Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Sign in to follow this  
wkl

How can I eat as the French do?

Recommended Posts

At the risk of highjacking the thread, I am now wondering, how a tourist visiting france (as i will be in 10 days), should experince French food as the typical

Frenchmen would? Can this be done in a bistro/brasserie/restaurant? Or do I need to purchase food at a market and prepare it myself?

I ask because on my previous visits to France, I have either eaten in restaurants or had meals prepared by a chef in a private setting. These meals, while delicious and memorable, tend to be a little heavy. Now I am wondering if I am missing out on something.

[Moderator's note: You know what they say, "if you think you're at rist of hijacking a thread, just start a new one." We've taken that post and moved it to it's own thread for those who wish to contribute to this thread without fear of hijacking another thread.]

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Renting an apartment with cooking facilities and shopping at the markets and boucheries is definitely the way to go. If you aren't a great cook, keep it simple. However, even a novice cook can go to a good butcher shop and look for their specialities in pre-prepared items. For example, Gardil on the Ile St. Louis has a fabulous stuffed lamb roast that you can pop in the oven and look like a fancy chef. They'll give you cooking instructions, of course. Not cheap - this is a high end butcher shop. But most neighborhood butchers will have stuffed chops, chickens cleaned and trussed for roasting, etc.

Intersperse that with restaurant meals, of course. However, I do remember a trip in the Dordogne off season several years ago. Most of the regular restaurants were closed, leaving us to eat at those hotels that were still open. After 4 or 5 days of 2 hour, incredible rich meals, my wife asked the server if she could just have a plate of vegetables. "Pas de problème" was the reply. He did return with a beautiful plate of vegetables . . . swimming in butter and cream sauces.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Easy. For some meals, eat at a bistro/brasserie/restaurant. For others, purchase take-out foods from a charcuterie or traiteur. Add a bit of cheese from the cheesemonger, some fruit from the fruit stand, and of course fresh bread from the boulangerie.


SuzySushi

"She sells shiso by the seashore."

My eGullet Foodblog: A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think that you have half answered your own question, i.e., simply eat like a Fench person and not like a visiter who has to experience it all in a short time. Start with their simple breakfast of coffee, bread and butter or a croissant. Nothing between meals until lunch. Perhaps a salad and a chop for lunch. No afternoon snacks. An aperitif while perusing the dinner menu, certainly wine with. Don't fall into the trap of ordering foie gras every time it is on the menu; a couple of times in your 10 days is enough to create good memories. Frequently choose restaurants where you can limit the number of courses to four. Really debate whether you want dessert at dinner, or perhaps just a liquour with your coffee. Watch bread, which is consumed mostly at breakfast by the French. Never buttered at other meals. And remember that that Frenchman you refer to is not eating 10 3-star dinners in 10 days!

By simply eliminating that so-American "hand to mouth" habit while we are in France, we often come home a pound or two lighter, having enjoyed nothing but memorable meals during our stay.


eGullet member #80.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have no end of answers to this question. For starters, there's "use a knife and fork." That's the way the French eat. They also hold their fork in their left hand while eating and while cutting their food, but that's not so universal as one might expect, and plenty of people do it that way in the states anyway.

The reply I'd most like to make would be to ask "why?" or perhaps "why would you like to try to do that?" as I don't think you can exerience food as a typical Frenchman does unless you are a typical Frenchman. Is there a typical Frenchman? Is there a particular Frenchman whose experiences you'd like to have?

Let me go back a step. When I go to France, I know I'm eating better most of the time than most of the Frenchmen, and women for that matter. Be careful of what you wish for. When we visit friends in the Languedoc, shop and cook, I'm told we eat better than their neighbors who, by and large, don't always care that much about food. Generally speaking, when I'm in France, I eat better when I'm eating in a restaurant than when I'm cooking.

Okay, I'm being facetious to some degree, but the truth is that without a French background, how are you going to prepare meals that are going to be a French experience. For home cooking, I suppose you'd need to adopt a home, or have one adopt you. Still I maintain there's not one typical French experience, there are many and beware, the first summer my teenage daughter went to France on a home stay program, her family went to great efforts to have Coca-Cola and Ketchup in the fridge for her. After she told them we rarely have either in our refrigerator, she didn't have the heart to mention that we don't served frozen fish sticks for dinner either, especially as that didn't seem to have been purchased for her. The day two families took the kids to town, they dropped the kids off for lunch at MacDo. My daughter looked up to the second floor windows of Hiely, then Avignon's best restaurant and where she had dined with us. The second year, she did much better with a family who ate more like Frenchmen, or at least how I would eat if I were a Frenchman. I know because a few years later we enjoyed an excellent lunch at their house.

For all that, Randy's suggestions have merit. If you have a small kitchen at your disposal you can shop mostly at épiceries, traiteurs and charcuteries and eat at home without the need to do too much cooking, but here, as in a restaurant, you'll be bringing your sensibilities to each purchase. I might suggest you look into rural gîtes and tables d'hôtes where you might find more typical home cooking.

I apologize for what might mosty seem to be sarcasm, but after over forty years of traveling in France, I've come to grips with not being a native. The more at home I become, the more I become aware I'm not a Frenchman. And on the rare occasions I've invited to a Frenchman's home for dinner, it's rarely to eat someting I'd have purchased and cooked if I were shopping in a French market and cooking in a French kitchen. It's hard to step out of one's skin.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I think that you have half answered your own question, i.e., simply eat like a Fench person and not like a visiter who has to experience it all in a short time.  Start with their simple breakfast of coffee, bread and butter or a croissant.  Nothing between meals until lunch.  Perhaps a salad and a chop for lunch.  No afternoon snacks.  An aperitif while perusing the dinner menu, certainly wine with.  Don't fall into the trap of ordering foie gras every time it is on the menu; a couple of times in your 10 days is enough to create good memories.  Frequently choose restaurants where you can limit the number of courses to four.    Really debate whether you want dessert at dinner, or perhaps just a liquour with your coffee. Watch bread, which is consumed mostly at breakfast by the French. Never buttered at other meals.  And remember that that Frenchman you refer to is not eating 10 3-star dinners in 10 days! 

By simply eliminating that so-American "hand to mouth" habit while we are in France, we often come home a pound or two lighter, having enjoyed nothing but memorable meals during our stay.

Well, we take the opposite approach; what might be called the "way my French parents ate in 1953." True we start as we started then with bread or a croissant and coffee and fruit at breakfast, but eat our big meal at lunch, including foie gras once every two weeks I figure and only sup at supper: salad, a bit of protein, fruit, cheese, etc. This old way of eating makes lunch leisurely and digestable and supper simple. It's sad to see folks ripping thru lunch now, eating sandwiches on the Metro and getting back to the office in under 55 minutes. When F. Simon times business lunches for Figaro Entreprises I weep.


John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I read your reply with a grin on my face Bux ! So, no apology necessary.

I think what I was trying to get at was; As a tourist I'm trying to get a feel for what it may be like to be a native of wherever I happen to be visiting. In that vain, if we go to France and eat at starred restaurants, or fill up on foie gras and expensive cheeses, all washed down with premier cru wines are we really experiencing France?

This trip I'm staying in a small gite outside of Tours where all the meals will be prepared by the owner , so I am hopeful to eat some Loire "home cooking".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'd second John's and Margaret's comments about not eating "special" foods (foie gras, fancy desserts, etc.) at every meal.

And I would add three things from observing French friends and colleagues eat: first, gargantuan portions aren't necessary. Second, it's OK to leave some food on the plate. The food police aren't watching. Third, a cigarette or two during the meal seems to reduce the overall appetite.


Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Bux's vagueness when describing the French "typical way of eating" has such a ring of truth that it makes me feel he has almost become French.

As a French person I am completely unable to answer the question too. In France, some people insist on good, or even great, food at home and live up to that standard. Social level has nothing to do with it. Some people, and there are quite many of those, couldn't care less about food and that is a fact. When I am invited to lunch or dinner at someone's home for the first time, I do not have the slightest idea of how well or how badly I am going to eat. No contextual element (origin, professional situation, level of education, income, etc.) can help me in advance.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Another thing you can do if you're in a big city is venture out into the suburbs, where tourists never have any reason to go, and just pop into a restaurant where the locals go for dinner after a day at work.

Will you find simple versions of what the fancy restaurants in the heart of the city are serving (I'm deathly afraid to call it "French food"), or will you find chain restaurants with baby-back ribs, or Texas-style steakhouses with peanut shells on the floor? You'd be surprised.


Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

To shop like the French, visit the same fromagerie, boulangerie, charcuterie and each time you shop. Personal relationships with shopkeepers are important and each time you go you'll get better service as they get to know you.

Not to generalize, but people in France shop often since there are usually outdoor markets in every city and village. They don't have the big refridgerators like in the US, so shopping is done more frequently and in smaller quantities.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think what I was trying to get at was; As a tourist I'm trying to get a feel for what it may be like to be a native of wherever I happen to be visiting. In that vain, if we go to France and eat at starred restaurants, or fill up on foie gras and expensive cheeses, all washed down with premier cru wines are we really experiencing France?

I think you've opened an interesting can of worms here in wanting to experience a holiday destination as a native. Firstly, whilst its something that I could myself I'm trying to do while I'm on holiday, I think experiencing the country as a native is something that you're kdding yourself somewhat by thinking that you can experience the country as a native. What kind of "native" is that? Do you think your experience of where you live right now is all that similar to someone else's? Arent our experience of where we are and what we're doing more to do with what we make of them rather than what they are in themselves? And of course, to continue along this theme, what we make of them depends on our own previous and past experiences...

Ok, perhaps I am also being a little facetious, but the truth of the matter is, whilst you're in France, all the food you will be French (unless you go to an Indian restaurant - in which case it will be Indian food catering to the French palate). France, like every other country in the world, has absorbed influences from many many countries around the world, so that traditionally foreign spices and herbs and indeed ingredients (potatoes anyone...from Peru?) are now routinely used in French cooking.

I think we all to some extent romanticise the French and their attitude towards food because what has travelled across the world from France regarding its food culture gives us that impression. And whilst, generalising of course, the French and Italians may care more about their food and how its prepared than an average Brit or American, this does not, in my experience, mean that they all do.

I really do think you seem to know how to avoid the perils of over-indulgence while being on holiday and also the how to avoid the trap of falling into a tourist routine or seeking things that remind you of home or that comfort you rather than simply being open to other, local suggestions towards your choice of meals. And don't foget, premier crus and foie gras are indeed French, and you are still experiencing France...we don't live there, so whats wrong with, for the few days that we are, enjoying those aspects of France that are that much harder to come by (or indeed, more expensive!) where we live?

Raj

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
At the risk of highjacking the thread, I am now wondering, how a tourist visiting france (as i will be in 10 days), should experince French food as the typical

Frenchmen would? Can this be done in a bistro/brasserie/restaurant? Or do I need to purchase food at a market and prepare it myself?

I ask because on my previous visits to France, I have either eaten in restaurants or had meals prepared by a chef in a private setting. These meals, while delicious and memorable, tend to be a little heavy. Now I am wondering if I am missing out on something.

I highly recommend reading through Lucy's absolutely stunning foodblogs...click :smile:


Shelley: Would you like some pie?

Gordon: MASSIVE, MASSIVE QUANTITIES AND A GLASS OF WATER, SWEETHEART. MY SOCKS ARE ON FIRE.

Twin Peaks

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
To shop like the French, visit the same fromagerie, boulangerie, charcuterie and each time you shop. Personal relationships with shopkeepers are important and each time you go you'll get better service as they get to know you.

Absolutely! Which reminds me of an anecdote which has less to do with French food than the French psyche.

On one of our trips to Paris, my husband and I rented an apartment in the Marais for six weeks and did much of our food shopping on the street around the corner, visiting the same boulangerie, charcuterie, etc. almost daily. Our French language ability is barely passable, but we're Francophiles and our love of French food and culture shows.

Anyway, one morning, the owner of the charcuterie pulled out from behind the counter a book my husband had forgotten there a few days earlier. She had run after him in the street to return it, she explained, but he had already disappeared from sight. (And people say the French -- especially Parisians -- are unfriendly to Americans!)


SuzySushi

"She sells shiso by the seashore."

My eGullet Foodblog: A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Anyway, one morning, the owner of the charcuterie pulled out from behind the counter a book my husband had forgotten there a few days earlier. She had run after him in the street to return it, she explained, but he had already disappeared from sight. (And people say the French -- especially Parisians -- are unfriendly to Americans!)

Well, if people say that about the French people, they're dead wrong. And way more often than not, people say that the French people are great.

Your story typifies how warm and wonderful the French people really are to visitors in their country. I've had billions of experiences like that over the years, and in fact, after the great food, the warmth and helpfulness of the people is the number 2 reason I choose France for my travels.


Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
To shop like the French, visit the same fromagerie, boulangerie, charcuterie and each time you shop. Personal relationships with shopkeepers are important and each time you go you'll get better service as they get to know you.

Not to generalize, but people in France shop often since there are usually outdoor markets in every city and village. They don't have the big refridgerators like in the US, so shopping is done more frequently and in smaller quantities.

The world is becoming a smaller place and more homogenized. As visitors, we tend to notice the differences more than the similarities, but France in changing and not always for the better. More than a few years ago, my wife and I looked at a rental property on the edge of a tiny village in Gascony. There was much to be said for the place. In addition to the nice house, there were nice grounds and free eggs from the landlord's chickens. The landlord herself was a charming Englishwoman who'd make an excellent neighbor. All that was missing was a local cafe bar where I could practice my French in morning over a coffee and again in the afternoon with an aperitif. Indeed, we saw the cafe premises, but were told it had closed recently along with the only food shop in town. Everyone gets in their cars and shops at the supermarket in the new shopping center not far away.

Another story I've told is about being in Brittany and getting picked up by a French chef I know who lives and works in NY. He was taking us to his mother's house for dinner. On the way we stopped to get a few last things for dinner. If you can imagine the pleasure of anticipating shopping in a French market with a pro, you can empathize with my disappointment when we pulled into the parking lot at Champion, a hypermarché in the outskirts of Lorient. We did, on another occasion, shop in the weekly open market in Hennebont, a smaller town, where we bought the most incredible butter I've ever tasted and a roasted pork belly ready to eat.

All that you describe is there, but it's no longer how the French necessarily shop. In some places, those neighborhood shops are very dependent on expatriate trade with vacation homes in the area, which raises the issue again of how the French eat and how they used to eat. Many visitors to France are looking to live the life they think the French led, or at least that part of it they find appealing.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is very true.

For a number of reasons, I spend a lot of time in Alsace, as I've mentioned, and I love to go up into the Vosges mountains, not all that far even that it's out of the question for dinner, and there I know some people that still live a good part of their lives, because they can and because they want to, the "old" way; in particular the people who own the hotel/restaurant that I'm always posting about, who have become great friends over the years, although I'm very hesitant to post these same pictures at the risk of boring everybody to death with them.

But of course I learned that the trout come from a stream on the property where they catch them as you order them. And when I asked about the wild duck that they had one night, where he got them, Thierry the chef said that he and his dad shot them themselves. And another night when I was asking for frog legs, he told me that he'd have them two days later. I asked "where do you get them?" and he said "a friend of ours owns the best frog 'farm', (or whatever he called it) in The Vosges.

Well not surprisingly his dad, the founder and original chef of the place was telling me one year about the trip they had taken to "America" eariler that year. When I asked where they went, he told me that they had gone to Alaska for some wild salmon fishing. Why was I not surprised.

Yes for sure France is changing. I consider myself very lucky when I get a glimpse back in time.


Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks, Mark. There are still many, many dining rooms in France that are at least as authentic as your good find, but, as you have done, one has to "get out of Dodge" to find them. We have enjoyed some wonderful evenings in little auberges where we have been told that we were the first Americans to visit them. But make no mistake, all of these places are below Michelin star recognition.

So the dilemma becomes: do you want to experience what is vetted and of predictable quality or do you want to head out to areas that are not tourist destinations for a taste of authentic albeit risky fare. There is no single correct answer, and rewards can be rich in both venues, just very different from one another.


eGullet member #80.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
To shop like the French, visit the same fromagerie, boulangerie, charcuterie and each time you shop. Personal relationships with shopkeepers are important and each time you go you'll get better service as they get to know you.

Not to generalize, but people in France shop often since there are usually outdoor markets in every city and village. They don't have the big refridgerators like in the US, so shopping is done more frequently and in smaller quantities.

This is amazingly true in France. Even in a local cafe. We never eat breakfast in our hotel, it is highly overppriced and inferior. We prefer to go out to the closest local cafe. This time, we found a typical Parisian cafe a few steps from our hotel, and went there every day. It's amazing how much the Parisians do in so little space. In this tiny place with a litle "comptoir" and about 10 tables, they can make any kind of coffee, and also do a brisk lunch business with several "plats du jour". On the second day, we were greeted with big smiles of recognigion, and a bit of conversation. By the fourth morning, it was almost as if we were family.

Not to mention, this was just about the best "Creme" we had in France, and we just had a little "tartine buerré" to go with it. I really miss this experience as I sadly get my morning Starbucks at home...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would take a well-stocked Champion over just about every store in most major US cities! It may not reach the level of the French farmers market but the choices of meats and cheeses are so much better than Whole Food here in DC.

To shop like the French, visit the same fromagerie, boulangerie, charcuterie and each time you shop. Personal relationships with shopkeepers are important and each time you go you'll get better service as they get to know you.

Not to generalize, but people in France shop often since there are usually outdoor markets in every city and village. They don't have the big refridgerators like in the US, so shopping is done more frequently and in smaller quantities.

The world is becoming a smaller place and more homogenized. As visitors, we tend to notice the differences more than the similarities, but France in changing and not always for the better. More than a few years ago, my wife and I looked at a rental property on the edge of a tiny village in Gascony. There was much to be said for the place. In addition to the nice house, there were nice grounds and free eggs from the landlord's chickens. The landlord herself was a charming Englishwoman who'd make an excellent neighbor. All that was missing was a local cafe bar where I could practice my French in morning over a coffee and again in the afternoon with an aperitif. Indeed, we saw the cafe premises, but were told it had closed recently along with the only food shop in town. Everyone gets in their cars and shops at the supermarket in the new shopping center not far away.

Another story I've told is about being in Brittany and getting picked up by a French chef I know who lives and works in NY. He was taking us to his mother's house for dinner. On the way we stopped to get a few last things for dinner. If you can imagine the pleasure of anticipating shopping in a French market with a pro, you can empathize with my disappointment when we pulled into the parking lot at Champion, a hypermarché in the outskirts of Lorient. We did, on another occasion, shop in the weekly open market in Hennebont, a smaller town, where we bought the most incredible butter I've ever tasted and a roasted pork belly ready to eat.

All that you describe is there, but it's no longer how the French necessarily shop. In some places, those neighborhood shops are very dependent on expatriate trade with vacation homes in the area, which raises the issue again of how the French eat and how they used to eat. Many visitors to France are looking to live the life they think the French led, or at least that part of it they find appealing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I would take a well-stocked Champion over just about every store in most major US cities! It may not reach the level of the French farmers market but the choices of meats and cheeses are so much better than Whole Food here in DC.

The Carrefour on the outskirts of Nice has about 90 aisles-- including electronics, books and records, hardware, and clothing. Staff goes around on rollerblades! The irony to me is, that when you are outside, the parking lot is woefully inadequate, poorly planned, and difficult to negotiate. But inside makes up for it.

My favorite are the 3 full aisles just devoted to yogurt!

But of course, we also enjoy the small local boulangeries, boucheries, fromageries, and of course those wonderful morning markets! (Markets are better and much less touristy outside of Provence!)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Easy. For some meals, eat at a bistro/brasserie/restaurant. For others, purchase take-out foods from a charcuterie or traiteur. Add a bit of cheese from the cheesemonger, some fruit from the fruit stand, and of course fresh bread from the boulangerie.

Sounds like heaven to me. I try and have that for dinner once a month here as it is. I can only imagine how much better it would be in France.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...