July 23, 2013
I went to France for the first time. As I packed for the trip, all I could think about was the scene from The Devil Wears Prada where Anne throws her cellphone into a fountain. Everyone looks so stylish in that scene, or in any other film set in Paris – going around the Eiffel Tower in their limo or Vespa. Hence I packed all my stylish clothes, colorful jackets, and shoes that are for showing off (not for walking).
When I started walking to the Champs-Elysees, I realized my driving moccasins weren’t comfortable for walking on cobble stone roads — but they were the most comfortable shoes I brought with me for the entire trip. We walked from our hotel to the Triumphal Arch, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Louvre, and back to the hotel in one afternoon. If that weren’t painful enough, Europe was suffering from a heatwave (85˚F in Europe was scorching, especially since they are not equipped with industrial A/C units).
Since this is food blog, no one wants to hear about my bitching that the Louvre isn’t a museum, it’s a freaking zoo, where Mona Lisa is the prized lion in a cage. Instead, I will give you my view of French food culture as a virgin France traveler.
In France, you can buy salmon sashimi over rice at the drug store.
Though I didn’t take a picture, there was a shelf with half bottles of champagne next to these. Eating salmon sashimi with champagne by the river… how advanced French people are! Still, the thought of buying salmon sashimi at the drug store grossed me out.
In France, it is ok to eat duck confit with rice.
This had a bit of Moroccan flavor to it, plus the sauce had coconut milk in it, so it was very international. When we think about duck confit, there are potatoes and carrots on the side, and the duck falls off the bone. It was nice to know that you don’t have to be limited to just one option.
In France, every cafe serves beef tartare.
Cafe culture in Paris was something new for me. Whenever I think about crowds in major cities, I immediately assume they are tourists, and I stay away from them. But in Paris, locals go to the cafes too, and they sit side by side (not facing each other), look out onto the street, cars and pedestrians, drink beer and eat beef tartare.
Oh, don’t forget to smoke in France. Non-smokers, kids, elders, no one gives a shit about who is around in France when it comes to smoking. Part of me missed smoking, and the rest of me was in rage for their ignorance.
In France, you throw a stone, and you will hit a Laduree shop.
This one is on Champs-Elysees, so it was an extra shitshow. But any department store or airport in France has a Laduree shop, so there’s no need to rush and buy them here.
In France, macarons are literally everywhere.
This one is by Jean-Paul Hevin, and it was one of the nicer looking, better tasting ones. I saw some macarons that I would consider failures and would not serve my guests, so my macaron standards are higher than the French.
In France, pain au chocolat has tiny bits of chocolate, unlike loads of them here in America.
I am so accustomed to these loaded with chocolate, at first I thought I was being ripped off. But after I bought three different pain de chocolates, I realized the real ones don’t have so much chocolate in it. I do not like these real pain au chocolat — I like the fake ones in America. Sad statement.
In France, there’s a designated shelf at the grocery store that only carries foie gras-related items.
This is Bon Marche, so of course they had a big selection of foie gras, terrine and other duck-related items, which all looked quite amazing.
Foie gras with truffle is something you should eat at least once a month, to appreciate its heavenly combination.
I am drooling just thinking about how this tasted.
In France, ramen is also getting quite popular. I didn’t go to this one (only passed by) but apparently it gets very crowded every day.
Us Japanese people get withdrawal-like symptoms when we don’t consume soy sauce for over five days. It’s a very sad statement, but very true. One day, I was very cranky, especially since we were walking everywhere everyday, and I demanded Japanese food for lunch. We went to a Japanese-owned soba restaurant near St. Germain.
France is infatuated with Japan. Anything the Japanese sell, the French will spend extra money for its “authenticity”. This soba lunch with tempura was 20 Euros ($30), which was a bit more than I could justify.
There’s no way this place would exist in New York, but it was obviously popular with both French and Japanese people who live in Paris. All the staff were Japanese, and they were snobby, even when they were speaking in Japanese. In New York, many Japanese waiters at Japanese restaurants are dancers and they are asshole-y, but here they were snobby, just how I imagined French people would be. It was so cliche.
I only went to Bon Marche, a fancy grocery store in Paris, but from what I saw, the Japanese ingredients you can buy here are as fancy as in Japan.
Plus all the noodles are somen, which is very seasonally appropriate. There’s no regular items such as Kewpie mayo, ponzu, or Kikkoman soy sauce. Very chic.
In South of France (Antibes to be exact), pasta portions are ridiculously huge.
This must have been a pound of pasta. I ordered this at the hotel beach cafe, and it was one of the best meals I had in France. I liked the vongole and tomato combination.
One day, we drove up to the mountains from Antibes, and went to Vence, which was such a beautiful town. We went through the weekend market there, where we found this bread/cake-like item. The English translation said “chimney cake”.
It was very good — crunchy outside, soft inside, and very light. It reminded me of something. Oh, of course! My hair-do.
I have a chimney cake on my head.
Even in France, this hairstyle got a lot of attention, and the French were very obvious about it. They would say, “OMG, look at his hair!” and the entire table would stare at me. Since I don’t understand French, this may not have been what they were saying at all. But I guess this is the price I had to pay for having a chimney cake on my head.
To be quite honest, I didn’t find French food to be that special. The macarons tasted like mine, and the foie gras was delicious (but how could it not be)? I didn’t spend $$$ to go through the whole dining experience at a fancy restaurant, and I am sure it would be more than lovely. If I was traveling from Wakayama, Japan, I would have been blown away by every tiny things France had to offer, but my jaded New Yorker self kept reminding me that for 200 Euros, I would rather eat at Eleven Madison Park. New York has too much of everything.
Having said that, if I go back to Paris, I will definitely focus more on the food scene than the touristy stuff and I may completely fall in love with it.