Monday, October 4, 2010

Over the sea and far away

Well, hello there! It's been so long, I hardly recognize you! You look great!

So, it's been a while since I've written on this blog. It's not something I'm happy about, but I'm here today to make amends. And by "here," I mean Toulouse, France. That's right, folks: this Brooklyn girl has up and moved to Europe. I'll be spending 8 months in La France, teaching English to little kiddies in the public school system, hopefully having a few adventures, and surely eating very well. And I pledge to document that. I don't really know what made me lose interest in my blog all those many months ago, but I do know that once I made the decision to come to France, I was sure that my time abroad would provide me with some much-needed inspiration. Having decided that I would once again become a loyal blogger after my big move, it was hard to motivate myself to blog at all before I got here. But I'm here now, and blog I will!

I don't know if my cooking will be much different here in Toulouse, but I'm hoping that what I'll make will indeed reflect my new locale. And even if it doesn't, I intend to talk a little bit about what I notice about the food here, and how it differs from what we cook and eat in the United States.

There's one big thing to mention and although I'm sure it's no little known fact, I'll go on and tell you anyway. The food here is fresher and tastier than a lot of what's available back home. In general, French people (and possibly the greater European population) care a great deal about where their food comes from, and what it tastes like. As a result, the factory farms that produce the great, great majority of the meat and produce for sale in the U.S. haven't really caught on here. There's still a great tradition of market (not supermarket) shopping: fresh food, made here in France, that's sold by vendors in the street once or twice a week in smaller villages, and every day (in different locations) in larger cities like Toulouse. I don't know if it's a law or not, but at these markets, each and every item for sale lists its country (and often its region) of origin, and you'll quickly notice that with few exceptions, that country of origin is France. In the United States, the provenance of our food is hidden from us: when you go into a supermarket and buy, say, some apples, a bit of cheese, some crackers, it's likely that your haul has been flown in from 2 continents, maybe more. If you've eaten local food, you know that it tastes better. And so the food tastes better here.

I'll probably devote at least one post to street markets at a later date, but for right now I'll go down another path and talk about two very important food items here in France: bread and cheese. Again, not news: who doesn't think of bread and cheese (and wine) when they think of France? But the quality and accessibility of these two foods is truly remarkable. First of all, there are bakeries, or boulangeries, everywhere. Just all over the darn place. In my small residential neighborhood just outside the city center, there are 4 excellent boulangeries all within walking distance of my house. Each produces seven, eight, possibly more varieties of very good bread (plus five or six kinds of pastries), all baked fresh every single morning. A simple baguette, another cliché French image, is astoundingly good and astoundingly cheap, usually costing around 85 euro cents, or about a buck. (And baguettes really are all over the place. Walking in the street, you can't go long without seeing someone passing by with one or two long loaves tucked under their arm.) Another thing? The boulangeries are open 7 days a week. That's a big deal in a country where almost everything shuts down on Sundays, and people just hang out around the house, or around the café, drinking coffee and chatting. It shows you where French priorities are, though: they simply can't go 24 hours without their daily bread.

The perfect match for a nice baguette is, of course, some well-made cheese. Again, there's no shortage of that here: France produces over 400 varieties of cheese, and each year the French people lament the loss of various kinds of traditional cheeses as they fall out of production or popularity. That's a subject, too, for another post; but suffice it to say that to my American eyes, there's still a lot of excellent cheese to be had here. Many of the most well-loved French cheeses, such as the iconic Camembert, can't even be tasted in their true form in the U.S., because they're traditionally made with raw milk. Because the U.S.D.A. has ruled raw-milk cheeses as being possibly more dangerous to consume than those made with pasteurized milk, America simply isn't allowed to import them. Raw milk, though, can develop many more nuances of flavor than pasteurized milk; the heat used to kill bacteria also kills taste. So there's a much fuller spectrum of goût, or flavor, to be experienced here than you could ever have access to in the United States. Another thing worth mentioning? High-quality, interesting-tasting cheese isn't expensive. I've been trying all sorts of cheeses nearly every day since I've gotten here, and they've rarely cost me more than 3 or 4 euro for a nice-sized hunk.

Et voilà! Those are my opening words on the rich subject of French food. Stay tuned, 'cause there's more to come! Next up? A recipe for silky squash soup that was passed on to me personally via a hardworking French farmer named Emilie. A bientôt!


veggie central said...

whoohoo! You're BACK on the blog! I had been checking it the past few months and disappointed that no new ones were posted. So now I have all your food adventures to look forward to and live vicariously!

Thanks for this "amuse bouche"!

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