Monday, July 25, 2011

A Day at the French Market

The opening scene from Beauty and the Beast showcases an average morning for Belle, where she dances her way through her French village’s open market, grabbing fresh baked bread from a boulangerie, passing a butcher, a crazy lady that needs six eggs. I had this as inspiration as I wondered through a well known open market near our hotel in the 12th Arrondissement.

Kyle wanted me to sing while shopping, but I thought that might be a little over the top.

Instead, I oohed and ahhed my way through the vendors, taking time to practice my incredible French vocabulary of “bonjour,” “oui,” and “merci.” Like I said, very impressive.

Our hotel, Hotel Astrid,  was a block away from the famous Arc de Triumph, and on the corner was everything that one could want in France: a brasserie, café, wine bar, patisserie, and a butcher. If we could only spend the rest of our lives on that corner, I think we would be just fine.

We stopped in at the butcher and marveled at the huge slabs of aging beef and interesting cuts of meats hanging from the ceiling and lounging on the large wooden counters. The butcher was slicing up some salami for a French couple as we wondered around the store.

We noticed that one large wooden counter was warped—my aunt said it was deformed from years of scraping meat off the slicing area. A really good butcher will spend hours a day scraping meat off of the counter and eventually the counter will wear down and be replaced. Many people seek out these discarded counters at antique shops to have in their homes as decoration.

As we moved on to the market, the elaborate displays of fruits and vegetables captivated me and it soon felt as though you were in a magical fruit jungle. That was until a rude fish monger across the street started bowing and shouting Chinese phrases at us to get our attention.

Kyle spent several minutes drooling over the langoustines, which are large prawns that are served in Europe. We are keeping a list of food that we want to make when we get home, and these were added to the list if we can find them.

Kyle also spent a significant amount of time drooling over the chickens and other delectible meats that were roasting throughout the city, the fat drippings providing the perfect basting for a mound of potatoes that were stuck under the meat to absorb all the juicy goodness. 

Kyle loved this photo of my dad and I walking away disgusted by the shop that was wholly devoted to all things horse--yes, that is right, horse meat! Any cut you want...all in a one stop shop.

This fois gras was over $400 for that tiny can! 

Leading into the trip, I read a couple of books on French cooking and food. Hungry for Paris, Lunch in Paris, Remembrance of Things Paris; all of these books will leave you with some serious longing to hop on a one-way flight to Paris with an empty stomach and a deep pocket full of euros.

All of the books at one point or another speak of the cheese in France. I have been craving a taste of the famous French cheese which is made from raw milk (not pasteurized like the U.S.D.A. forces our puny cheeses to be). We found this tiny shop that looked like cheese fairies could live in, with a ceiling of silk flowers and a pungent aroma that thousands of cheeses will create. My aunt asked the fromagerier to show us which cheeses were made with pasteurized milk—he scratched his head and could only find three tucked away in the vast array…a very good sign.

Since we were only in town for a couple of days, it wasn’t practical to get the 10 lbs of cheese I wanted. Instead I settled on a couple hunks of goat’s milk cheeses…one that was more nutty and creamy tasting (although it was still a firm sucker), and anther that had a little more of a bite—the kind that sort of kicks at your sinuses with its cheesy stank.

We ran across the street to the boulangerie, because you can’t have French cheese without French bread. We got a whole baguette which was crusty and chewy and everything a real French baguette should be.

My aunt also threw in a couple of rolls—one spotted with bacon (yum!) and another with olives.

Most people are confused why we only eat when traveling. In response, we usually try to stick in an obligatory picture of some monument or historical point of interest to satisfy the question our parent’s often ask: “did you do anything besides eat and drink???”

Well, here it is: we went to the Orsay museum—the museum that focuses on the 19th century art of France which was also the impressionist era. We got to see the famous Water Lilly painting by Monet and the self portrait of Van Gough (although whether this was a self portrait is now under debate). We also enjoyed a wonderful meal at the museum’s restaurant—another post to come!

My aunt had pre-purchased tickets to the museum online (which I highly recommend as we got to avoid the 2+ hour line just to get tickets to enter the museum). Our tickets allowed us to enter at 11:30AM, which gave just enough time for us to sit in front of the museum and munch on our fresh bread and cheese. A perfect French moment.

My friend, Violet, suggested we go to this awesome kitchen shop that inspired Williams SonomaOllivander's shop to pick out my first wand. Sorry, I have Harry Potter on my mind right now.

They had every type of pot and pan you could ever want or need. This is the face I make to Kyle when I want something that I know he will say is unnecessary and too heavy to take home...In my mind it looked much more compelling and lovable...I may have to work on it more!

I did get some fun things, though, including some fleur de sel, which I plan to sprinkle over chocolate caramel cupcakes and other goodies at home.
Later that night, even though I was stuffed and didn’t think I could find another spare millimeter of space in my tummy, I sat on our tiny Paris hotel bed and tore off a hunk of bread. I unwrapped the remaining bit of leftover cheese and took a bite, as if it were an apple, and chased the pungent flavor with the crusty bread. It was the perfect day in Paris.

Happy Eating,

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