this month, almost half the spaces have been snapped up. So if you’d like to be a part of this incredibly fun chocolate adventure in Paris, you can read more about ithere and follow the link for booking and pricing information.

And yes, that’s Mort on his boat, where we’ll float on the Seine, sipping rosé, eating chocolate, and sampling delicious treats from the city’s finest culinary shops, as we watch the rest of Paris drift by.

Speaking of chocolate, my classes with Susan Loomis at her home in Normandy, On Rue Tatin, are just about sold-out as well. These three days of hands-on cooking classes promise to be great fun, and if you’ve dreamed about cooking up delicious meals, and fabulous chocolate desserts in a magnificent French country kitchen, this is the trip for you. There are just two spaces left for this culinary adventure, and there’s an option to spend an additional day with us in Paris visiting our favorite markets, fromageries, and of course, the prestigious chocolate shops on the Left Bank.

For guests coming to Paris interested in shorter half-day tours, I’ve updated the information about my popular Paris Chocolate Walks and Outdoor Market Tours, and now offer them in friendly small-group tours, making them more accessible to all. You can book online through Context Travel in Paris.

Book Update

My newest book is currently in production (yeah…I made my deadline!), which will be released in the spring of 2007. This month we’re working on the photography and taking lots of photos of all the recipes. Everyone involved has been going full-steam ahead to make sure the book will be beautiful, in addition to being fun to read with hundreds of new recipes. There’ll be almost fifty photographs, taken by one of the top food photographers in America, and I’m thrilled to be working with such a talented team of editors, designers, and stylists.
I’m planning a tour of several cities across the United States in conjunction with its release next spring and you can find out more on my Schedule page, which I’ll update as the dates become available.

Flying The Friendly Skies?

Ok, so they’re not so friendly anymore (Can someone please tell those idiots screaming into their cell phones at the airports to shut the hell up? What is wrong with people?)
In the September issue of Hemispheres magazine for United Airlines, you’ll find my article: Three Perfect Days in Paris. But even if you’re not planning to fly in September, the article will be posted on their web site, and archived there as well, for your future travel planning.

(My Schedule page lists the article as being in the October issue, but United bumped me up a month, although they didn’t offer a bump-up on my next overseas flight.)

France via Flickr

If you’re interested in seeing more of my foodie photos of France and Paris, visit my Flickr page. It’s updated frequently since I’m addicted to my new toy.

Subscribing To The Site

You might have noticed the pretty green box up to the right (well, I think it’s pretty…), where you can subscribe to the site and get updates from me. Normally, I send out about 4 updates a year, a friendly email with up-to-date news and information, but you need not worry about being innundated with emails. Enter your email to be the first to get the news directly from moi.

Your email address is not shared or sold so you won’t get emails hawking videos of sex-crazed lesbian cheerleaders (unless you want) or men’s herbal supplements guaranteed to ‘put an eye out with that thing’ (which don’t work…or so I’ve heard.)

Feed Me!

No, this isn’t a plea for money. For that, you’ll have to wait ’til my next book comes out.
Do you know what an RSS Feed is? It allows you to find out instantly when your favorite sites and blogs, like mine, are updated. (Well, not all sites…Get on the stick, dude!)

You can learn more about RSS Feeders here. Google has come up with their own Google Reader, and there’s several others out there, but if you’re a Mac person, I strongly recommend NewsFire which is incredibly simple to download and use, and melds perfectly into our fabulous Mac desktop designs.

Then you can add this blog to your feed using the icons on the upper right, so you can do a Mac mind-meld with me!

Finally…

Thanks to all for reading the blog, and leaving such fantastic comments. Many of them give me a big grin, and others I find laugh-out-loud funny. Others I find informative, which I’m sure many of the other readers appreciate as well. I appreciate all your positive feedback and thoughtful comments that are left here on the site. Keep ‘em coming!

In the future, I’ll be posting about lots of things, including the world’s best caramels (made with Breton salted butter), a lesson in harvesting salt, new recipes, and more Paris travel ideas and tips. And once the cooler weather of fall returns (it’s pretty brisk now), more Paris chocolate finds and discoveries. Mais oui.

Stay tuned…

Italian Herb Rub Recipe

In spite of the appearance of these herbs, I assure you they’re perfectly legit.
No, I didn’t open up my Pink Floyd double-album to remove any seeds. And no, I wasn’t listening to The Moody Blues at full-volume on my headphones hoping my mom wouldn’t smell anything funny (even though we rolled up a towel and pushed it against the bottom of the door.) And no, I no longer have my strobe light from many years ago when we’d be, um, getting-groovy down in my parents basement, laughing uncontrollably about something that any sane person would have found completely meaningless…as we did, the next day. But they sounded like good ideas at the time. Right?

So now that I’m a law-abiding adult, I get my rush cooking, and this is my stash. My friend Judy showed me how to make this easy herb mixture and now I make it every summer, making sure I’ll have enough to last me through the next twelve months.

It’s simply a mixture of fresh rosemary and sage, all chopped up with garlic and coarse salt. Since we’re just about at the end of fresh garlic season, I made sure to snag a few of the tender, violet-colored bulbs at the market, bringing them up to my nose to ensure they’re aromatic and pungent. Green garlic’s also very easy to peel; the fleshy skin merely slips right off, so you’ll have plenty of time to raid the pantry, on the rampage for anything sweet, just in case you get the munchies.

To make this herb mixture, take a very large bunch of fresh sage and pick the leaves off. Then take a large bunch of rosemary and strip off the oily leaves as well. A good proportion is about 2 to 3 parts sage leaves to 1 part rosemary. Then take about 8 small peeled garlic cloves and a heaping tablespoons of coarse salt (I use grey salt from Brittany) then chop it all up until the herbs are very fine, as shown. Discard any sticks or seeds.

Then spread the chopped mixture on a baking sheet and let it dry for about three days. (Hint: Don’t keep it near an open window where their might be a breeze. It would be a total bummer if you wasted your stash.) Once dry, store your herb in a tighly-sealed in a jar. Dude.

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I use it as an instant rub over poultry, tuna filets, and meat; since I always have some on hand, it’s simple to mix with some good olive oil and rub in in well before roasting.
Judy likes to toss a small fistful in a bowl of olive oil as a dipping sauce, too.
I tasted it once, and found it totally awesome. Although for some reason, we found it hysterically funny.

Reines-Claudes Plums

The first of the Reines-Claudes plums are at the market.

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These tiny, super-sweet little green plums are 18% sugar, one of the highest percentages of all fruits. The true French reines-claudes plums are grown in Moissac, near Toulouse, and are available for just a short time during August.

Get ‘em while you can…

Lamb Tagine Recipe

One of the first lessons I learned on my way to becoming une vrai Parisian was to never, ever be on time. I should backtrack and say: One should never to be on time when invited for dinner party. The hosts, who called with my first invitation to a soirée about a week after I arrived in Paris, said “Come at 8pm…But you know, in Paris, that means to come at 8:30pm.”

Subsequently when I have guests for dinner, I expect them to be around 20 minutes late, although there’s much debate on how late you’re actually supposed to be. But if you’re on time, or early, you might acidentially catch your hosts either in their little DIM skivvies.

Or less-appetizingly, stashing away the Picard boxes.

It’s a tricky balance when you inviting folks for dinner, trying to make sure what dinner’s gonna be hot and well-cooked without having to spend the last 30 minutes trapped in the kitchen while your guests drink up all the rosé. And it’s now become fashionable to be even more late, as if to show that you have oh-just-so-much on your agenda, which has made being tardy something of a status symbol. But if your friends show up one hour late, and you’ve made something like Pork Roast, which can dry out in a minute, you’re screwed. Then you’ll only be thankful for them not arriving early and catching you in your petit slip français.

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In Paris, with so many Arabic butchers around, it’s easy to find cuts of meat that lend themselves to slow-braising and making North African stews like Tagines. Being a pastry chef since the beginning of time, I was always a little terrified of meat, never quite knowing how to handle it. But I bravely started going into the butcher shops, inspecting the enormous slabs of meat trying to look as if I knew something about them, then I’d make my pick. Conveying how to cut it for me is another story, but most of the time, chopping my hands through the air like Helen Keller doing karate seems to get the point across. My Arabic is terrible, so most of the time, I end up brining home a lamb shoulder, since it’s inexpensive, not terribly fatty, and most importantly…easy to point to since they keep them right in front of the butcher cases.
(Ok, lamb shoulder’s also hard to ruin.)

For some reason, leaner cuts of meat usually tastes better in restaurants than when I make them at home. I don’t know why. But stewing cuts of meat, like lamb shoulder, I find I can make taste equally as good, or better, than anything I get when I go out. I’ve been making Tagines for the past few years with great success and once you start with a solid master recipe, like the one below, you can vary it for different kinds of meat or poulty, and you can make them as spicy or aromatic as you want by adjusting the spices. And since most benefit from long, leisurely braise in the oven, they’re perfect when you’re entertaining guests who arrive at various times, leaving you free to assist in the all-important task of making sure you guests have plenty of cool rosé in their glasses. But don’t neglect yours either.

Lamb Tagine
About 6 servings

You can substitute chicken for the lamb. Cut it into 8 pieces and reduce the oven time to about 1 to 1½ hours. I also like to add a handful, say about 1/2 cup (75g) toasted, blanched almonds to the stew during the final 30 minutes of braising, or some green olives. Another option is to add prunes or dried California apricots, which add a sublime sweetness. I used to add strips of salty preserved lemons, but I’d always wake up in the middle of the night ravenously thirsty and have to chug a few liters of water, so now I don’t anymore.

Often Tagines are served with big hunks of softly-baked bread sprinkled with anise seeds, I prepare cracked wheat or bulgur to serve underneat with a bit of chopped parsley added at the end. I’ve find it preferable to bread of couscous since it’s a whole grain and the fabulously nutty and crunchy grains are really a delightful chew.
And so friends can customize their Tagine, I pass little dishes of plumped yellow raisins, homemade sweet shallot marmalade, and toasted chick peas (pois chiche brun) which I find in the Indian markets near La Chapelle, places I often spend hours poking around in.

  • 1 lamb shoulder, cut into 6 pieces (have the butcher do it)
  • vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1½ cups (375 ml) chicken stock (or water)
  • 1 teaspoons dried ginger
  • 1½ teaspoons coarse salt, plus more if necessary
  • 1 teaspoons turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 bunch cilantro (coriandre), rinsed and tied with a string
  • 20 threads of saffron
  • juice of ½ lemon

Up to three days before you plan to make the Tagine, massage the lamb shoulder with the salt and let it sit in the refrigerator before you cook it.

To make the Tagine, in a heavy-duty Dutch oven, heat a few tablespoons of oil and sear the lamb pieces very well, turning them only after they’re nicely dark, browned, and crusty (this helps add flavor to the Tagine.) As you cook them, don’t crowd ‘em in. If your Dutch oven isn’t big enough to cook them all in a single layer at once, brown the lamb pieces in batches.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (175 C). Once the lamb is browned, add the onions and some of the stock, then scrape the bottom of the pan with a flat wooden spatula to release the flavorful browned bits. Add the remaining stock, then the spices, the bunch of cilantro, and the saffron.

Cover the pan and bake in the oven for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, turning the lamb over in the liquid a few times during the oven-braising. The liquid should just be steaming-hot and simmering gently. If it’s boiling, turn down the heat (some Dutch ovens conduct heat differently.) When the meat starts to fall apart easily, that’s when it’s ready. It’s hard to overcook lamb shoulder, so even an extra hour or so in the oven won’t hurt it.

Remove the lid and let the Tagine remain in the oven for another 30 minutes, so the juices reduce, becoming rich and savory.

To serve, remove the cilantro and discard. Squeeze some lemon juice into the liquid and add more salt if you think it needs it. Serve mounds of cracked wheat underneath the Tagine, with lots of the juices poured over. At the table, make sure you have a tube of harissa handy, the fire-y Moroccan hot sauce, for those of us who like spicy food, as I do.

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For dessert, I recommend something fruity and refreshing, like a scoop of Sour Cherry Frozen Yogurt, from my book The Perfect Scoop.

I like it served with a fruity coulis made from red raspberries and cassis (black currants), mixed with sautéed cherries, made from the last cherries of the season, which I’m going to miss terribly.

Cell Phones in France: Staying In Touch On Your Trip To Paris

Paris Sunset

(Note: Some of this information was updated in January 2011. Plans and policies are all subject to change and revision by the various providers. Some updates are at the end of the post.)

If you’re traveling to, and within France, many folks like to stay in touch with home, or want to be able to make and receive phone calls and get messages. So why not pick up a pay-as-you-go phone?

You purchase the phone (most start at 20€) then buy minutes in increments from 5€ to 100€ at any phone store, which are good anywhere from a few weeks to several months, although they do expire at a certain point.

The three principle phone companies in France that offer pay-as-you-go mobile service are:

-SFR

-Bouyges

-Orange

You’ll need to show your passport when buying your phone and signing up for service. When you buy your phone, there are certain phones that are compatible with pay-as-you-go services, while others aren’t, so you’ll need to let them know what kind of service you want.

If you’re French isn’t very good, many of the young people that work in the various mobile phone boutiques in Paris are often interested in practicing their English (yes, really…) and if you get a good one, they can be really helpful. My success rate is about 50/50. And unless you like lines, avoid going first thing in the morning or during lunch hour(s). The other companies mentioned offer similar pay-as-you-go as well at the same price but Orange and SFR have the most locations around France.

Once you buy the phone, you’ll need to buy and load in minutes. You can do this at any phone store and most Tabacs, as well as at some guichet automatiques, or ATM machines. With Orange, for example, you’ll get a receipt with a 16-digit number which you enter into the phone (dial 224 first).

You get three tries, so don’t mess up!
If you do, quelle dommage…you lose the minutes.


    Advantages

  • You get your own phone number (all mobile numbers in France begin with 06) that you can hang on to as long as you want. If your minutes expire and you don’t recharge after a certain period of time, you lose your number and will get reassigned another the next time you visit.

  • You can receive incoming calls from anywhere in the world, free. (In France, you only pay for outgoing mobile phone calls.) You can make calls internationally at the same rate that Mobicarte calls cost.

  • All calls within France are included at the same price.

  • You can buy as much, or as little time, as you wish. If you’re here for 2 weeks, you can just buy 45 minutes worth of calling time. If you need more, just stop in any Tabac of phone store and buy more in a few minutes.

  • Since none of the public phone booths take coins anymore, you don’t need to make a special trip to the Tabac to buy a phone card to use one.

  • You can use the phone over and over, on every trip during your lifetime. In other countries, you can buy a SIM card to transfer the phone service to their system.

  • You can have the phone set in English, so the on-screen instructions are in easier to understand.

    Disadvantages

  • French cell phones can be notoriously quirky. I’ve had several different phones, and many times my phone doesn’t ring if someone calls. More often, there’s no notification that I have a new message, so I have to call and check my voicemail every so often.

  • For Americans who are used to very low-priced cell phone calling, the price here is 6 times more expensive, so you may not want have a long, leisurely phone conversation. But remember, you only pay if you initiated the call.

  • France uses 220V, so you’ll need to recharge your phone in France, not in the United States. I recommend fully-charging it before you leave, so you can use it when you step off the plane on your next visit, if you need to.

  • The mobile phones are overly complicated. You have to scroll through a gazillion menus to get to what you want and press a lot more buttons too. And your phone number isn’t displayed, so you need to write it down elsewhere. (When I asked why, I was told it was “For security.” When I asked what kind of security that provided, they simply shrugged.)

  • The functions are not always explained with on-screen commands, so it can be frustrating to figure out how to do simple tasks like how to change your outgoing message or delete messages, which took me 2 years of asking at the different Orange boutiques to figure out…which no one seemed to know, oddly enough.

Updates

Competition has come to the French mobile phone industry and Virgin Mobile, as well as others, are entering the fray. The prices are similar but worth checking out.

A company called Call In Europe offers SIM cards and inexpensive calling plans, which you can arrange in the United States prior to your trip. Another service is Cellular Abroad, which rents phone for international use and sells various phones with international coverage and SIM cards.

If you have a laptop, Skype works very well and is inexpensive. All you need is an internet connection and a microphone or a laptop with a microphone embedded in it. Skype is also available for iPhones and you can use it wherever there is a WiFi or internet access.

BIC and Orange France have introduced a simple cell phone that’s sold pre-loaded with 60 minutes worth of talk time, for about €30. You’ll get your own number immediately and the phone can be recharged. The phones can be purchased at most Orange boutiques, in train stations and certain tabacs. These are quite easy to use and a good solution, especially since the phone can be reloaded with minutes, as you wish.

For those interested in knowing about their iPhones, check out the article: Using an American iPhone in Europe Without Going Broke, which has options and suggestions for saving money and which phone settings work best to avoid charges.

A company called My Travel Mate offers smartphones to rent on a daily basis with data packs and internet access. Rates start at 5€/day. Other companies that offer phone rentals, some with internet access. (Check fees, which can vary.)

La Poste, the French post office, now sells in addition to calling cards, mobile phones and pay-as-you-go cards and plans from various operators.

How to find and use Wi-Fi in Paris will help those looking to get connected to the internet in Paris.

Seaweed Sandwiches

My first experience with eating seaweed was when my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Barnett, brought in a big bag of gnarled dried Japanese seaweed, presumably to familiarize us with foods from other cultures. Few of us kids growing up in sheltered New England would touch the stuff, although I took a little taste, but didn’t share her enthusiasm for the sea-scented tangle of salty greens.

So she ate the whole bag herself.

Later that day, Mrs. Barnett went home early, doubled-over, and clutching her stomach.

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As an adult, I’ve broadened my horizons, overcome any aversion, but most of the seaweed I consume comes surrounding tekka-make rolls, or other sushis as they’re called in France. (They add the “s” to pluralize them, even though you don’t pronounce it.)

My salt man, Monsieur Dion, who I used to get my fleur de sel and grey sea salt from (before he closed), appeared at my market on Sunday with a big barrel of Salicornes Fraîches, pickled in vinaigre de vin blanc with carrots, onions, and a few branches of thyme, which his brother made in Brittany. When I visited Brittany last summer, we visited Algoplus, where I tasted the locally-harvested salicornes, which had the curious taste of green beans. And in fact, the French call them haricots de mer, or green beans of the sea. In English, they’re called ‘glasswort’. According to Judy Rodgers in, The Zuni Cookbook (a book anyone interested in cooking should own) she includes a recipe for Pickled Glasswort and says the English used to call them “chicken claws”.

While the haricots de mer were tasty, just a forkful was enough, although perhaps anything served with a dollop of crème fraîche, as they were served, certainly seems more appealing. And although I conceded that they were tasty, I resisted the tempation to buy a jar, assuming they’d end up in my ‘Too Good To Use’ shelf (which I feel will soon collapse.)

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After considering their vinegary, cornichon-like taste, I mentioned to Monsieur Dion that they’d be good served alongside or atop something fatty and meaty, like pâte or a rich smear of rillettes, and before I could finish my sentence (which, as a rule, takes much longer for me in French than in English), he produced a platter bearing slices of crusty baguette spread with rillettes de porc, topped with a piece of salicorn. The next day, I used a few slices of toasted pain aux ceriales to make my own sandwich layered with juicy, vibrant-yellow slices of tomato, cured salmon with lots of fragrant dill, a thin layer of coarse-grained mustard, all finished with a squeeze of puckery lemon juice. I topped them off with a few ‘sprigs’ (I guess they’re sprigs, although in French, there’s probably a special word used exclusively for ‘sprigs’ of les salicornes.)

My sandwiches were terrific, and I spent the afternoon not clutching my stomach, but visiting the breathtaking Musée de l’Orangerie, then walking home along the Seine, without incident…and nary a rumble from below.

Algoplus
Zone du Bloscon
Roscoff, France
Tél: 02 98 61 14 14