Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Essay of Mine on French Food

Below is a pretty cool essay I wrote in 2015 and tried to get published on a website called "France Revisited." The editor there said the piece wasn't for him. His loss. Enjoy. 

I’m a picky eater. Always have been. As a child, I took the cheese off my pizza and mostly ate olives during Thanksgiving dinner. But on a trip to France this summer, I was forced to overcome my pickiness and I’m glad I did.

Not only did I wind up enjoying much of the French food I ate, I learned how rewarding trying new foods can be and how much food can enhance the enjoyment of a trip.

My path to food enlightenment really began in Nancy, at the parents’ house of my girlfriend’s friend. My girlfriend and I were traveling from Hamburg, Germany, to Annecy, where we were going to go camping, and the parents of my girlfriend’s friend had invited us to stay with them for a night to break up the long drive.

Because I had only briefly met my girlfriend’s friend’s parents once before, I wanted to make a good impression on them, which meant that during this stay at their house, I would have to eat all the food they served me, even if I didn’t want to.

And so, that was exactly what I did. When dinnertime came and I was served a piece of Quiche Lorraine, a local specialty with onions, cheese and spicy bits of ham, I ate it, even though I didn’t like any of the ingredients.

When the Pâté Lorraine came out -- a flaky pastry stuffed with cold ground pork and veal -- I gobbled it up as well, even though I definitely prefer pizza to pâté.

And I did the same with the éclairs and the Religieuses, even though custard had always turned me off.

Though by no means was I a fan of French cuisine after our departure, I did notice something. I was less reluctant to try the French foods my girlfriend bought at several supermarkets we stopped at as we drove down to Annecy.

I had a bite of the readymade crème-brûlée my girlfriend offered to me. I didn’t refuse a few forkfuls of the shredded carrots in lemon Dijon vinaigrette.

I had become a little less picky, it seemed.

But the magic really happened when we arrived in Annecy, because that’s where I actually began to crave and savor French food.

Now, Annecy is a charming town in the French Alps. It has a fantastic turquoise lake that’s surrounded by mountains; it has walking trails, a delightful old city, even a castle. But, really, there’s not all that much to do in Annecy, especially if you’re camping, so most of our days revolved around our meals.

And, considering my new appreciation for French food, I’m glad they did.

Sitting on a bench in front of an old stone church with towering craggy mountains behind it seemed like such a more delightful experience while eating a flaky quiche stuffed with fresh salmon. Looking up at the hang gliders in the sky seemed so much more interesting while savoring the creamy, brain-tingling-good custard filling of patisserie-made Religieuses. Taking a break from swimming in the lake seemed like such a more luxurious experience while drinking champagne from Champagne.

Though I was clearly making strides in getting over my pickiness, I hadn’t realized just how much progress I had actually made until two separate occasions near the end of the trip.

One was when my girlfriend and I sat down to have a tiny picnic with the food that we had bought at an open-air market in Annecy’s old city. Instead of rejecting my girlfriend’s suggestion that I try a piece of the sausage she had bought, which looked very fatty and thus unappealing, I had a bite. And I’m glad I did. The sausage was like a flavor bomb of herbs and spices. It was so good that I kept on eating it even after I saw it contained many white chunks of pure fat.

And the other moment was when I was at a restaurant in downtown Annecy and was eating a salad. The salad was pretty basic -- with mixed greens, veggies and a light cream sauce -- but it had slices of hardboiled egg in it. Hardboiled egg was a mountain I had never climbed. But I tried it. And I actually liked it.

And so it went for the remainder of the trip. I kept on eating different foods and gaining more and more confidence. I was so proud of my new eating habits that at one point I told a French man at my campground about my pickiness and how excited I was that I now liked French cuisine. He said he was happy for me but quickly asked me if I knew that French cuisine varied greatly depending on the region of France one was in. “No, I actually  didn't know that,” I said. He smiled and went on: “These quiches here in eastern France are good, but I’m from Bordeaux, and in Bordeaux, we don’t eat that much quiche. We like duck. We love our foie gras.”

Admittedly, my first reaction was,  "Duck? No thanks. " But if I’m ever in Bordeaux, I’ll order it, or at least try a piece. My days of removing the cheese from pizza, I can now safely say, are well behind me.

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