16 September 2011

Thumbelina's French Feast

A lot has been said about French food – especially on this blog. I’ve had a pretty extensive vocabulary of French dishes since first memorizing the lyrics to “Be Our Guest.” It’s hard to really say anything new about it. So, I thought I’d take a look at some French staples a little differently - in miniature.
It all started with this little quail egg croque-madame. We saw her in the window of a traiteur and snatched her up like a dog with a waggly tail. Croque-monsieurs have been around for at least 100 years in France (it becomes a 'madame' when you add an egg). One could call it the original of french fast food, something quick and cheap that someone can order at basically any cafe, bistro or brasserie. We heard one American tourist describe it as "either the cheesiest ham sandwich I've ever had or the meatiest grilled cheese." I'd say it's both. So, just how popular are these croques? McDonalds serves a Croque McDo.
French cheese is a cultural icon. It is the ending to every meal, even the most casual set-menu. There may be some sort of cheese spread served before a dinner, but the selection of fromage is always, always at the end. Sometimes, a grand selection is wheeled over on a cart. Sometimes, the options are passed around the dinner table on a cutting board with a cheese knife. Something that stood out to us this trip was the fact that, to all our hosts and servers, chèvre was chèvre was chèvre. No matter if it was new, aged, from here or there, it was always identified simply as “goat.” Cow and sheep cheese were referenced by "name" (place of origin - roquefort, morbier, saint-nectaire, etc).
The same is somewhat true for quiche. Whether at the boulangerie on our daily baguette run or at a fancypants gourmet shop, quiche was simply labeled “quiche” – even if there were more than one option. When miniature quiches like this are readily available, it’s difficult not to eat too many. As a whole, they were particularly delicious – airier than most and always under two euros. FYI: whether leek or cheese or vegetable, it’s a safe bet that there will be little bits of ham involved.
A croissant dipped into coffee for breakfast. A croissant bought for the walk home from the bakery, hands filled with baguettes. A croissant’s tip being gummed at by a baby in a stroller. They are everywhere. Sandwiches aren’t really served on them all that often and you don’t necessarily see someone buying a dozen of them, but they make the perfect snack. (Teenagers seem to prefer chocolate croissants). This is a miniature croissant, so you can see how large the normal ones are – and oh, so buttery.
Of course, absolutely everything is washed down with red wine. Even at road stop picnic tables, a bottle was set on the table. For the record, there definitely seems to have been a big shift to beer over the last few years. At cafes, we saw mostly beer, rosé and pastis. But when there is food involved, vin rouge still holds court amongst beverages.

Blogger's Note: I really wanted to purchase a roasted quail to include as a "miniature roast chicken" - but we only ever saw them raw. It just seems blasphemous not to include poulet roti on this list of staples (baguettes are a given). Each morning, the rotisseries are wheeled out of storefronts onto the sidewalk. By mid-day the smell of roast chicken fills the air just about everywhere. Beneath the rows of spinning birds are usually a mound of potatoes, being generously showered by dripping juice and fat.

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