I’ve been backpacking, couchsurfing and WWOOFing in France now for a little over a month. I’ve noticed tons of differences between France and my home country, America — specifically the differences in culture, age (of the country), languages, and food.
Food: that is something I have noticed, obviously. I mean hell, I am in France! Of course, I have been immersing myself in the food — the overflowing cheeses trays, the fine wines, and the delicious pastry in the street corner shops. Aside from the perks of tasting everything, appreciating the contrasts between the food I have been very accustomed to eating and enjoying the French food is its own perk, as well. The entire experience has been very intriguing. I love food, and I know most people do, too, so why not share a list of the things I have seen during my travels?
I have been travelling a lot by foot, metro and bus, especially during the sixteen days I was in Paris, so I have come across a huge amount of food. Along with the food in pastry shops and bakeries, I have had the amazing opportunity to witness food being prepared inside homes in Paris and in Southern France. I have seen French families with five course meals and the local patissere on the corner selling the best Pain au Chocolate in the world. (Seriously, it is a gooey and warm heaven of butter and chocolate baked into bread, see below.)
Disclaimer : I am not an actual food critic or an expert on food; I am just sharing the differences I have seen!
Cheese is a fantastic place to start – it is everywhere in France. All sorts of cheese exist, from pasteurized to unpasteurized, from a few months old to a few years old, from vibrant yellows and whites to dark and gloomy blues. Unpasteurized cheeses actually are not allowed to be sold or made in America, which didn’t bother me back before I knew of the wonderful world of cheesy rainbows and cheesy unicorns here in France. (Yes, rainbows and unicorns, even four leaf clovers being picked by Leprechauns – that’s how good the cheeses are; they evoke a glittery fairy tale.)
Also, supermarkets have aisles and aisles dedicated to cheese, aisles that require a ten minute walk from one side to the other.
French homes usually have at least six assortments of cheeses (nine cheeses typically on my WWOOF host’s dinner table), assortments that are promptly placed on the table after every meal. (Never does a meal go by without the presence of a cheese tray. I am not complaining!
Here is a shot of an actual French cheese platter sold at a Carrefour, a supermarket in France. (I once bought a cheese platter in America; it ONLY had different types of Swiss and American, definitely nothing like this radiant bad boy.)This one is of of a special Fromage shop in Paris. Makes my mouth water and stomach groan by just looking at it..
I have noticed a plentiful amount of salads in every French home I have been in, as well as at least six salad types on nearly every restaurant menu. I used to eat out A LOT in America, and salads were generally more of an appetizer. The salads I’ve seen in restaurants and homes have been unique with a wide variety of ingredients, many of which I’ll be using in my own salads once I establish my own home after WWOOFing!
– For example, mountains of potatoes looking like an avalanche over my lettuce were fabulous! I thought it was such a weird idea when I first saw these piles, but they are remarkably tasty in a salad!
– Another surprise was horseradish in the salad dressings – – what a refreshing taste! I first experienced this in a London pub, but I was very pleased to taste this dressing poured over salads in French restaurants, as well.
– Another delicious surprise was hot goat cheese dripping over a piece of bread on top of my salad. Scrumptious, this one tops my chart of favorites. I have enjoyed it in almost every restaurant I ate in while in Paris. Fromage de chèvre sur pain… my heart would skip a beat when I’d see those words on a menu!
Before ordering water in a French restaurant, it’s critical to clarify what is desired – tap or bottled water. If the patron simply says, “I’d like water,” the server will bring out a 4€ bottle of water (5 US dollars). (By the way, the faucet water I have tasted has been fantastic, so do not fear it!)
When tap water is ordered, usually it is brought out in an old wine bottle or in a glass pitcher. I love that concept, since I can refill my glass a few times without bothering the server and also interrupting a flowing conversation.
I’ve gone to fresh produce markets in Paris (open two days each week) where large amounts of jam are for sale. More than likely, these mouth-watering jams are homemade by whomever is selling it. They are a puree of fruits that come right out of the ground or off the branch of a tree – nothing is artificial! Fantastic! Mmmm! Even in French homes, homemade jams are commonly found in a cabinet, made either by the attendant at the market or by the family themselves. The picture below is of a cabinet inside of my WWOOFing host’s home where our hosts make their jams fresh. Breakfast usually includes at least five jams spread out on the kitchen table, jars eagerly waiting to be opened.
Nutella! Holy moly, the Nutella! You can be walking on any Parisian street and see one of those street stands that sells coffees and newspapers. When you stroll up to get your daily dose of delicious Espresso, you are stunned by the heaps of Nutella in the stand’s windows, on the counters, and hanging on the walls. Jars and jars of Nutella are everywhere! Even in the little corner food carts, a giant picture of Nutella or a large jar of it will catch your eye so you know, for sure, Nutella is on the menu! What the hell?!
On one occasion, I was setting the table in preparation for the dinner my fiancee and I had just cooked for our couchsurfing host, Pierre. I put out only forks and spoons, since nothing we were about to eat was of use to a knife. Pierre quickly instructed me that in French homes, a knife is always on the table. After a few weeks in France, the reason for this practice became crystal clear – the French use the knife to assist the fork by sliding food on it. This totally makes sense, and it is something I have adopted, as well. It’s now so easy to get that piece of rogue corn!
In addition to the clever use of knives, is the French custom of creating quite a bit of noise with the silverware. I am referring to the clanking, scraping and clashing of forks as they collide into knives and spoons scraping against the bottoms of the porcelain soup bowls. I remember when I first heard this clatter, I automatically thought it was rude. Silly me! I’ve noticed that many of the French use their silverware to finish every morsel left on their plates. It’s a way of showing enjoyment of the meal and a desire not to waste any bit of it. I love not caring about the noise and instead focusing on not wasting food.
Loads of pastry shops filled with delicious baked goods, decorate every corner. I have eaten at a half a dozen of them already. (Okay, a dozen of them.) Each one passed my challenging taste tests. Simply delicious!<br /
I have noticed a jar of this spicy goodness on almost every restaurant table. It stares at the patrons until they are sufficiently intimidated and must open the jar to stop the penetrating stare. Go ahead and lather the bread with it, but not with too much, since it will burn the living hell out of your nostrils in attempts to make your eyes tear. (This has happened to me several times, thanks Mr. Dijon!!) My WWOOF hosts use Dijon mustard in many of their recipes – mixed into the sauce for sautéed mushrooms, spread on top of freshly caught fish, and stirred into a pot full of recently picked green veggies. It is a great spice to use in moderation to add a little zip to the food!
Last but not least among my favorites are the ever-present baguettes. Tons of people walk with them underneath their arms. Everywhere – on every street, on every corner, in every metro car and on every bus someone is carrying one of these .80€ hot and steamy bad boys. Here is a shot that my fiancée caught of me with one of my loves, the charming baguette.
Thank you, Laura Cerenzio, for assisting my flow of words.