Thursday, December 6, 2012

Le Honeymoon: The Food and a Summary

OK, so I've made it through the summary of each day, but I'd like one more blog post to devote to the food, and to my general feelings about the trip. Let's get to the food first, shall we? (Duh) I don't have a boatload of things I'd like to say about the food, but there are a few key points that I'd like to make about American food culture versus French food culture in particular.

For example, I've already pointed out the absence of breakfast restaurants, as well as the later hour of dining. These are pretty big differences compared to here in the US, where we have all-day diners where you can get pancakes at 5:30 p.m., as well as "early-bird specials" that make it possible to eat dinner at 4:30 p.m.

Another big difference that I observed is their attitude towards "treat" food.

Looking at these pictures I'm curious about how much butter and sugar France consumes per year. Because they loooove their treats. We saw so many people eating pain au raisin, chocolate gateaus, and croissant--on the train, on the street, in restaurants, etc. The difference, I think, is the lack of obsessive guilt about these treats. (It's a cliché by now, but it's true.) Parents, after picking up their children from school, often give them chocolate or butter filled bread snacks. (Really, we saw this--they walk straight to the boulangerie after school for a treat to get them through to their late dinner.) This is just part of the everyday life and culture and thus kids (mostly) don't grow up feeling bad if they've eaten a mini-cake, or ashamed if they've consumed half a bar of chocolate. They also, as a result, (likely) don't _over consume_ these things the way we as Americans do.

After observing quite a few scenarios like this while in France I can also venture to say that they just enjoy the treats more. They savor them, take their time with them--generally just reveling in the pleasure of eating them. Indulgence, in France, is enjoyed, not regretted. These are generalizations, of course, based on one person's experience, but I'd say that these statements are, generally, true.

Another difference? The French have definitely not jumped on the gluten free train. For example, at the first cafe we visited in Paris, we witnessed several tables where the diners literally ordered a plate of different breads, accompanied by butter, for lunch. Seriously, like several huge hunks of baguette along with two croissant and perhaps another kind of pastry or bread. Since our return I've done some research and apparently there is at least one new restaurant in Paris that is gluten free, though I suspect gluten free in France will not become the craze that it is in the US.

Something else we noticed right away? The freshness and lightness of the salad dressings.

I'm not much of a salad dressing fan to begin with, but in the US the typical salad dressing is heavy and thick. In France, not so much. The dressing was either a simple vinegar/olive oil mixture--where you could taste that they just drizzled both on separately, without even mixing and fussing with them--or it was a very light dressing that tasted reminiscent of ranch dressing. I say reminiscent because it was worlds apart: much thinner, less heavy, and with more real flavor than a fatty thick taste. Does that make sense? The only downside to some of the salads? The use of lettuces that aren't always as nutritious, e.g. the iceberg lettuce above. I'm guessing they use whatever is most fresh, but as a psycho Boulder person I was always looking for the nutritious spinach rather than iceberg.

The final observation that I'll make about the food, especially the food in France, is it's general lack of variety. Yup. French food is lauded as the best and most delicious food in the world, and yet if you go into any cafe in Paris for a sandwich, you'll find only the same sandwiches, over and over, day in and day out. These might included caprese sandwiches like the one I had:

Or they'd include hard-boiled eggs and cheese, or some variation of meat (often ham or some kind of salami) and cheese. There are no hummus and sprouts sandwiches. There are no avocado sandwiches. And you will not find a sandwich with tuna salad on it. You may find a mini-quiche like the ones that we tried:

But you will not find a sandwiches like we have access to here in the US.

Though it is unrelated to food, another thing you'll find in France and Switzerland is a bunch of teenagers, all of whom smoke cigarettes. This was kind of kooky for us to see, but one day in Annecy we sat and had tea at an American-inspired restaurant and watched as thirty or so kids took their lunch break, a _large_ proportion of them taking cigarettes along with that lunch. And it's not because of a lack of advertising about the dangers of cigarettes: in the airport on the way home we were able to look at a package of cigarettes, and it says--in enormous letters--"SMOKING KILLS." Culturally, however, smoking is still too commonplace and acceptable, I'd guess.

Well, I think I've covered it all. The food, the sights, the fun. Tomorrow I'll be back with regular programming, which--I'll just give it away--includes a lot less butter and sugar and cheese:-(

My pants don't fit after all that butter and sugar and cheese, but wow, I would so do it all over again. Going to France and Switzerland was truly a dream vacation, and I didn't realize beforehand how much David and I needed the time to get away, be alone, and just be close with each other. I guess all I can say to sum up is to state the obvious: I'm a very lucky girl:-)

*What are your thoughts about salad dressing? Have I missed anything or gotten something wrong in my representations of the French?


  1. Interesting. The one major cultural realization I made when visiting Europe (in my uber-mature-and-experienced 17 year old head), was how differently we perceived most food. They're way more casual and laid back.

    Take cheese, for instane. Over there you'll encounter all kinds of weird funky cheeses that just sit out on counters and are sliced or crumbled at will over time. Over here? Everything must be tightly sealed, immediately refrigerated, and people ask, "Does this Blue Cheese smell moldy?" like that's a logical question, etc.

    Bottom line: I think our uptight Puritan roots affect how we interact with cheese.