10 Things French you have to learn to eat


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.

01_andouille

Andouille
|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.

02_choucroute

Choux croûte
| 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.

03_patedetete

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.

04_pieds

Pieds de porc

Let’s be honest about this. These are pigs’ trotters, the local speciality of Varennes-en-Argonne. On each street corner, in every bistrot, and at every butcher you’ll signs saying: Les meilleures pieds de porc ici. Well, if you think those look nice, forget it. The skin is dark when they arrive on your plate. The rough hooves are turned a deep brown by the cooking procedure, which calls for more than 4 hours of simmering to melt the cartilage to an edible form.

Maybe the local postmaster, who in June 1791 arrested Louis XVI in Varennes, discovered the power of eating pigs’ trotters. I prefer to give it to the dogs. If you’d like to try, see here: recipe.

05_fruit

Fruits de mer
fruit |froōt| the sweet and fleshy product of a tree or other plant that contains seeds and can be eaten as food.

This is my favorite fruit. I do not particularly like sweet flavors, and this fruit stays away from sugar big time. It’s fruits de mer: sea fruits! This food class contains all shelled and shell-like animals of the sea: oysters, shrimp, lobster, periwinkle, crab, prawns, langoustine, mussels, scallops, and clams. Most of them are served raw or just quickly cooked. They’re generally served on ice on a large plate in what looks a bit like Louis XIV Style. The voluptuous extravagant mountain of dead animals-–some even gazing up at the diner–-are served to you by neat waiters on a brasserie terrace. It is that moment you can really enjoy life. You do have to enjoy eating fish as well, though.
The best place is at Central in Trouville, Normandy.

06_foiegras

Foie Gras
pâté de foie gras |päˈtā də ˌfwä ˈgrä| a smooth, rich paste made from fattened goose liver.

“Protest!” “Scandal!” “Shameless!” “Animal molesting!” Many foreigners says it’s terrible and should be forbidden. The livers of ducks or geese are specially fattened. This fattening is typically achieved through gavage (force-feeding) corn, according to French law, though outside of France it is also produced using natural feeding. Pâté de foie gras was formerly known as “Strasbourg pie” in English, due to that city being a major producer of this food product.

This sounds cruel, but everybody who protests should consider the overall impact of his/her existence.

07_escargots

Escargots
|ˌeskärˈgō| a snail, esp. as an item on a menu.

There you are, all tip-top and dressed in your Sunday suit. You picked a good restaurant in the Provence, overlooking the green hills. You ordered the local starter, escargots. As soon as you see the bubbling hot plate of oil that carries 12 floating snail shells, you feel a bit uneasy with your choice. The garlic smell is strong enough to keep all flying animals out of your sight, as well as the next 10 people that you were to meet that afternoon. Two minutes later you waste your white summer pants with the first drop of oil and parsley. Your day is ruined.
The snails themselves? They look like pieces of chicken liver and taste like whatever you want them to. Je les aime.

08_boudin

Boudin noir
|boōˈdan; -ˈda n | a French type of blood sausage.

There’s not much to say: You either love it or you hate it – juicy blood sausage! Nice with a traditional baked apple and some red cabbage. My favorite butcher at Rethel won a lot of prizes with them. If you’re not  a huge fan of blood (like me), there’s a pale-white version called boudin blanc.

The art of preparing a good boudin noir is to bake it without bursting it. Most of the  time the sausage skin breaks and a burst of still uncooked meat and juices is wasted. It makes the sausage go dry. Not Good. But to tell you the truth, I’m not a bad cook, yet it happens to me all the time.

09_epoisses

Époisses de Bourgogne

Say cheese…and *GOSH!* Just how much I love this soft cheese with its enormous, rich taste is impossible to express. I guess it’s one of the few cheeses you have to eat with a spoon. Don’t try to cut it. Because if you CAN cut it, it’s not ready to eat. It should be soft like a pudding and run out of shape like a good and warm chocolate souffle.

The flavor of this queen of cheeses is so strong. The taste is close to (if this is possible) the condensed air of a barn filled with farting cows. As with wine you have to taste cheese with some air, which opens all the capacity of your taste buds. Whatever cheese you have on your platter, nine out of 10 times this is the closing piece de resistance. Only a few blue cheeses can top this yellow killer.

10_aspic

Aspic
|ˈaspik| a savoury jelly, often made with meat stock, used as a garnish, or to contain pieces of food such as meat, seafood, or eggs, set in a mold.

Last but not least, aspic is close to the pâte à tête. Food in aspic simply looks strange. Jelly may look inviting to a kid’s palate; the sweet and red jelly is just a perfect attraction.
The texture when you eat an aspic is repulsive to some people. I like it though … especially with a soft boiled egg and slice of good ham. Yummy.

If you have any specific things you like or dislike in the French food repertoire .. send me a recipe and I’ll give it a try. 🙂

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