Mike Zampa, an American in France, takes a tongue in cheek approach to famous French haute cuisine!
I’ve discovered a new eating disorder. It’s called France. I’ve been here seven weeks. I’ve gained eight kilos.
How have I done it? By overindulging in the three basic French food groups:
- Charcuterie – processed meats chased with cheese
- Patisserie – desserts spiked with custard and cream
- Misery – the course that comes after charcuterie and patisserie
In my long career as a human, I’ve eaten a lot. And I’ve learned a few things: 1: Quantity…not quality. 2: Start with the outside fork – unless you’re eating mashed potatoes and peas, then moosh them together with your knife. 3: The only perfect food in nature is macaroni and cheese.
But nothing prepared me for France. Lunch can last four hours. Dinner could take five. And that’s if you don’t eat the little chocolate nibbles that come with the check.
Yet, it sometimes seems that the French all weigh 120 pounds. How do they do it? By not eating between meals. The French pride themselves on freshness. They shop daily for basics: olives marinated in oil and garlic, tapenade marinated in oil and garlic, garlic marinated in oil and garlic. That last one is no joke. The garlic neutralizes the garlic.
French cuisine is regional. In the Southwest, it’s duck or cassoulet. Brittany has mussels/oysters. Paris features haute cuisine. There’s no comparable term in English, but haute cuisine refers to the bill. Probably.
Eating in France can be perilous. You’ve got to know what you’re doing. Here are three hints to help you avoid common pitfalls.
No. 1 – Speak a language you know. I used fractured French to order the local aperitif Lillet. They brought milk. “Mon dieu!” I exclaimed. They brought two more milks.
No. 2 – Study the vendors at outdoor markets before approaching. We wanted honey from a local producer. She held out a squirt bottle of hand sanitizer as I browsed. Only it wasn’t hand sanitizer. It was the honey. Insider tip: don’t wash your hands in honey on a hot day. It attracts flies.
No. 3 – Leave extra time when shopping for yogurt. The super marché near us has two cold boxes filled with yogurt. Each is 25 yards long. Each is five shelves high. Using the Pythagorean theory of quantum cultured dairy product calculation, that’s 6,289 kinds of French yogurt. Insider tip: stick with cottage cheese.
The French will cook anything. And it’s usually good. But sometimes, a little marketing helps. For instance, snails are called escargot. Gizzards are gesiers. They don’t have a name for tripe, but then they can’t explain why anyone would cook a cow’s intestine.
French cuisine is considered the world’s finest thanks to one ingredient: butter. I’m told it makes any dish taste better. I wouldn’t know. I eat it straight out of the wrapper. Sometimes I spread croissant over it to add complexity.
In conclusion – white asparagus. This is a revered French delicacy. It’s cultivated under black plastic to achieve the bloodless color. “We’re raised on it from childhood,” explained our young French friend Joseph from Strasbourg. “But it’s not healthy because of the three dipping sauces we have with it.”
He didn’t elaborate on the sauces but here are my guesses: chocolate, crème fraiche and chocolate with crème fraiche.
You see the problem? Even legumes cause hardening of the arteries in France. So, it’s time for a break. We’re going to northwest France. We’ll order Tripe a la Mode de Caen. You can’t get fat on something you can’t eat.
Mike Zampa is a communications consultant and retired newspaper editor and columnist splitting time, along with his wife, between Southwest France and the San Francisco Bay Area