You Stay Classy, France

Last Sunday I explored the underbelly of French class- via my first wine tasting experience. It was wonderful to savor, taste, and learn about not just French wine- but natural French wine (we’re talking more pure than organic. These people still use horses instead of machines!) However, by the end, I couldn’t help but leave laughing at the contradictions of class that I had just witnessed.

You see, amidst the swirling of glasses and savoring of flavors, was the oh-so-classy spitting into buckets. The wine would dance and swirl in people’s glasses, and then moments later, out of their mouths, the spit sparkling on the rim of the bucket with just a hint of wine color lingering. Tres classe.

I know, I know. If you’re French, or a Francophile, or just a lover of wine, you’re probably getting all puffed up and ready to tell me, “It’s how true wine tasting is done!” You’re there to taste the wine, let the many flavors explore your palate, and then move on to savoring many more. I get it. I just couldn’t help but think about all the good wine that was going to waste. That’s the American in me-waste not. So what if you get tipsy and lose the full range of your wine tasting palate? You’re still drinking good wine! …or maybe that’s just the inculte in me.

As my stomach flopped in disgust (I’ll admit that I have a particular propensity for spit related nausea), I noticed some cheese. At least I could distract myself with some delicious…moldy cheese. Again, I get it- I’m in France, everything at this event is natural, I’m even a lover of strong cheese- but when it came down to it, I opted for the less fuzzy greenish blue ones. And yes, it was earthy and delicious.

When we returned to making our tasting rounds I couldn’t help but become spit fixated. I tried not to, but everywhere I looked people swirled and spit. The buckets glistened and saliva wine mixtures dripped on the tables. Swirl, spit, repeat. As I started to feel like a bucket overwhelmed Mickey Mouse in Fantasia, I witnessed the mother load- a giant spit barrel being wheeled out of the building. So much spit must’ve been swirling around that monstrous container. The thought was enough to make me woozy and take a brief tasting break- or maybe all the wine I had been drinking (and not spitting) was getting to my head.

I thought that maybe I was crazy, until I recounted the day’s events with a friend back home, “Ewww!! Whyy?,” she exclaimed. I started to rattle through the list of reasons- well it’s the real way to savor the wine, and truly taste a wide range, and the French really appreciate and value quality food and drink…but ultimately all that came out was, “I know, right!?”

I guess spit just isn’t for me. But you stay classy, France.

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Sunday Marché: Hello again old friend

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Dear Marché,

It’s been a while. I’ve missed you old friend. You bring back such sweet memories.

Memories of my first time in this foreign land, when I was a child both intimidated and intrigued by things outside of my element. So much has changed, and yet so much has stayed the same.

The first time my mother wove us through your crowds of interesting people, my nostrils filled with your array of new smells, and my ears submerged in sounds of French. You embraced my family into your welcome arms; you provided that first space where I felt I belonged in this new unknown place.

And as I walked once again among patterned cloths blowing in the wind, as fruits and flowers sprung to life in the sunlight, I thought of you. As smells of strong cheese, old diesel trucks, and rotisserie chickens unleashed memories of my mother’s market cooking, of new-found independence, and youthful exploratory boldness, I smiled. 

With mud on my hands from fresh spinach, winter sun warming my cheeks, and my ears once again wrapped up in sounds of French, I became entranced by the visual feast you displayed. A painters dream unveiled before me in colors, shapes, and patters, both foreign and familiar.

So I wanted to say thank you Marché. For the reminders of my wonderful, fortunate past, and for reminding me that I live in an incredible place- that I live in France. 

Thank you for letting me be in this moment, reminding me to enjoy the simple things in life- like fresh food, and sunlit colors, fond memories, and stopping to feel the moment, in a space that reminds me of, and almost feels like, home.

Always with love,

Anna

More French Friday Fun

Cheese is sexy.

…Or at least to the French.

And I’m not just talking about how good it looks or smells or tastes (though a really good cheese does rouse a particular excitement in even the most stoic of Frenchies). No. The French had to take it a step further .

Only the French could possibly make cheese even sexier.

With none other than Des From’Girls, a pin-up style calendar featuring girls and of course, cheese.

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On being Vegetarian in France

Ethiopian restaurant in Paris

Ethiopian restaurant in Paris

When I was 10 I decided that I no longer wanted to consume meat. The decision was influenced in part thanks to a lovely fast-food poisoning experience, repeated shady Mcnuggets, stubborn determination and a vivid 4th grade imagination of the animals on my plate. Despite my parent’s pleas, I haven’t looked back. I don’t like it and I don’t miss it.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to get all vegetarian preachy on you (although I do have my reasons). I’m well aware that in many places meat is a commodity and an honor to be served.

But being a vegetarian is not without it’s difficulties- especially when travelling. Being a vegetarian in France- specifically Montbeliard (the saucisse capital of the Franche-Comté)- is riddled with confusion, mix ups and a general sense of “mais, pour quoi?” or “what the hell is wrong with you?”.

You see, the French have the mentality of bonne vivant, or good living, which means that  good eating is meat eating. Serving a main course without meat is not even within their realm of conception. If you go out, it’s to eat meat. If you have guests over, you serve meat. Take Antoine’s poor mother for example. The first time I visisted she emphatically told him that she prepared a nice stake for the occasion. It went a little something like this:

“Mom. Remember? She’s vegetarian.” 

“Oh… Well that’s ok I have salmon.”

“Mom. Vegetarian- no meat.”

“Fish is not meat.”

“Moommm-”

“Alright. I’ll think of something”

That something was salad- a crevette, or shrimp, salad. It was disheartening to tell her that I don’t eat seafood either. At least she tried. Now when I visit she makes cooking for me like a puzzle or a complicated game- what can I possibly cook that has no form of meat?!

What strikes me most is how bizarre, how unfathomable, it is to the French that someone would make the conscious decision to not eat meat. Growing up in the U.S., especially Texas, I had my fair share of people who didn’t understand. But it was more of a- “well what’s your reason?” kind of mentality and less of a “soooo no sausage?” utter confusion.

I always thought of American food in the stereotypical way- fast, greasy, and big with a strong emphasis on meat. But living in France has actually opened my eyes to the variety that is American cuisine. We are obsessed with fusion food and creative culinary experimentation (though sometimes this results in bizarre concoctions). Whereas the French seem to have a mentality of “this is good, why change it?” (forget about trying to make personal requests) which unfortunately results in me avoiding the duck, beef and lamb entrees and sticking with salads. I’ve realized that a big reason dining sans meat is easier in the United States, is that it is a country of immigrants and thus our food has influences from all over the world.

The best friend of a vegetarian in France is the marché. You can buy local, fresh produce in almost any town for a very little cost. True there’s the effort of cooking for yourself, but it tastes goods, costs less and can be as creative as you please. It’s not impossible to be a vegetarian in France- especially in the bigger cities. Crêperies are popular in many towns and usually have veggie options, or are more willing to adapt to your requests. While Falfel is difficult to find in smaller towns, when you do find it, it is quite delicious. Seek out the Indian, Lebanese, and Moroccan restaurants for filling veggie options. And if you do find yourself stuck at a typical meat centered restaurant, the salade de chèvre chaud (grilled goat cheese on bread salad) is always a good staple.

My personal savior- cheese (sorry vegans). I’ve been lucky enough to actually like the strong, smelly cheeses of France. At least I can redeem myself with cheese.

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