July 29, 2011
My trip to France was my first international experience ever. As much as I tried to prepare, there really is just no preparing for the unknown. From walking a mile underground in between each subway line to the reality of the hotel rooms, everything seemed to be more difficult than I had anticipated. What do you mean small? Thankfully, as all reigns true, food is the international unifier regardless of barriers.
When it came to culture shock, the biggest wake-up calls I received were a Kentucky Fried Chicken amassed with obnoxious teens and Chinese-borne sandwich cart vendors. So you mean to tell me you speak Mandarin, French, AND English? I’m glad I learned all those 15 words before I traveled all the way over here.
On a cloudy, rainy day in Paris, we happened upon this easy-on-the-eyes, comfort-zone respite of a Japanese noodle house in what appeared to be an actual Japantown in Paris!
Now, I have it on good authority from TWO Japanese people that “lamen” is a phonetic corruption of “ramen”, and is not actually the French translation.
After enduring a week of ghastly humidity throughout France, the rain was welcome weather for eating lamen.
The chef prepared for us a decent plate of yakisoba with calamari rings, followed by a simple but solid bowl of pork lamen.
After Paris, we ventured down south to Nice. Similar to my post on Liguria, the French Riviera is so much different than the rest of the country. From the architecture to the cuisine, it just screams quaint, romantic, seaside living. Like with this bouillabaise for starters:
It was no Joe’s Crab Shack of course, and it did not compel me to scream, “TAKE YOUR TOP OFF!” but it did the trick.
Another regional specialty, like the bouillabaise but far less recognized, is socca. Socca is a chick-pea pancake with lots of olive oil and black pepper. Other cultures have similar dishes–like farinata in Italy and besan poora in India–but socca truly is my favorite. Not just because of the flavor and consistency, but because of this particular experience.
You know how in San Francisco there’s the Tamale Lady? Well Nice has the Socca Lady and her name is Theresa. Caricatural in all her glory, she owns the crowd at the Tuesday Farmer’s Market in Old Nice.
Taciturn in voice and demeanor, she glares at you while you stammer, “Socca por deux… uh… sils vous plait…” Gulp. With a nod of her head and a shoo of her hand, you stand there completely unsure of what to do next so you go sit down and sort of just wait, feeling totally insecure. Then you wait and you wait some more, and then finally, around the corner like Batman’s Robin on a runaway sidecar, comes this man with his glorified pizza warmer. Behold, the socca contraption:
Not only does the entire bottom of the contraption hold a single socca that Theresa makes in her kitchen, but it also holds smaller socca-esque pies.
Theresa takes the whole tray of socca and you see her start cutting it up and throwing it on paper plates, calling customers and familiar faces to come get theirs. I tried to play it cool like I’m not on the edge of my seat, feeling a little like a penniless child near an ice-cream truck, and then just as fast as she shooed me away, she brought me my very first, official plate of socca.
Unfortunately, the wait continued because this thing was like 500˚F of steaming, creamy chickpea.
Back in Paris in the 5th Arrondisement, is this amazing Japanese patisserie, steps away from our little hotel called Patisserie Sadaharu Aoki.
Stuffed to the gills with French macaroons and cafe cremes, this shop was a sweet intermission.
There is nothing like learning things for the first time and, while I preferred the South of France to Paris, the diversity and unexpected finds of the city were worth learning the hard way. And when you don’t know what else to order or just have a hankering, get the soup a l’oignon.
I must stress that this is the best onion soup I have ever eaten to date.
32 bis Rue Sainte-Anne
75001 Paris, France
Tuesdays @ the Cours Saleya Market
Old Nice, France
PATISSERIE SADAHARU AOKI
35 Rue de Vaugirard
Paris, France 75006