It is Monday morning in Paris and people are off to work. But waking up here does not feel like the daily grind for me. I will have the whole day free! Though I am jetlagged and was up for a large portion of the night (during which I was starving and had to cook two batches of oatmeal!), I am excited for the day. I am off to explore the 1e, 2e, 3e and 4e arrondisements. This includes Le Marais, the funky, and traditionally Jewish quarter. They are the arrondissements that are along the Seine, on the North side. My objects of observation? Food! Markets, kitchen equipment stores, and specialty food stores. I will either came back to the apartment to make lunch, or will eat lunch out in a resto.
I feel undoubtedly like a foreigner in Paris, and it goes way beyond the language. I notice my foreigness in my unfamiliarity with the food cuture. What is French food? Omelette, fromage, baguette, foie gras, crepes with nutella….yes but what else? Clearly people don’t eat only these foods, but I did actually think that every restaurant in Paris would offer them, or at least offer cheese of some sort, and so when I sat down in a chic little restaurant yesterday and the menu turned out to be Indian, I was shocked. Nothing in the décor of the place hinted at the food’s origins being other than French beside a photograph of a parade of elephants that I noticed only later. What? I can’t get cheese and bread here?! I thought. Turns out I could, but it was naan and boursin, a spreadable cheese with herbs and garlic, a bit like Laughing Cow.
Another surprise about French food culture came to me in Monoprix, a chain grocery store. Shopping for a party with the roommates I am staying with, we stopped into a Monoprix on Saturday evening. I was going to make guacamole (as opposed to purchasing the pre-made one that looked more like avocado puree and that would surely taste like preservatives). I could not find a jalapeno pepper or a red onion in the grocery store, though. I was also going to make a dipping sauce for crudité, but could not find parsley. I realized that the Monoprix had only prepared foods, ready to eat right away or with the smallest amount of assemblage (spreading on a plate, putting a tooth pick in the squares of cheese, heating, etc). Doesn’t everyone eat homemade food at home? Another notion struck down as untrue.
So today I set out to begin to understand food in France. Where do people shop for food? What is this mélange of grocery stores, specialty stores (boulangerie, epicerie, boucherie, etc), and outdoor/indoor markets (outdoor markets seem to be on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturday and Sunday—today is Monday)? What is the restaurant scene like (because all I really know are those café/brasseries that offer outdoor seating, beer and omelettes. This I know from the videos I used to watch in French class. One other question I’d like to explore…what is the culture for organic (bio), natural, and health foods in paris?
A little tired from a night of restless sleep, but with a café crème and some fresh air, I am sure I’ll perk up.
Bonne chance a moi, allors! Good luck to me!