Now that I’ve gotten gelato that was shaped like a tulip (not kidding — pineapple balled up in the middle of a waffle cone with thin slabs of raspberry making petals around it), I figure it’s high time I explain a little something about French food. Namely, I love it. I realize that one can purchase and consume many, if not most, of the items that I love in France at an equally good quality in the States, and probably in many developed countries. Sometimes it will be more expensive in the States, sometimes not. Sometimes it will be a bit harder to find, sometimes not. But I always seem to enjoy food more in France, and I can definitely always cook better (in terms of cooking without following a specific recipe) whilst in France. I have a two-part hypothesis as to why that is.
First (which doesn’t carry quite as much weight), it is my opinion that one can find a much wider variety of excellent, fresh food anywhere in France than in most of the US. I’ve lived in Paris and the countryside here. In Paris, I had a boulangerie, a boucherie, a fromagerie (bakery, butcher’s shop, and cheese shop, respectively), fruit and vegetable stalls, and two mainstream grocery stores ON MY BLOCK. There were two chocolate shops around the corner. Everything was insanely fresh. Even the little yellow-awninged deli by school where you could get a sandwich, a pastry, and a drink for 5 euros used — literally — only the freshest ingredients. Now, in the countryside, I walk into town, and within three minutes of each other, one finds a boulangerie, a boucherie, a fromagerie, a poissonerie (fish market), two patisseries (pastry shops), and a grocery store.
That’s until Tuesday comes.
On each and every Tuesday throughout the year, I have discovered, there is a market in L’argentière. A surprisingly large market that could probably feed the entire town and the surrounding area for a couple of months. Or seasons. And a lot of the shops in town set up outside stalls, too, that you can wander through. There’s stands for everything I’ve already mentioned, plus the following: epiceries (spice merchants — a couple of these stalls were ridiculously varied, including one that had probably every herb and every spice and every blend of spices you could ever think of, plus about thirty different loose-leaf teas and infusions), stands with just sausage, one with just garlic, one with eaux de toilettes that smelled amazing, a stall with just dried fruit (ohhhh…..the French do dried fruit WELL, and I had completely forgotten), one that just did roasted chicken, and then all the stalls that sold clothing, and those that sold jewelry, and those that sold tablecloths and drapes and sheets with gorgeous provencial patterns….yep. And this is remembering, too, that the Ardèche region is very well known for their culinary specialties and particularities. Needless to say, I spent a very healthy amount of money at that market.
Even without a very well stocked kitchen, I have still made three memorable yet simple meals this week. On Tuesday night, I cooked a filet of trout that I had gotten at the market, with lemons and almonds, with a salad of spinach and carrots with lemon juice and a few spices. I had fig sausage beforehand and bread and cheese afterwards, with wine to accompany the whole thing. Last night, I got tomatoes and parsley from my landlord’s wife’s garden, so I put sautéed tomatoes and goat cheese and parsley on slabs of bread and enjoyed that. With wine, and then tea. And tonight, I just made a tomato and cucumber salad and put some mustard vinaigrette on it. With bread and butter. I love fresh food.
Oh, and the second reason why food is just better over here, and this I will fully support until my dying day: there is more time to enjoy food built into the French schedule. Whether in the countryside or in Paris, most things will close for two hours at lunchtime to give everyone time to enjoy their lunches, hopefully with their families. And out here, it’ll be more like EVERYTHING closes for two and a half, maybe even three hours. Life moves at a slower pace. You can stop and smell the roses; you can slow down to really savor the delicious food that slides over your tongue.
Now I’m hungry again. Time for wine and chocolate.