Thursday, July 30, 2009

How we eat in France, Part 1

A few weeks ago, when we thought that MCM would be moving to England with me, he said, "We're going to really enjoy being back in the UK... cooking together... going to the market... trying new recipes."

If this were a TV sitcom ("a serie", as my French students like to say), you'd hear that tape-rewinding sound right now. Huh? Come again? Don't we live in France?

MCM and I have been keen cooks for a long time but our culinary skills have not improved here. We haven't radically frenchified the way we eat, such that we actually associate great homecooking with the UK. How weird is that? I've thought about why this is and here's what I came up with:

Culinary Bulwarks:
- We have a crappy little fridge with a tiny freezer compartment. This is the kind of fridge an American would buy for a dormitory.
- We have a crappy little oven - it's a combination convection oven, microwave and broiler/grill. When a French apartment says "unfurnished," it really means unfurnished. We're lucky we didn't have to supply our own crappy little fridge and kitchen cabinets.
- Paris has lots of great restaurants. Our former UK city didn't so we had much more incentive to cook.
- We used to entertain a lot, but here we don't have much space - our table only seats 4. We also don't have as many people to invite over.
- We've been alternately stressed/cheap/busy. Traditional French cuisine is based on great ingredients (often expensive), exquisite technique (time-consuming), and shopping almost everyday (are you serious?). As much as I love French food, I've often felt that it depends on someone, usually a woman, not working and having the time to do all that shopping and cooking.
- French cooking magazines tend to feature extremely elaborate foods, rather than nice ideas for weeknight meals. We're a bit lacking in inspiration for our normal life.
- MCM really appreciates French food but he is also very curious about other kinds of food and doesn't feel French food is the be all and end all. Plus, he was on a diet for a while...

Here's what we do differently since we've moved here:
- Lots more wine! Recently it's been a nice little rose that costs 2.80 a bottle. We probably drink wine every night, as it's so affordable, accessible and enjoyable.
- We buy bread every single day. We love the fresh baguettes and, because they are preservative-free, you can't stock up.
- We have always been the type to sit and eat dinner together, but we're more likely to have a simple French starter now: a slice of melon, a bowl of vegetable soup, etc. I like this, as a good way to unwind when you sit down and a way to get more vegetables.
- We eat a wider range of meats, including guinea fowl, veal and rabbit, which are cheaper and more widely available than in the US or UK.

This weekend we're going to visit MCM's parents. His mother is a very good traditional French cook and always makes multiple courses - even at lunchtime. (MCM's dad used to drive home from work for lunch before he retired). I'll be reporting back on what we eat to give you a sense of what this kind of eating is all about.


  1. I just found your blog and am truly enjoying reading about your life there :)

  2. I know exactly what you're talking about, with your "crappy" kitchen equipment! A French person once assured me that, in spite of living in the capital of such a culinarily-blessed nation, Parisians eat worse than anybody! Even the loveliest, most luxurious apartments have the stingiest, most basic of kitchens.

    I do think part of it is due to the embarras du choix of good restaurants. And yes, the disappearance of the stay-at-home wife--with a housecleaner to boot--has certainly crumbled the daily shopping and cooking traditions.

    But, like any big city, the fabulous feasts have always been for the well-heeled, while the rest of us have to content ourselves with a (quand meme délicieux) ham sandwich. A ham sandwich in Paris is still in Paris, after all!

  3. Welcome Pink Dogwood!

    Thank you, Flartus! It's true - kitchens are pretty crappy overall. We have the luxury of an entire countertop, although we only have 2 burners. For your enjoyment, I've posted a photo of my Parisian fridge. Feast your eyes as I eat this scrumptious ham sandwich and contemplate how Parisian I am. Yum yum.


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