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How I Got Sick of French Food

Our Fridge in Ottawa, April 2012

The grass is always greener on the other side, the crois­sants are always more but­tery in France and the eth­nic food is always tastier in Canada.

Okay, I just made that up. But that was my some­what cryp­tic con­clu­sion after three weeks in France.

When I’m in Canada, my French foodie friends and I some­times indulge in food porn fan­tasies, nam­ing the brands of cook­ies we miss the most and the dishes we wish we could recre­ate but can’t because there is always some key ingre­di­ent miss­ing (and also because we are too lazy to cook elab­o­rated stuff).

So when I went to France after a two-year long absence, I had my eyes set on the food. I wanted twenty dif­fer­ent kinds of stinky cheese, creamy and sweet yogurts and crèmes, and huge loafs of bread. I wanted quiches made with real crème fraîche (not the stu­pid Cana­dian sour cream!), fougasse bread and thin-crust piz­zas (some­thing Cana­dian don’t seem to mas­ter). I wanted but­tery madeleine cakes, chaus­sons à la fram­boise, and kid’s cook­ies such as Petits Écol­iers, chocos, LU Kan­gos, etc.

Note: I really wish I could pro­vide a pic­ture for each of the foods named above but I was too busy eating.

The first week, I kept on vol­un­teer­ing to go gro­cery shop­ping because I just enjoyed being around French food. I strolled the local Monoprix’s aisles look­ing like a dirty old man in a sex shop. Pathetic, really.

The sec­ond week, my French fam­ily felt like hav­ing Chi­nese food. “Alright,” I relented. “I’ll go pick up some stuff at the Chi­nese deli.”

I walked to Nantes’ “Chi­na­town”, i.e. a cou­ple of streets with eth­nic stores, includ­ing a few Chi­nese delis. Most work exactly the same. Appe­tiz­ers, mains and a few desserts are already pre­pared, sit­ting there dis­played on plates behind the glass case. You pick and point what you want and the “waiter” more or less grudg­ingly dump the food into lit­tle take­out boxes and weight it. If you answer “yes” to the ques­tion “hot?”, your box is thrown into a microwave for a few min­utes, and handed back to you.

The first and only time I took Feng to the Chi­nese deli, he was stunned. “What? They don’t pre­pare the food as you order? And it’s cold? And it costs that much?”

Yes, yes, and yes.

And the sad­dest thing is that it’s pretty much the extent of Chi­nese “gas­tron­omy” in France, not to men­tion that half of the dishes are not actu­ally Chi­nese (try to order “nems” or “Can­tonese rice” in China!). I’m sure that if you really look for it, you can find a few authen­tic Chi­nese restau­rants in major cities, but they are hard to come by and very expensive.

And it’s the same with most eth­nic foods. Nems and Can­tonese rice rep­re­sent Chi­nese cui­sine, kebab sym­bol­izes Turk/Greek cui­sine and a few pricey Japan­ese restau­rants serve skew­ers (stuffed with cheese!) and noo­dles. Good luck find­ing authen­tic and cheap Indian, Thai, Viet­namese, Korean, Mex­i­can, Malaysian, etc. food.

That’s when I started miss­ing eth­nic food. In Canada, we eat food from all around the world, and super­mar­kets sell bam­boo shoots, tor­tillas, pad thai or korma chicken sauces, tzaziki, hum­mus, arti­choke hearts, gua­camole or tofu—ingredients I use a lot.

Besides, while in France, I real­ized I didn’t like tra­di­tional French food that much. My fam­ily is very casual and they cook “mod­ern” French food. But these days, French seem to be into regional spe­cial­i­ties, like I dis­cov­ered going out with an old friend of mine.

We met one night for a drink, and then decided to go to the restau­rant together. I have been away for so long that I don’t know any good places in Nantes any­more (not to men­tion that when I left, I was a broke teen and didn’t go out much).

Pick a place you like,” I encour­aged. “I trust you, I’m not really picky.”

We walked to his first “favourite restau­rant”, offer­ing French food. Hope­ful, I looked at the menu and did a double-take. Fea­tured were “steak tartare” (minced raw beef with a raw egg yolk), horse meat with “foie gras” sauce, sev­eral kinds of carpac­cio (raw meat or fish), oys­ters, pork, duck and game prod­uct such as blood sausage, etc.

I mean, I’m not veg­e­tar­ian and it takes a lot to gross me out but I draw the line at raw meat. This ain’t Fear Factor!

My friend laughed at me and we ended up in a crêperie (where the egg yolk is served very runny, but I can deal with that).

By my third week in France, I was really crav­ing eth­nic food—Chinese, Viet­namese, whatever—and a good burger, the kind we get at Dick’s. I had my fill of French food, and as good as it is, I needed mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism in my plate.

What can I say—I’m also Cana­dian now.

15 comments

  1. 呵呵,这怎么可能呢?
    法国菜世界数一数二的呢。
    我喜欢法国的糕点、奶酪。

  2. my mouth lit­er­ally waters up upon read­ing all the won­der­ful things you men­tioned. but i gotta agree with you, no mat­ter how awe­some one cui­sine is inter­na­tion­ally, there’ll be a day when you miss vari­eties — flavours that are so dis­tinct from what you’ve been exposed to, esp after you’ve been expe­ri­enc­ing it for so many years! :D

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