La Gastro

When I used to get sick in America, I would get congested, a sore throat, sometimes a runny nose, and a fever.

In France, whenever I get sick, it bypasses every other organ and heads straight to my stomach.

I don’t know if it’s the rich foods, the dubious rules of storage, or a new set of germs as foreign to me as the 14 different tenses of French verbs.
But since arriving in France a few years ago, I’ve been felled by a few serious bouts of la gastro.

Yes, even though some people think I’m too careful about hygiene than I should be (and no, I don’t scrape up chocolate off the floor and re-use it either), I suppose it’s just a matter of taking chances before all those unrefrigerated dairy products, rosy-pink, barely-singed beef and pork, eating an unusually large amount of raw cookie dough, and touching the petri dish-like metal handrails on the mètro, would eventually catch up with me.

The changing face of French hygiene?

So last week my descent began when I was at le cinema, watching Walk The Line. I started feeling dizzy. Figuring maybe I was sitting too close to the screen, I moved back. I still felt funny in the gut, so I unbuckled my belt (Now I wonder if anyone was looking and thought I was the neighborhood perv.)

By the middle of the movie, I was fighting the urge to race to the bathroom. The movie was so good and I didn’t want to miss the last part, where Reese Witherspoon had her hair all teased-up in the front, real pretty and all.

Luckily I made it through, but I got home and was shaky, feverish, and ready to hit the bedroom.
(After a slight detour to another room pronto.)


I may be shallow, but the good thing about stomach flu is that you can eat whatever you want when it’s all over. Hell, you’ve just lost 10 pounds. The whole experience wasn’t pretty nor was it easy, was it? So eat up. You’ve earned it. And those new abs ain’t gonna be around forever.

But while you’re lying in bed, semi-delirious, mustering all your energy to lift the remote control, all you want is a bowl of nice, hot chicken soup. Unless if you’re Jewish. Since at the same time you’re imagining that you’re certain to be remembered as the first person in France to fall victim to the Avian Flu.

Is that me, on the right?

Which certainly presented me with a deathbed dilemma: If the chicken from the market I ate made me sick and will be the end to life on earth it as we know it, how does one justify eating hot chicken soup as a cure? Is it like making anti-venom for snakebites out of the venom of the deadly snakes? Is it another of the great Jewish dilemmas?

(The other dilemma is bacon at half-price.)

So I got into bed with my laptop, the modern equivalent of the teddy bear, armed with the remote control, to watch the Olympics. A bit too much gyrating, sequins, and glitter…would I later suffer from Post-Glitter Disorder, like Mariah Carey, I imagined? All those twirling, glittery dudes gliding across the rink. (Is there anyone in the universe, outside the skating world, or a few Eastern European countries, that finds those men’s outfits even remotely attractive or flattering? And why do the men have more glitter than the woman? And since I’m asking questions, can someone should ask those men who speed skate to slow down a bit as a courtesy to viewers trying to get a closer look?)

The beauty of France is that if you need any medication, there’s at least one (usually more) pharmacie on your block and they’re ready to send you home armed with as many as you can carry. And the doctors here still make house calls. Gladly, I might add.

The bad thing is if you need something simple like a battery for your thermometer, you need to mètro across Paris to the special shop that sells batteries for thermometers. When you get there, they’re invariably closed that particular afternoon. They’re open from 9:45am to 11:15am, Monday through Tuesday, and from 2:45pm to 4:15pm on Wednesday.

Except in February, when they’re open on Thursday, instead of Wednesday.
But only from 2:45pm to 3:45pm.

Unless the people who sell batteries for thermometers are on strike.

In my stupor, I wondered if the few ‘comfort foods’ (a word I hate, but it’s appropriate here, I think) that I depend on in these rare hours-of-need are available here. If I manage to drag myself to the supermarket, will I find Canada Dry Ginger Ale? (yes) or Campbell’s Chunky Chicken Soup? (no).

(I did have one dream-like vision over and over, in my delirious haze. It was the Most Fabulous-Looking Chicken Soup Ever. I swear I had a dream about that soup. Would they send me some? Could I call Germany? How many numbers do I need to dial? Will they think I’m insane? How far is Munich? Do they deliver? Did they really somehow manage to link Bob Ross with food?)

But unless I had some chicken stock in the deep- freeze, chicken soup wasn’t gonna happen chez David. The idea of being vertical for longer than 10 seconds was impossible to imagine, let alone buying and eviscerating a chicken, then simmering and straining the stock. And yes, I know all you Americans sitting there all smug with your freezers are loaded up with chicken stock. I hope it’s all freezer-burned next time you need it. Ha! That’ll teach you to be prepared when I’m not.

Ok, that doesn’t make any sense and was kinda mean. I’m still delirious, so at least I have an excuse. (But did you see what Mariah Carey wore at the Grammy Awards? What’s her excuse? Is she the only person in the world who can wear couture and make it look like she’s getting ready for a gynecological exam?)

The first thing you do when you’re better is go to the refrigerator and toss out anything that you ate within the last few hours, before you first got sick. Even if it wasn’t the culprit, out it goes. I was more than happy to toss the rest of the leftover rotisserie chicken, or as CNN would have politely said, “He culled his roast chicken.”

Most Americans who move to France wonder, “Where can I get canned chicken stock?” For some, canned chicken stock is the magic ingredient in the pantry, able to turn a plate of rice into risotto, or pilaf with the turn of a Swing-A-Way™. Last minute batch of jook? No problem.

When I moved to France and couldn’t find it, that surprised me. The land of great cuisine, and no ready-to-pop stock. So I began making my own. And what did I learn? Homemade chicken stock makes everything taste so much better. And from then on, I vowed I would never use the canned stuff again.
Which admittedly is easy to brag about, since I don’t exactly have a choice in the matter.

So on the mend, I trekked out to one of my new favorite food shops, where I bought the chocolate bars with quinoa a few weeks ago, called Markethic. They have lots of unusual things from all over the world, mostly organic, and I seem to always find something to bring home, from tamarind pâte de fruit to fragrant shards of brilliant-red mace.

Then I saw them up.
I swore I would never do it. But I picked them up.
The culinary version of going to the ‘dark side’…

Les cubes

My only experience with dried soup was years and years ago, and it was so salty and tasted like stale spices that I couldn’t imagine using one again. It felt like taking a deer at a salt-lick. It was about the time when we were fixated by all-things-Knorr™, blending the dried-vegetable soup mix with sour cream, thinking how sophisticated we were for graduating upward from Lipton Onion Soup™ Dip. But in my case, with my head facing bowlward most of the weekend, I fondled the tight little box as something to have on hand in case I needed a quick, emergency broth-fix.

But after I got home and opened it up, I sadly looked at the pathetic, dry little square, and tossed it in the back of a drawer where I would most likely never see it again…

…and entered the Munich telephone code into my speed dial.


  • Jeff
    February 23, 2006 6:54pm

    A closer look at the speed skaters? What for?

    Are there any “food to you” services in Paris? Glad you survived; I bet you’ll be freezing lots of chicken broth now.


  • February 23, 2006 11:37pm

    Ha! I think that your plan of tossing that Bouillon aux Legumes in the back of the drawer was appropriate! I tried it once, and that was one time too many. Quelle horreur! I had friends bring me Morga Vegetable Bouillon (no salt version) from the States. A real life saver in a pinch!

  • Judith Umbria
    February 24, 2006 4:35am

    So sorry you’ve been ill!
    I returned from the US recently with some jars of broth reduction paste. It’s pretty darned good! Somewhere I heard you can also buy it by the liter via the internet, but I can’t imagine being too busy or too sick long enough to use up a liter of this.
    One brand name is “Better than Bouillon.” It sure is. Of course I can and do make my own, but flu etc. is not the time to start, and my freezer is in the garage anyway.

  • simona
    February 24, 2006 6:26am

    Why Munich?
    What are friends for?

  • Alisa
    February 24, 2006 6:59am

    Oh David….You know the Picard bag goes in two directions. I do have a freezer full of home made chicken and beef stock. There is nothing more jewish in my nature than the feeling I get from helping my friends. When do you want the delivery?

    P.S. Thankfully your bout of le gastro had no effect on your fabulous sense of humor!

  • February 24, 2006 6:59am

    Next time you get French quesy stomach David, there’s a terrific over-the-counter drug you can pick up for like 5 euros = ODDIBIL 250mg. I discovered Oddibil years ago after a tres riche plate of escargot. They’re basically just charcoal tablets & they filter out the bad stuff.I never travel without them now. But for serious food poisoning, that may be another matter…

  • February 24, 2006 9:01am

    Personally I think your bouts with le gastro are simply a result of the karmic balance being corrected in the universe… I mean, you can’t expect to live in a fabulous place like Paris and not have to suffer for it every once in a while! ;)

    I hope you’re feeling better.

  • Rebecca
    February 24, 2006 10:00am

    I hope you’re beginning to feel better. Barrett and I were fortunate during our last visit.

    You can safely take the metal handrails/holds in the Metro off the germy list. Apparently some kid in NYC did his science project on the various surfaces in their subway and found that those metal surfaces are the cleanest around. (I would be very dubious of plastic and painted surfaces, they’re very germy. Fortunately, I compulsively wash my hands). :)

  • Amy
    February 24, 2006 11:23am

    David, after having le gastro not too long ago, I am empathetic towards your wanting for chicken soup. I just made homemade chicken stock a couple days ago and I forgot just how much better it is than canned. Sorry you were sick. I thought something must have been up since you hadn’t written in over a day. I’m addicted to the blog!!

  • February 25, 2006 6:18pm


    “The other dilemma is bacon at half-price.”

    To hell with your stomach, you’ve gotta do something about your religion, man! Perhaps Biggles and I should come over and deprogram you.

  • February 26, 2006 10:44am

    Jeff: Since I can barely get my mail delivered, I don’t know have much faith in trying out food.

    John: Thanks for the pre-warning on the ‘cube’. I wonder why the cubes are so prevalent here in France? My poultry man told me that if I wanted a chicken carcass, I had to ‘pre-order’ that kind of thing.

    Judith: I’ve seen the paste, but I’m still a homemade kinda guy.

    Simona: Munich has seen many ‘delicious:days’…(click on a link in the text of the entry to see more..)

    Alisa: Thanks, of the thousand and thousand of people who read my blog, you’re one of two people offering delivered soup. Thanks readers!! (and bisous to Alisa…)

    Carol: My friends told me about another great medication available here.

    Except you don’t take it orally…

    Melissa: That’s easy for you to say, you don’t have to learn French! Erin go bragh (whatever that means..)

    Rebecca: I’ll tell my pole-dancing stripped friends (and Mariah Carey) that it’s ok for them to ride the bar.

    Amy: Just you thinking of me made me feel better.

    Kevin: For me, it’s no dilemma. I pay full-price for my bacon. Gladly! (Fortunately my Jewish half isn’t kosher…)

    Call off Dr. Biggles! No need for an intervention!


  • February 26, 2006 10:45pm

    Aww, you poor thing! It’s just the price you pay for all the lovely living, isn’t it.

    I should have donated some of my stockpile of Campbells Double Noodle soup to you before I moved! It’s my secret cure whenever I have stomach troubles. Also: Traditional Medicinals Ginger Aid tea.

    But now you can eat twice as much to make up for it…


  • February 27, 2006 5:05pm

    Cute, I should not say anything but cannot help it. I am taking my revenge for all the times I make English mistakes and I am told “no no, don’t change it it is so cute!” It is “la” gastro! ;-)

  • edenray
    June 10, 2010 4:40pm

    Hi David!

    I came across your post and it hit me that you seem to confuse broth and cooking cubes.

    I lived for some years in France, and as I recall, the cubes called bouillon de poule, bouillon de legumes, are the equivalent of the Maggi cubes. They are NOT soups in a compact form. They are used to add flavour to a dish or a casserole or a risotto, usually dissolved in some of the cooking liquid. You find funghi porcini cubes at italian stores as well. Again, it is a condiment, not a base to create a mushroom soup from.

    In a similar way, another powdered product is the fond de veau, fumet de poisson, which the powdered deglaces cooking juices of meat plus seasonings, and those are used to add flavour to or create a meat sauce, combined with cream, cognac, spices, etc: a bit the equivalent of english Bisto.

    You may find on the other hand great ready made soups in France in the supermarkets: carrefour, monoprix, champion, casino etc. They are not powdered, nor canned. They comme in tetrapacks similar to the orange juice tetrapacks. They are ready to be heated as is, without addition of water. These come in many grades depending on the brand. for example, Monoprix gourmet soups have more elaborate flavours than basic monoprix soups.

    I recall Picard also carried great frozen soups. They were cooked, you just had to reheat them. (eventually add a sprinkle of dried basil and a dash of olive oil to the minestrone but that was for the extra oumph).


  • June 10, 2010 5:04pm

    edenray: I was basically looking for plain chicken stock, (bouillon de poule) which seems to be available in France only in those cubes.

    I now bring back Better Than Bouillon from the states, which I keep on hand in case of soup-related emergencies : )

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