I'm always surprised at how quickly people pick up on the fact that I love food, even if I've just met them. But they do. My parents say that they used to love watching me eat dessert when I was a kid, because I would get a look of pure bliss on my face. I told this to my good friend Lewis, and he informed me that not a lot has changed.
For years I've fantasized about what it would be like to live in France, almost exclusively because I want to know what it would be like to be able to eat delicious French food all the time. And now, I finally am! And the amazing thing is, it's pretty much as great as I thought it would be.
When I went to France with my sisters in 2006, I was totally blown away by the deliciousness of everything we ate, specifically the omelets and the coffee, which is funny because France is actually known for not having particularly good coffee. When I came back in June of 2014, I wasn't as impressed with the food in restaurants—a lot of it was great, and some of it was amazing, but some of it was just so-so. This is probably partially due to the fact that I eat pretty well in Boston—I go to a lot of good restaurants, and I like to cook, so I've been eating better food than I used to. But, in my experience, the average food you get in France is better than the average food you get in the US (for example, the sandwiches from a dinky little stall at the train station in Paris were totally delicious, whereas in the US I guarantee they would be less so.)
Jeeze, is this boring? It feels like it. Let me throw a photo at you to keep you interested. Here is one of the famous local goat cheese (Crottin de Chavignol)—it's still a bit of a work in progress (namely I want to retake it with a goat cheese that I didn't take a slice out of before I thought to take a photo of it.)
Anyway, all this is to say is that what has always excited me more than restaurants here are the ingredients you can buy. And that has not disappointed. For a long time I've thought my cooking personality was French (a lot of meat and cheese, not a ton of vegetables, lots of dessert and pastries), and popping into all of the varying food shops around here has affirmed that. Here's a run-down:
At the tiny, bodega-like food store right in town, meant for just pantry staples and basic fresh foods, I can buy both goat milk and cow's milk yogurt, bacon pre-cut into cubes, tubs of fromage blanc (that I nearly mistook for yogurt), really good mustard, store-brand creme fraiche, fleur de sel, the best kind of lentils, a small packet of various dried herbs, vanilla sugar, a small selection of produce that's quite decent quantity, and foie gras.
If I walk to the fromagerie two blocks away, I can get about 15 different kinds of goat cheese (from aged to fresh, and some that are shaped like pyramids!), raw honey, hazelnut and walnut oils, raw milk camembert (illegal in the US), sheep's milk yogurt, individual servings of panna cotta, and salted caramel that comes in large squeeze bottles (I've resisted so far, but I fear it's only a matter of time before I succumb...)
At the butcherie, there are tons of different sausages (boudin noir and boudin blanc! I'll write about these two magnificent creations in a future post), rotisserie chickens, rilletes, pâtés, plenty of cuts of meat that I've never seen before, different kinds of poultry that I can't even identify, rabbit, single-serving quiches that are delicious, and other prepared foods that I haven't explored yet, as well as something that looks like cole slaw, but instead of cabbage it's just shredded meat, which I think is kind of brilliant.
At the charcuterie (yes! A whole separate shop for this!) there are even more kinds of pâté, plenty more sausages (god, I love sausages), different kinds of cured ham (including jambon de Sancerre!), and prepared foods as well.
There's of course several boulangeries where people just go and buy baguettes all the time (it's true!). Then there are several patisseries with the usual suspects as well (croissants, tarts, etc.) that I've done a good job of steering clear of, except today when I got a slice of prune tart (it's a regional speciality, I had to!) On Saturdays, three stalls set up in the main square (vegetables, poultry, and fish) and sell excellent quality stuff. (Side note: last week I met Joel, the man that runs the vegetable stalls. He was a chatty, nice guy, and was teasing me because the wind kept making my skirt float upwards which was embarrassing. But he gave me my leeks for free. So this is one way to get leeks for free in France.)
On Thursday is the bigger market in Saint-Satur just down the hill, where you can get basically everything, including horse meat (there is always a line at that stall!) and raw milk (when I got it last week she said it had been from cows milked that morning), crepes from a man from Brittany , and Chinese food (including Peking Raviolis—a Boston creation!!!)
And it's all pretty cheap! On Thursday I forgot to hold back and bought a large amount of cheese (three different kinds) for 10 euros and it just hit me today that I don't even know what to do with it all. It's just bananas.
It's been hard to figure out how to go about this strategically (strategy has never really been my thing), and about four days into my program I realized I'd been eating my normal breakfast of scrambled eggs like an idiot, totally forgetting that I was wasting about a quarter of my food intake on stuff I eat almost every day in the US. I'll never get those meals back!
It may sound silly, but I actually get deeply stressed out by this (I felt morose for half a day after making the realization about the eggs). As a hard-wired completionist and incorrigible food-lover, I want to eat every single thing. But I can't, and sometimes my brain is so overloaded that I don't even make proper decisions and then am filled with regret for the rest of the day (I bought three different goat cheeses but no bread, or I should've gotten the ham for a ham and cheese sandwich, not sausage!)
There's also that whole, you know, needing to fit into my clothes thing, which is ever looming over it all. While this isn't something I really feel like discussing publicly on the internet, suffice to say it just really bums me out and if I had three wishes I think the first would be for the metabolism of my eight-year-old self. The fact that there really is a limit to the amount of calories I should be consuming adds extra pressure to make every single calorie count.
Despite the aforementioned pressures, it's been a lot of fun discovering the food here, as well as the French way of shopping. I just have a tiny little fridge, so I do a little bit of food shopping every day. I still have the urge to pick up everything I can possibly foresee needing, as I do when I'm food shopping in the US, but I'm slowly getting used to just getting what I need.
In future posts I'll talk a bit more about regional specialities!