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the fine art of french eating

October 11, 2011

after spending 7 long and incredibly lovely days in France, I have returned to Copenhagen having sampled almost everything that French cuisine has to offer, without gaining a pound (I think).

I think we’ve all heard about how French women don’t get fat.  they eat carbs, butter, and more carbs, and yet they stay lithe enough to fit into their cigarette pants and Chanel jackets.

for a long time, I thought it was some myth.  even though Garance Doré (my favorite French blogger!) has discussed at length her own difficulties in transitioning between American and French cuisine, I thought that it would be hard for an American girl like myself to grow accustomed to a morning without peanut butter or whole grains.  not once during my time there did I see a ‘heart healthy’ label or anything low-carb.

I started off each day with a French breakfast at my hotel: a croissant (or two) and small baguette, slathered with butter and the most delectable strawberry jam.  a large cup of coffee with hot milk and a small glass of fresh orange juice helped to wake me up, and a small container of plain yogurt and a banana helped to fill me up.  on our very first day, we all knew that our blood sugar levels would crash and we’d all be tired, grumpy messes in a matter of hours.

somehow, we survived.  while we were definitely hungry for lunch, we weren’t in danger of starving to death.  instead, we were incredibly grateful for the feast that would be presented to us.

my school provided us with lunch every day, and it was always a very nice and very French 3-course meal, complete with both red and white wine.  we’d start by demanding more water (Europeans have to request water.  I think Americans are actually water gluttons and are obsessed with the idea of drinking water with meals and staying hydrated), and then attacked the bread basket.  it was usually filled with fresh baguette slices or crust rolls.  either way, any notion of an empty carb was immediately discarded in favor of baked good heaven.

our first course was usually either a soup or salad.  I had the most incredible pumpkin soup, and I had an almost inappropriate experience eating the creamiest, most subtly flavored chevré I’ve ever had in my life.  seriously, the French know their cheeses.  normally, after bread and soup or salad, I’d call it quits at lunch.  but with the French you’re just getting started.  dining is as close to a religious experience as they get as a culture.  lunch is a two hour event, and you’d better be ready for it.

the main course was usually a protein with a small pile of pasta, rice, or vegetables.  for a pescatarian, it was usually fish, but fish that was unlike anything I’d ever had at an American restaurant.  the sides were usually simple and didn’t compete with the protein.  they didn’t need to.

at this point in the meal, I’d usually start to appreciate the pairing of a particular wine with a certain dish.  I know that college can mess up your expectations when pairing food and alcohol, but I feel like this was the first time that I’d realized how an incredible red wine can enrich the flavor of a dish.

and then there was dessert.  while I may not really have had room for dessert, it happened.  it was always amazing and totally worth it.  from a rich chocolate lava cake to a subtle apple tart, it was the perfect way to draw a conclusion to a very long meal.

finally, café.  not a cup of coffee like you’d get in the US, but a shot of espresso, perhaps with some milk to make it a café cream.  as strange as it is, this final shot of coffee is what would always make me really full.  plus, the caffeine always served as a welcome wake-up call after multiple glasses of wine.  the French don’t siesta like the Spanish, and I don’t understand how they manage.

2 hours after we’d sat down, our places would be clear and we’d all waddle out of the restaurant.  we would all declare that we’d never eat again, as we were so stuffed with delicious, rich, and amazing French food.  somehow, though, after several more hours of wandering Paris’s winding streets, we’d all be hungry for dinner far too soon.  and then it would be another round of food, wine, and the necessary crepes for dessert.

so maybe the French walk a lot.  but I really think that they just don’t eat like tourists.  now that I’ve had about 3 croissants or pain au chocolats a day, plus multiple baguettes and crepes, I can probably go for a few years (or until my next trip to France) before I have another one.  the food is all incredibly fresh and of a very high quality, and with everything you feel so satisfied.  I don’t think I had a single craving while I was there, simply because I knew that I would be happy with whatever was presented to me next or whatever I found at the closest brasserie.

the French don’t snack, and each meal is a sacred experience.  fast food and chips exist, but usually a meal is reserved for sharing delicious food with people that you care about.  when you have a good meal with people you love, I’m sure the last thing on your mind is eating 2 or 3 more helpings of whatever happens to be sitting in the back of the fridge.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 16, 2011 4:40 am

    I love this. It’s so true, I would love to have more of a sacred approach to eating. Enjoy every bite, as opposed to the North American way of shoving something down our face, on the train, whilst blabbing on our phone rushing to work. Even something as simple as the idea that to-go coffee isn’t common here. I’ve started to get up earlier and enjoy my coffee, out of a real mug, instead of drinking it madly on the go. Maybe these Europeans are on to something huh?

  2. October 19, 2011 5:40 pm

    such an amazing post…and so true! i ate it upp while abroad (why wouldn’t I?!), but even after my mom and i devoured our own pizza pies in gorgeous florence….we were hardly waddling and fully ready for breakfast come the next morning. i truly think it’s about satisfying your senses, without deprivation and with thoughtfulness. enjoy the food, enjoy the company, enjoy your surroundings, and do it all over again once you’re body’s ready! cheers to that :) so glad you’re having an amazing time!

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