Posted: 28 Sep 2004
I'm here to talk about French cuisine for part 3 of my continuing Adventures in France. I must point out, however, that I've been back in the US for a couple of weeks now and, just tonight, drank almost a half pint of KFC gravy. There's not much to top that for down-home goodness. Read on, though, and you just may learn a thing or two.
They've got some weird shit over there. I had caviar for the first time. I can say, without doubt, that I felt big pimpin'. This caviar, however, was served atop fish mousse. Which was explained, in their decidedly un-helpful yet hilarious English, as "moose fish." I've gotta tell you, they're onto something here. Fish mousse is good shit. Good shit in that it's, well, fancy as all hell, yet tastes like tuna fish smeared on pieces of baguette.
OK, so moving on. The French have a wonderful, though sometimes disconcerting, aversion to actually cooking meat. A dish you may find on French menus is steak tartare which means, to US folk, "raw side of beef." If you like rare meat, then this is your Eden. Whereas in the states, you can walk into a restaurant (I speak as a resident of Massachusetts; I don't know if this is nationwide, but I assume so) and order a steak or a burger and, if you're lucky, they'll ask you how you'd like it. Upon answering "medium-rare," you'll receive your meal cooked medium-well.
Case in point, I was once at such an establishment that actually said on the menu something along the lines of "Due to state regulations, we can only serve beef medium-well." I ordered a burger or steak or something and the waitress asked how I'd like it done. After staring at her, the menu, her, the menu, and back at her, I answered "medium-rare," to which she robotically responded "I'm sorry, we only serve medium-well." I asked her why she'd given me a choice. I don't recall her response at the moment, but suffice to say it embarrassed all involved.
Back to French meat, though. We had a menu translation guide that specifically said that the French grade their degrees of beef along the lines of medium-rare, rare, bloody, and sacre bleu!. We had lunch at a cafe outside the Louvre one day; I ordered a roast beef sandwich. Harmless enough, right? Wrong! It was as though they'd seared a steak, sliced it into strips, and placed it on a baguette with some cheese and tomato slices. One word: heavenly. During my stay, I often ordered a steak for dinner. I started requesting bien cuit, which is medium-well in their tongue. After a couple of those, though, I dropped to a point (yes, I'm too lazy to put the accent on the a), which is medium-rare in our tongue or, to our standards, pretty goddamned rare. I tell you something -- it kicked ass. Then again, I love that kind of thing. I'm not about to go back and order dishes of raw hamburger, which do exist, but still, you have to appreciate a rare-as-hell steak.
They also like to stick eggs in odd places. Not what you're thinking, sorry. On food. Like, egg on a salad. It's funny. Often good, though.
Now, as I said in my first piece, the French have no concept of bacon. That is, they have a concept of bacon and have words like lardon, but it's just a synonym for jambon (ham). To get back to salads for a minute, I once ordered a salade lardon. This ended up being a few leaves of lettuce with a good pound of julienned ham on top, with a dash of raspberry vinaigrette. Needless to say, it kicked ass.
Breakfast is an odd joint. The "typical" breakfast is referred to in Parisian cafes as le petit dejeuner francais, which is a croissant, half a baguette with butter and jam, and a coffee. And you know what? Fuck Atkins. Fuck Atkins in his stupid ass. Hot French chicks eat a croissant for breakfast and a baguette all day, and they're all thin and all hot. Fuck carbohydrates, my friends.
And now, for one last story, I must mention that we hit a couple of McDonald's while there -- one in Rouen, and one in some backass town between Rouen and Villers-Bocage. First off, Pulp Fiction has a couple of things wrong. A Quarter Pounder with Cheese is not "Royale with Cheese," but simply "Royale Cheese." They also have "Royale Bacon," which, I guess, disproved my earlier statement about the French not knowing what bacon is. I chalk this up to American influence, though. In addition, it's not "Le Big Mac," it's just friggin' "Big Mac." I'm pretty sure that walking up to the counter and saying "Le Big Mac" makes you sound like a fucking moron. Check it out, though. The fries, petites frites, are much, much better. I don't know if the fat is fresher or what, but they're good. They also have "deluxe potatoes," which are these awesome little potato wedges. With mayo dipping sauce. There's mayo on everything, actually. They were in the middle of this Tour of America thing, actually, while we were there. There was Le New York, Le Texas, and, the week we were there, Le Canada. It was two burgers with Canadian bacon, cheese, and a fuckton of mayo. Pretty damn good if you ask me, and I don't even buy into this "Canadian bacon" thing. The one downfall is that they don't have Orange Drink. They do have Orangina, though. One odd thing -- as I mentioned before, people smoke everywhere in France. However, it would appear that McDonald's is some sort of US territory, and smoking is prohibited. Very odd.
That's all. Tune in next week when I bring you tales of hitting the road. You know, hitting the road. Over there.