Wednesday, February 1, 2012

To Eat or Not to Eat – that is definitely NOT the question!

Just where or what!

We often use eating to start the planning of our trips and excursions. "Where is there a good place to eat? OK, what can we see that is around that?" I know it’s not the normal way to be a tourist, but it serves us well. We often get to other parts of cities that we wouldn’t have seen if we had just stuck to the typical tourist destinations. When we are planning our jaunts into Paris, I always consult my Excel file of places to eat to find us a place to have lunch or dinner. There are times where we do wander around and stumble upon a restaurant, and there are times we are desperately hungry and all plans fly out the window. Flexibility is good, but I also find that having some key destination helps guide us. We love the search for a new, good restaurant.

Now I’m going to say something that I know is going to upset a lot of people. Some of you may have guessed by now, but I’m not a big French food eater. I know, I know. When I cook for myself (& kids by default) I tend to focus on quick, lowfat meals, and many French recipes do not lend themselves to those 2 descriptors. When eating out, we want to enjoy something tasty, enjoyable, and something we can recognize. I’m a slightly picky eater, and S is much worse than me, so our palates are a little limited. Add in my shellfish allergy, and it can cause trouble when trying to find some French food to eat. We don’t do much pork or veal, we like our beef cooked (French like it bloody & no matter how many times you send it back, you are bound to still have red/pink meat), we don’t do organs…the list goes on and on. So you see the limitations in going to eat at French restaurants. I love the yummy sauces, it's the protein items they put in them...

No, that's not chicken, that's sweetbreads

On top of our pickiness, there is another problem with heading out to eat French food. I hate to say this also, but many places to eat are not up to par with their food. Even the French will admit that the quality of many restaurants/cafes/brasseries have gone downhill. Yes, sometimes you will still get lucky just trying a random place, but often you do need to rely on the recommendations of others. And many of the good places can be hard to get into – you need to plan ahead and make reservations. We haven’t been good at that thus far, but will be making an effort to improve soon. One person made a comment that we liked – something to the effect of “French food is very deep but not very wide”. We have found this to be pretty true. While the quality of the dishes can vary greatly place by place, the actual selection of dishes offered can be very narrow. It’s amazing how so many French eating establishments offer the exact same dishes. How can every café in St. Germain have the house specialty of slow-cooked lamb shank in prunes? Now I know part of this depends on what type of restaurant you are in: Cafes offer certain foods, brasseries offer certain foods, etc., but I still would expect SOME variety on the menus. At least it gives you a sense of comfort knowing what to expect - if you find a dish you love, you can try it at many different places. And all those places just look so darn cute and French - how can you resist?

 OK, one thing we would like to know: what’s with the pig? The French loooooove the pig! They put jambon (ham) or lardon (bacon – but basically barely cooked so pieces of fat) on or in everything. We don’t eat ham, and like our bacon crispy, so that’s a challenge. There have been times when one of us has accidentally ordered the wrong item, and sure enough, the lardon is pretty tasty, but it’s a little too smoky and rich so a little goes a long way. And where the heck is the turkey? I know it’s not a native bird here, but surely they could introduce it! We miss turkey – especially R. Ham is just not the same. They do have Subway sandwich shops here & I’ve seen R’s eyes light up when we see one, but we have yet to stop in. I wonder if they will have a turkey sandwich for her? I know they offer Indian chicken sandwiches…

We have had some great meals and some ok meals. I don't think we've had a bad one since we moved here. I'm very thankful for all the blogs I read written by expats in France as that is where we get so many of our recommendations. If any of you have any as well, please send them our way. We have promised our friend to try and write some restaurant reviews, and we will definitely try. I just don’t want anyone to be disappointed by the number of non-French restaurants that we visit! And don’t worry, we will be adding traditional French ones to our repertoire – as long as they offer chicken and fish in addition to their sweetbreads and snails!

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