…or How to lunch like a Parisian.
You know how there are some things you can do in life, and then there are those that you can’t? Me for example. Great at cooking and writing, but try and make me drink a bottle of water whilst walking and you uncover a serious weakness. Dear old Paris is the same, though like a real lady, she wouldn’t thank me for pointing out one of her flaws.
But the fur coat of luxury that sits upon her shoulders hides a few dark secrets, and if we’re talking about food, she might not want us looking too closely under that glitzy exterior. Let’s face it Paris, despite France having what’s regarded as one of the best cuisines in the world, if we’re being honest, there’s really not a great deal you can bring to the party, love.
Sure there are bistros and brasseries galore and a thriving modern restaurant scene, but check out the menu and it’s really her regional cousins propping up the reputation with dishes from all corners of the country. Beef stew and coq au vin from Burgundy, mussels and cider from Normandy, crêpes from Brittany, enough meat to terrify vegetarians in Lyon, and classic Bouillabaisse from the south – wherever you travel you’ll be spectacularly well fed.
The same is true in Paris of course, and you can find all of these dishes faithfully occupying space on the city’s menus and filling the bellies of her hungry inhabitants, as if she herself invented them. But between the confit de canard (Gascony), cassoulet (Toulouse) and wildly popular foreign import the ‘amburger, just take a moment to try and locate Paris’ contribution to the national food culture. Suddenly old dame Paris falls strangely silent.
See, she may be all culture and style, but when it comes to feeding and watering us, Paris skipped dinner and preferred to head straight to the cabaret instead, blinding our appetites with her sparkling nipple tassels. I’ve been here for 7 years, and I can’t help but picture the traditional Parisian dish as a McDo and a Coca Light, with half a packet of cigarettes on a café terrace to finish.
If you’re in the mood for lunch though, there is at least one classically Parisian dish to sink your teeth in, first recorded on the city’s menus in 1910 – the famous croque monsieur. It’s hardly the height of culinary sophistication being essentially a toasted ham and cheese sandwich, but if you’re after a fancier edge, you can always add a gender-changing fried egg on top and tuck into a croque madame.
Literally meaning ‘Mr Crunch’ and his wife ‘Mrs Crunch’, legend has it that some dim workmen left their lunches of ham and cheese sandwiches on a radiator whilst they hammered and chiselled away, and were surprisingly delighted with the result when the midday hunger hit. It didn’t take long for the dish to hit brasserie menus in the capital given the French’s penchant for talking about food (like ALL. THE. TIME.) and now it’s considered a classic, occupying blackboards with its more sophisticated regional friends.
Amateur chefs can recreate their own with bread, ham, béchamel sauce and grated gruyère cheese (but rule breakers are style makers, remember) but for those in France with a lazy constitution can head to the supermarket and purchase the packaged version ready to be cremated in your frying pan. Chips and following food baby optional.