Ah oui! The French kitchen is world famous! But for foreigners like the Dutch, there are a few things you really have to learn to eat. Some dishes are extremely strong in taste or have ingredients you might not consider edible for men. Here’s my list of 10 things I found unappetizing at the beginning but learned (or not) to appreciate.
|anˈdoō-ē| a spicy pork sausage seasoned with garlic.
This may sound fine: “spicy pork sausage”. How ever the Wikipedia description says more about its true nature: “Andouille is a spiced, heavily smoked pork sausage, distinguished in some varieties by its use of the entire gastrointestinal system of the pig: for example, traditional French andouille is composed primarily of the intestines and stomach.”
So there we were about 15 years ago, not speaking a word of French beyond bonjour and au revoir. The restaurant was packed with Parisian chic who were obviously all born before the war (might even have been the first war). The restaurant Le Fontaine de Mars was a highly respected bistrot for good French food.
The impatient French waiter tapped me on my shoulder. “Puis-je avoir votre choix?” I don’t like to be rushed, especially when I want to order food. So–just to get rid of him–I picked the day’s special, andouille. The man looked at me with an expression that seemed to say, ‘Monsieur le foreigner, are you sure?’ Yes, I was sure (at that moment, anyway).
It arrived 20 minutes later accompanied by a good glass of red wine. I prefer to refer to it as It. It was sliced-up sausage where you could distinguish the pieces of intestines without a degree in biology. It did not look nice and smelled even worse. There was a warm and extremely strong and sickening smell coming from my plate. I must have looked helpless to the waiter, who replied with a look like ‘Mais oui, monsieur, you wanted it’.
Never before had I felt reluctant to eat something I had ordered. But these slices of dog meat you wouldn’t even feed to a pig were definitely the start. The feeling of throwing up grew with my every breath. In the end I think I should not have even touched it but instead should have called the police to report attempted murder. I spent the rest of my weekend in Paris running between bed and bathroom. That ‘spicy pork sausage’ must have been as old as the clientele.
You should try it, though. It has a unique taste.
| shoōˈkroŏt| pickled cabbage; sauerkraut.
The second thing you need to learn to appreciate is choucroute, or choux croûte (shredded cabbage), as the French spell it. As a child I hated it. The Dutch do have a cheap-ass copy of the original version from Alsace. So where the French (or German–that’s a discussion) cook the sour cabbage in white wine for a day or so, the Dutch only heat it for 30 minutes in the sour water. It keeps the sour taste and that’s just not right. A hot sour plate of vegetables certainly does not make me ask for a refill. The French version, however, I started to like in the heart of the Alsace, Riquewihr.
Pâte à tête
Pâté |päˈtā| rich, savory paste made from finely minced or mashed ingredients, typically seasoned meat or fish.
Paté is great! The taste is super-French, rich and full. Yet among all types, Veal Pâté, Chicken Pâté, Pâté Campagne, Wild Boar Pâté, Cooked Ham Pâté, Ham Pâté, Deer Pâté, Port Pâté, Brandied Turkey Pâté, Fine Herbs Pâté, Green Pepper Pâté, Prawn Pâté, Salmon Pâté, Sea Urchin Pâté, Crab Pâté, and Shrimp Pâté, there’s one special one. That would be Pâte a Tête, which is easily translated as Face Paté. You read it correctly: paté made out of face. Pig’s face, that is.
This sounds horrifying. But it’s not. The pig’s skull is cooked in broth and taken out as soon as it’s ready to leave cold. The meat is picked from the skull and ground into a paste, and then processed into a paté. But there are two versions that might frighten you: the pieces version and the full head version. In the pieces version the picked meat is concealed in a jelly aspic. In the full head version, the meat is taken carefully off the skull and shaped back into a full head. It is then covered with carrots and herbs and the aforementioned aspic to prevent discoloration.
The first time I ran into a couple of pigs’ heads at a charcuterie I was shocked by their smiling beauty. There they were four half-pigs (as in once two) simply smiling at me. The care that was put into reassembling the head from the bones displayed the love the butcher has for his job. This man loves his meat. We bought one and took it to friends who rented a gîte in the Morvan. We tried to shock them, but–culinary freaks that they are–they loved it. I admit it: I loved it too.
Here’s some face paté advice: start at the neck. Eating the nose is not for the French-food novice.