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Peter the eater

Commuter food: on the run

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Host's Note

I thought Peter's response on the Eating my way through Paris: One Year in Paris topic was so interesting I decided to start a new topic on commuter eating in France. I hope you agree (PS this was not his idea).

What an adventure!

I'd love to see some everyday food from the streets of Paris, the stuff commuters grab on the go, cafe cremes etc. I suppose its because the few times I've been for work I ate that way a lot, and have nostalgic motives.

Edited by John Talbott to fix link.


Edited by John Talbott (log)

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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What an adventure!

I'd love to see some everyday food from the streets of Paris, the stuff commuters grab on the go, cafe cremes etc. I suppose its because the few times I've been for work I ate that way a lot, and have nostalgic motives.

As Garrison Keillor says, as an old person, I react violently to this new trend, just as I did when Sabrett's carts moved into the upper West Side. It used to be that whether one was a truck driver or a business giant in France, one ate a leisurely lunch a table. Now, much rush-rush.

Wha'd'they eat?; croissants on the run to the Metro in the AM, paninis and sandwiches on the metro at/instead of lunch, chips and boxes of McDo at night going home. As my Grandma used to say "Lawsie me." Not Singapour's fabled finger food, not Kyoto's wonderful teriyaki, not even Brussels great fries in goose fat, no US/FR fast food.

Much as the French rail on about American cultural imperialism, how come they eat this cr** instead of homey food; and go to McDo's and Starbuck's rather than a nearby brasserie or nabe cafe; and industrial bread instead of......? Well, I've gone on long enough.

Like the Harvard students in 1766, whose battle cry was "Behold our butter stinketh!" and (I'm told) "we will not eat thereof," I suggest the cheminots take on a gastronomic disaster of the future: eating awful food on the run a la Americain.


John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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John is right of course. However, there is also typically parisian street food, in keeping with the reputation of gastronomic superiority of Paris. It is mostly bought from bakeries. Some particularly great bakeries have particularly great sandwiches and other snacks. Some jump to my mind, like Le Grenier a Pain rue Paul Barruel(it is a chain but this one has the best sandwichs imo), Julien rue Saint Honoré, BE bd de Courcelles, Kayser of course. Also there is a bakery on the bd des Batignolles between Rome and Clichy that makes Gana baguettes and reheats their quiche in the bread oven (and not microwave). Another bakery at the corner of rue and avenue Bosquet also does that.

Snack is also sometimes from a pastry, say a macaron of Grégory Renard or a little tart from Christian Constant rue de Fleurus.

In the Gare du Nord, there is a produit d'Auvergne store where they keep ham and cheese out of the fridge (=better), have great rural bread and cut you huge sandwiches on order for 4€. Also great produits d'Auvergne in rue Cambronne, but they don't do the sandwiches or sell bread -- buy the bread from Pichard across the street and yammy.

I would also strongly recommend some sandwich places, first and foremost Cosi rue de Seine with its continuously warm pizza bread and good wines.Class'Croute and Bert are rather OK, as well as Toastissimo which unfortunately seems to have closed.

There is also the topic of traditional "buffet chaud" in cafés, with croque-monsieur and French style hot-dogs (based on Baguette and Mornay sauce). Here I don't really have a recommendation -- I love the hot-dogs from La Bonbonnière at the corner of rue Gay Lussac and rue Saint Jacques but they are impossibly heavy and maybe other than me would find them disgusting. This is actually one of the things I like with those that I would usually not be hungry again for a solid twelve hours afterwards.

Finally, Parisian cheap, street and finger food also entail Asian "traiteurs", and there again there are some good ones -- try one 35c dim-sum in those who look good to test them. I can recommend one in rue du Commerce that has a large dining room, between the rue du théatre and the place du commerce, on the same sidewalk as Kayser; one in rue Clerc (Patya?); one in the marché Saint Quentin.

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With the disappearance of cheap bouillons, workers' restaurants and, generally speaking, good cheap French food, it is true that commuter food has become very dire and I completely agree with John on this. Before complaining about cultural imperialism from anywhere, protecting the national popular heritage should have started with individual awareness and that is where most of the problem lies. A sad fact is that the French, when it comes to food, are not so demanding as they are believed to be (or as they used to be), and they are as likely as anyone (and certainly more than some) to eat crap when it is served to them. So much for the myth.

Much of that loss, I believe, was caused by the disappearing of decent meals eaten at lunch break. Even when I was working in offices, I have been boycotting fast food joints from the start. There used to be alternatives, choice was possible. Not anymore.

Bistrots, which are now booked weeks in advance from all over the world, used to be the people's lunch places, where workers had their lunch breaks.

The only remaining examples of decent commuter food can be found in the troquets, not precisely the bistrots (which have become too chic for commuters) but in the corner cafés serving food, sometimes good food. They are the true descendance of old-style bistrots and bouillons.

Edit: my dear Julot — what you are describing is very fine, but take a closer look: sporadic bakeries that serve good sandwiches, the Produits d'Auvergne in gare du Nord, Cosi, La Bonbonnière, etc. These are 1) sandwiches and 2) exceptions.

1) Now sandwiches are a fairly recent thing as commuter food. Indeed they took over when decent commuter food started to disappear. And sandwiches could not be counted as a decent meal, especially not French sandwiches if I daresay... They are not so much a description of French commuter food as a vivid demonstration of how low it has sunk in recent years.

2) Those are great addresses, but only addresses. They do not solve the general problem, which is that most working people in France eat crap at lunch instead of eating a proper, simple, cheap meal as used to be the case.

Um, double edit, on re-reading your post: Julot, knowing what a lover of good food you are, please allow me to be somewhat surprised at your description of what may be bought at boulangeries as "in keeping with the reputation of gastronomic superiority of Paris".


Edited by Ptipois (log)

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Hi, Ptipois, have fun in Morocco and be careful with the sun. Here in Bavaria there was snow yesterday and it was good day to stay at Winkler's. I did (more on the appropriate forum soon).

Re gastronomic superiority, I think a good sandwich made with good fresh bread and good, fresh and freshly cut ingredients is a great gastronomic pleasure -- And the bakeries I mention offer the best sandwiches I know, definitely tastier than most commuter foods I know, and actually, I much rather eat at Cosi than Ducasse.

I entirely agree with you about how (non)discriminating average French people are.

That said, I am not pretending to solve the general problem that people eat crap. I am sharing my adresses for good street food. What I try to do is compare existing places with existing places and consider the choices we actually have. I agree that, when you eat randomly in France, you don't eat well. So yes, those are only addresses. There are many and they are very good.

That said, if there ever was a time when food in France was good everywhere, I sure wasn't there. I am dubious that the French people in general ever were more discriminating than they are now. That's not what I see from the elders now. Maybe it is because the decline started with the Trente glorieuses and the General de Gaulle and the development of the industrial passion in France? I would be comfortable with that idea. But why exactly does that comparison of what is with what used to be matter?

I think it also raises the general question of whether you judge the food (or anything else) based on the average or based on the best.

In that regards, the average food here in Bavaria is better than in France: more precise cooking, better average quality of ingredients, and also much cheaper prices. But if you turn to focusing on the best a place has to offer, then France kicks Bavaria's ass. It is nearly impossible to find really good meat, fish or vegetable (funnily enough, it is almost impossible to find Simmenthal beef in Bavaria). Now this has also became very difficult in France outside of the fancy neighbourhoods of Paris and a very limited number of local markets. Supermarket rules everywhere, and even most renowmed markets mostly have the same stuff you'll find at Carrefour. I would argue that this is why fine dining is important: they are key to ensuring the conservation, and even the development, of quality ingredients and produces.

More generally, this is even a question for societies: do you judge them from the best they have (e.g. the US) or forom the average (e.g. Sweden)?

In any case, eating well in France definitely requires guidance. That's why we're here, isn't it?

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Hi, Ptipois, have fun in Morocco and be careful with the sun. Here in Bavaria there was snow yesterday and it was good day to stay at Winkler's. I did (more on the appropriate forum soon).

It is 35 °C here and that is unusual, even in high Summer. I am almost dreaming of snow.

Re gastronomic superiority, I think a good sandwich made with good fresh bread and good, fresh and freshly cut ingredients is a great gastronomic pleasure -- And the bakeries I mention offer the best sandwiches I know, definitely tastier than most commuter foods I know, and actually, I much rather eat at Cosi than Ducasse.

True, but in average conditions I believe the French are extremely bad at sandwiches. A good sandwich in the US will always be better than any French sandwich — except for some Mediterranean examples like fricassé or pan bagnat at its best.

That said, if there ever was a time when food in France was good everywhere, I sure wasn't there. I am dubious that the French people in general ever were more discriminating than they are now. That's not what I see from the elders now. Maybe it is because the decline started with the Trente glorieuses and the General de Gaulle and the development of the industrial passion in France? I would be comfortable with that idea. But why exactly does that comparison of what is with what used to be matter?

I think we had that discussion before. To me this comparison does matter because we are discussing standards here, and there is I believe a general misunderstanding on the present state of food in France based on lingering experiences of what used to be but is not anymore. And yes, the French used to be more discriminating, but it is risky to generalize because I think there is a good side to the present situation: before the Trente Glorieuses, there wasn't so much opening up to foreign cuisines. And if some excellent products disappeared, others appeared and are more readily available than ever. The matter is not that clearly cut. However we're dealing with restaurant (commuter) food here, which is well defined and is a matter of cooking as much as it is a matter of products.

I think it also raises the general question of whether you judge the food (or anything else) based on the average or based on the best.

Definitely based on the average, which is the subject. Judging by the best is irrelevant in the present topic. Asking about commuter food means exactly this: how good is the average nowadays? I was naturally not expecting you to provide the solution by giving a few exceptions to the general trend, but I was only pointing out that they were exceptions, as far as the topic was concerned.

In that regards, the average food here in Bavaria is better than in France: more precise cooking, better average quality of ingredients, and also much cheaper prices. But if you turn to focusing on the best a place has to offer, then France kicks Bavaria's ass. It is nearly impossible to find really good meat, fish or vegetable (funnily enough, it is almost impossible to find Simmenthal beef in Bavaria). Now this has also became very difficult in France outside of the fancy neighbourhoods of Paris and a very limited number of local markets.

This is exactly my point. Again, we are dealing with the average situation, the situation for average people. It is no surprise that France caters to the top layers of society very well, which it always has done. That, if I daresay, is the easy solution in today's society, because it is always simpler to cater to the rich. Everybody does that, you don't have to be French, it is a worldwide phenomenon. It is the type of excellence that is the last to disappear, if it ever does. So there is nothing surprising about its existence. What I mean by that is that its existence in today's France is no particular sign of culinary excellence. A better sign of national culinary excellence would be the survival of good, decent and cheap food for everybody (I am thinking of restaurant food here, because when it comes to product buying and home cooking there would be a lot to tell, but the situation is based on different rules.)

In any case, eating well in France definitely requires guidance. That's why we're here, isn't it?

Exactly. But there used to be a time, not long ago, when it did not require any. It would be a mistake to think that the present situation of French food — much more socially polarized than it used to be — is a permanent and not a recent one. IMO there has been a definite leap downwards in the last 20 years.

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That said, if there ever was a time when food in France was good everywhere, I sure wasn't there. I am dubious that the French people in general ever were more discriminating than they are now.
Julot, no dispute. But in the 1950's when I first lived in France, people at least took the time to eat at lunch and dinner and even at breakfast. And Pti, I agree that most of the ones I knew were undemanding and Julot - there probably was never a golden age, and I was extraordinarily lucky to fall into the household of a wine consultant and small market chain owner so our meals were great. And I've said this too before, then we would never have thought of running to the Metro with a croissant in the AM, eating a ham sandwich (as a woman did facing me today on the Metro near noon) as my stomach rumbled, etc etc.

But I'm just an alta cocker.


John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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Is eating on the Metro legal?...

I did have a croissant in a station staircase once (it was raining out)

In NY there is no eating allowed and there was once a news story of a woman being ticketed for giving her toddler some juice on a train.

tracey


The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

"It is the government's fault, they've eaten everything."

My Webpage

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So, for all of you who are fortunate enough to live and work in Paris and environs . . . lets see some pictures! French, Asian, African, whatever can be grabbed on the fly while going from home to work or wherever.


Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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Ok, voice of slight dissent here. As a person who just last night had to grab food in the Gare de Lyon to be eaten on the train, as I also did a month ago, let me say that a French tuna sandwich and a flan is WAY better than anything I've ever seen in an American train station. I'm not disagreeing that it's much better to sit down to a proper meal, but when circumstances dictate, I'm really glad that French train station sandwiches are as good as they are. In fact, we recently found the same to be true at the Marseille airport as well.

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A good sandwich in the US will always be better than any French sandwich — except for some Mediterranean examples like fricassé or pan bagnat at its best.

... But there used to be a time, not long ago, when it did not require any. It would be a mistake to think that the present situation of French food — much more socially polarized than it used to be — is a permanent and not a recent one. IMO there has been a definite leap downwards in the last 20 years.

I particularly disagree with the first statement, and would tend to agree with Abra. My remark about the average food in France was related to restaurants and bistrots and places you randomly sit hoping to have a good meal.

That the situatio nof French food is polarized, I agree.

I seriously doubt, however, that it is a social polarization in the sense that the rich and the powerful would eat better. I think there is both great and awful food everyweher in France, but my impression is that the question of how you eat has become very individual.

By contrast, I suspect that what you are referring to, and also what I am experiencing here in Munich, is a situation where food is much more socially, or culturally determined. There are social imperatives about what food should be in here, "standards" to use a word Pti used.

If anything, I suspect that the idea of "standard" in food is something that indeed went lost over the last decades in France. So I would argue that, while individual palates may never have been particularly discriminating, there was a time when there were social standards and people had very precise expectations with food. I remember it still being the case in France in the 80s (oldest memories I have) -- the steak would always, always, come on a salad leaf, with a gratineed half tomato etc. It is the same in here: you can't imagine having duck any other way than with Blaukraut and Knödels.

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Ok, voice of slight dissent here.  As a person who just last night had to grab food in the Gare de Lyon to be eaten on the train, as I also did a month ago, let me say that a French tuna sandwich and a flan is WAY better than anything I've ever seen in an American train station.  I'm not disagreeing that it's much better to sit down to a proper meal, but when circumstances dictate, I'm really glad that French train station sandwiches are as good as they are.  In fact, we recently found the same to be true at the Marseille airport as well.

While I understand the rush you were in Abra, at the risk of repeating something Pti said on another topic a while back, there are options to the sandwiches in the stations; for example, when 12 of us, ages -.03-me, were catching a train from Montparnasse to Nantes with a tight timeframe, the guys went to Inno on the rue du Depart and we had a spread on the trip that was magnificent.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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This is getting pretty philosophical so I don't know that I have a lot to contribute, however:

- IMHO comparing French & American sandwiches is like comparing apples & oranges. I say Vive la difference! Both superb in their own way; at least to my taste.

- I have noticed over quite a few years of observation (Not as long as John since my first extended visit to France was only in 1961) that French railway stations or their environs seem to always have a source of good food. A restaurant, a cafe, a charcuterie, something. Has anybody else noticed?

- I can't really comment upon the raising or lowering of standards. I can say that here in the backwoods I have a choice of 6-8 humble places within easy reach to get a decent lunch. To me they seem just as good as the places I remember from many years ago. Nothing fancy, but good food, well cooked and in most cases with at least a small attempt at a bit of culinary flair. And here many people do take the time to have a proper lunch.

- In general I think we're seeing the globalization of food. Stuff from around the world is available. Hot ideas are instantly copied. At the same time it seems that there a sort of limbo currently when it comes to culinary trends & movements. Innovation seems far more individual and doesn't seem to evolve into a culinary shifts such as nouvelle cuisine, for example, did.

Oops! Now I'm getting all theoretical. Sorry.

julot - from your comments it seems that Bavarian restaurant standards have vastly improved since I used to spend a lot of time there in the late 80's & early 90's. At that time schnitzel in it's various guises seemed to be the height of culinary aspiration. We'll have to get some recommendations & come for a visit.

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Hold on! I'm not saying that Bavarian food is good, less again meets any culinary aspiration. I am very unhappy here. This is still wurst and sauerkraut and knodel everywhere. But in Paris, if you stop in a random bistrot, what you have often barely qualifies as food. Cooking is random, quality is absolutely industrial and all in all, this is like an invitation to fasting. If I stop in a random biergarten here, I am pretty sure of what I am gonna get -- a decent sausage, a reasonably well cooked chicken, etc. So this is standardised, much more so than in France today. The range is much more limited. Same is true with food shopping. The fruits you but here in the streets are quite good and fresh. In France, you have the best strawberries on the planet but the rest is just water.

This is why my argument was not about the lowering or raising of standards, but about their disparition at the benefice of diversity (like Pti argued) and individuality.

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I will say I think French sandwhiches are much better than US ones. I've eaten them from boulangeries, stores and individual carts in the streets of Paris, Beaune, Toulouse, etc... and always find that the ingredients seem to be of higher quality than their US counterparts.

Then again, it's difficult to compare them. I don't like US sandwhiches as they tend to be HUGE, with gobs of different ingredients all fighting for attention. Italian delis are the worst, IMHO. Pastrami sandwhiches in NYC can weigh over a pound (they're made for sharing, I know, I know).

A good baguette, some nice butter and high-quality ham or saucisson sec are all that's necessary to make me happy. Does that mean that I have a simple palate? Maybe, but I like it that way.

I like that French sandwhiches, and European ones in general, focus on a main ingredient, with some sort of condiment and a vehicle for ingress (aka bread).

Then again, "A chacun son gout".

Cheers! :cool:

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Hold on! I'm not saying that Bavarian food is good, less again meets any culinary aspiration. I am very unhappy here. This is still wurst and sauerkraut  and knodel everywhere. But in Paris, if you stop in a random bistrot, what you have often barely qualifies as food. Cooking is random, quality is absolutely industrial and all in all, this is like an invitation to fasting. If I stop in a random biergarten here, I am pretty sure of what I am gonna get -- a decent sausage, a reasonably well cooked chicken, etc. So this is standardised, much more so than in France today. The range is much more limited. Same is true with food shopping. The fruits you but here in the streets are quite good and fresh. In France, you have the best strawberries on the planet but the rest is just water.

This is why my argument was not about the lowering or raising of standards, but about their disparition at the benefice of diversity (like Pti argued) and individuality.

Sorry I misunderstood. It now sounds as if nothing much has changed in Bavaria. Snell inbiss uber alles. Still, I like their mustard.

Can't speak for Paris, but down here the bistro's don't last long if the foods not up to snuff. Not that the standard is all that high.

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I am a big fan of the "Fromage Sejouk Extra" from the Lebanese place "Man' Oosh"on Rambuteau near the Pompidu. It's basically a dough that is flattened and grilled over a dome. To that, sausage, halloum cheese, mint, olives and tomatoes are added and it's rolled up, making it easy to eat on the go. Another good place is on Fauberg Saint-Denis just past Juhles on the right side when you are heading north. On the street side the guy is hand rolling durum wheat, flattening them into pizza's and coating with a thyme and sesame pesto topping called "Manaeesh" and finishing them in a brick oven. The manaeesh is good, but my favorite is the grilled chicken wrap. The chicken pieces are grilled over coals and wrapped in the durum wheat with lettuce, red onion, tomato and lemon juice. The flavor combination is clean and delicious and the taste of the coal comes through in the chicken. My final on-the-go food is the sandwich guy in the Enfant Rouge Market. Beside the Japanese place in the back is a guy who looks a lot like a grown up version of Linus. He makes sandwiches to order with the bread they sell and you can choose from a list of ingredients. The price for soda and sandwich with any number of toppings is 5€.


Edited by BradenP (log)

"When planning big social gatherings at our home, I wait until the last minute to tell my wife. I figure she is going to worry either way, so I let her worry for two days rather than two weeks."
-EW

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