July 23, 2013

MOTOism: Food in France

by Moto

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.

7 Comments

  • yoko
    Posted July 23, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    Where is the “Like” button on some of these photos? Especially the foie gras shelf and the shot of your chimney cake hairdo. J’aime beaucoup!

  • Posted July 24, 2013 at 11:43 am

    I find how they all sit next to each other instead of facing each other in cafes really weird too! We went to Higuma a few years ago but it wasn’t anything special although I hear Kunitoraya (udon) nearby is really good.

  • Moto
    Posted July 24, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    Phew, I am glad I haven’t stirred up a heated conversation that French food is much better than this….. Sakura, I thought about going to Kunitoraya since it was pretty close to the hotel, but after the soba experience at Yen (another supposedly great restaurant), I didn’t want to be disappointed again….

  • Anders
    Posted July 24, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    Girl, you crazy. Love that Bleached Bitch Swirl on your head, I’m sure that must’ve attracted lots of attention.

    The US choco croissants are too much. This is better and more discrete.

    How was the Paris gay scene? Did you watch any decadent French boudoir drag shows?

  • Kayoko
    Posted July 24, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    You LOVE that your hairstyle caused such a ruckus in Paris. Work it! Johnny prefers sitting side by side at restaurants so Paris would suit him. I think it’s weird, but I guess if it makes sense to the Parisians, it must be the most stylish way to dine. I definitely would eat beef tartare every day. How could it not be good for you?

    Bisouxxx

  • Moto
    Posted July 24, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    Anders, Paris gays were mean. They stare at my bitch swirl from the corners of their eyes, and go back to their conversation while smoking 18 consecutive cigarettes. I hate sitting side by side at restaurants (happened only at one and the only Le Bernadin).

  • Posted July 26, 2013 at 9:55 pm

    Hi Moto,

    Sorry, but you did stir up that French food is much better than this! Ah ah!
    Here it is!

    I agree with lots of things in your post:

    - yes, you need good shoes to walk in Paris (because it is very nice to walk around and there are so many things to see)
    - yes, French people don’t like AC (perhaps because we are a little bit stingy and not often very hot Paris)!
    - yes, you can find sushi and sashimi in many places. But most of the time, they are not good and they all come form the same supplier. Only few places are owned by Japanese. Eating sushis in some restaurants is like eating Sushis in SF Japantown! You need to know where to go because many ‘sushi restaurants’ opened and only few are good.
    - yes, you can find beef tartare with fries in almost every bistrot :P Mmmmh beef tartare, I miss you so much (pretty easy to make actually)…

    - yes, French people like to seat next to each other for multiple reasons:
    1st: cafes are doing that to gain some ‘precious’ room on the sidewalk
    2nd: French people like to gossip ‘OMG, did you see her dress/bag/hair/shoes/boyfriend?’
    3rd: young couples like to cuddle even if they are in public.
    - yes, most French people are rude and don’t give a sh** if they are smoking in your face… I agree that it is pretty annoying and they should stop bothering other customers.
    For the same reason, I am not surprised people made comments about your hair!

    - yes, there are few Ladurée stores (not that many actually but they are well located…) and the lanes are insane. Probably not the best macarons; but I am not a huge macarons fan anyway. Did you try Pierre Hermé?

    - yes, you can find delicious foie gras everywhere. It’s a classic delicacy. But you don’t always find such a large choice: La Grande Epicerie de Paris (in Le Bon Marché) is specialized in gourmet food. You can also find quite a choice for cheese, caviar, wines, fancy Japanese food, chocolate, etc.
    It’s a foodie paradise (choice, cute packaging…).

    I am surprised with some of the food you tried:

    - Where the hell did you find ‘duck confit with rice’? This is sooooo wrong ah ah!
    Duck confit is a Southwest specialty. It is supposed to be served with roasted potatoes (pommes de terre à la sarladaise) or white beans! I’d be happy to recommend some good places for Southwest cuisine…

    - I did not try soba in Paris. So I won’t say anything about it.

    - Sorry to hear you don’t like ‘real pain au chocolat’! ^^ I miss good Viennoiseries…

    - Not sure pasta plates are bigger in the South of France…

    I am very sorry and sad to hear that the best meal you had in France was a plate of pasta (even if I really love pasta)!!
    This is too bad/sad!

    So, PLEASE, if you think about going back to Paris, let me give you my address book :)

    I already have a list of very nice restaurants and bakeries anybody going to Paris must try!

    Now you’ve been there, you can laugh reading hilarious (and so true) David Lebovitz’s articles about is experience living in Paris: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/

    Feel free to contact me :)
    Chloë

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