A woman I was showing around Paris once told me, “The food in Paris is so terrible… it’s a good thing that they have American fast food here.” Cringe! Eating fast food while in Europe is one of the biggest mistakes a traveler could possibly make. Why pile on McEmpty calories when you can load up on the richest cheeses, meats, breads and of course pastries, each unlike anything you’d find anywhere else in the world? Eating pain au chocolat for breakfast in Paris is one of the most luscious experiences one could ever hope for and enjoying the cuisine of Paris is a crucial part of an authentic visit to this historic city. Taking a baguette, some assorted cheeses (Auvergne, Camembert, and Muenster) and a bottle of Bordeaux down to the Siene for a picnic lunch is not only nourishing for the body, it nourishes the mind and soul as well! So the question is, why would this woman believe that the food in Paris sucks?
After promising her that if she sticks with me, she’s sure to learn otherwise, I asked what gave her this preposterous idea in the first place? To this she responded by telling me about a big sandwich she picked up at the cafe near the Pompedeu, which was almost completely made of bread, and the greasy crepe from the stand on the corner by Notre Dame, and then her eyes lit up when she told me about the gelato she had for a snack after her day at the Louvre. I laughed. It didn’t sound like she thought that the food was terrible at all, only perhaps terrible FOR her.
It’s true, the French tend to believe that bread can be the main course for any meal, they use a lot of butter and cheese and really don’t skimp when it comes to dessert. But look at them, they are thin! This is because… well, there are a few reasons. First, you’ll find most Parisians walking and biking everywhere they go. Secondly, the portions of food they eat are about half the size of an American meal. Third, cheese, butter and pastries are not the ONLY foods they eat.
Take a moment to wander off the beaten path and venture more deeply into the neighborhoods where the people of Paris actually live. There, you’ll find many markets filled with fresh vegetables and fruit. You don’t need a fast food joint or your own kitchen to put together a salad. Combine romaine lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes and green beans, then sprinkle them with fleur de sel, olive oil and a squirt of lemon juice, and voila, you’ll think that you died and went to heaven. It’s part of the Parisian experience. Plus, eating a meal or two like this each day could be easier on your middle and on your pocketbook. But don’t forget, you’re on vacation! It would be an absolute pity to waste the rare opportunity to savor the flavor of everything this magical city has to offer.
“Indulge!” I tell her as we stop into the best gelato shop in the Sixth. We finish every last bite and then we commence to, once again, walk our butts off.
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