When people think of French cuisine, several ingredients come to mind: bread, butter, sugar, meat. Several dishes also come to mind: quiches, crêpes, ratatouille, casseroles au gratin, cheese platters. And thanks to my study abroad experience, I can verify that these gastronomic generalizations are apparent in everyday French life. Why yes, the French do eat all of these wonderful, scrumptious things, and they eat them often—but in small portions.
The idea we have in our minds of the French methodically eating four course meals is true, at least in my host family’s apartment. We start with the hot meal (and bread), proceed to the salad, move onto the glorious cheese platter and/or yogurt, then finish with the dessert. It’s divine. And also potentially dangerous for Americans who aren’t exactly familiar with the notion of “portion control” or not “eating with your eyes.” I’ll admit, I feel like I’ve put on a couple pounds from this culinary experience—and with the holidays around the corner, it’s not an ideal situation. But a friend of mine has heard that the pounds shed easily back in the States once you get back to a healthy regimen…
Anyway, today’s post is a virtual tour of the incredible food I’ve been enjoying, peppered with anecdotes along the way, in the hopes that it offers you a temporary respite from your day and inspires you to treat yourself to a pastry (or two…?).
Behold, the French doughnut. It’s not like the beignets we’re used to (cue powdery, delicate mountains of puffs from Café du Monde in New Orleans). And yet they’re not like our American doughnuts with holes in the center. Instead, they’re these delicious, full doughnuts that typically have a filling (chocolate, raspberry, you name it) and are sprinkled with a light sugar dusting. I bought this one at La Banette, which is a chain in France (yes, very rare) that’s part patisserie (pastries) and part boulangerie (bakery).
As a barista and caffeine lover, France is a wonderland of coffee, espresso, and caffeinated drinks. At my host family’s home, we drink instant coffee (weird, I know), so sometimes when I’m out a café I take the opportunity to order real espresso. The milk is so frothy, the espresso quality is top-notch, and the portion is perfect. This one is from Bistrot et Chocolat, a Strasbourgian gem by the Notre Dame cathedral.
If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of tasting a millefeuille, I highly recommend that you do so ASAP. It’s a multi-layer pastry that alternates between puff pastry and pastry cream. The top layer either has confectioner’s sugar or fondant with a striped design. There’s a Cuban pastry called la señorita, which is very similar (but better in my opinion…). Furthermore in my opinion, the measure of a millefeuille’s taste depends on the filling—whether or not the vanilla actually has flavor or tastes bland. The one pictured above is from a patisserie near me called Mathias, but I much prefer the one from La Banette.
Sometimes my friends and I prefer to do a potluck-style picnic dinner (indoors or outside, depending on weather), so we all contribute a part of the meal. Our standard list is prosciutto, cheese (camembert and port salut pictured above), a baguette or two, and individual wine. Alsace is a region known for its white wine so my go-to is usually riesling, which they do very well. There’s also a fermented grape juice called vin bourru that’s incredibly delicious and regional.
Another typical French meal: a latte and sugary pastries for breakfast. A little while ago, my friends and I met up at Mathias, the patisserie near my apartment, to eat breakfast before going on our boat tour. I had the latte pictured on the lower right, along with a croix à la canelle, (literally translates to cinnamon cross) aka one of those divine cinnamon pastries in that stack. I knew of the popular French pastries like croissants, pain au chocolat, macarons and other iconic delights, but this croix à la canelle was a new discovery for me.
Welcome to Au Brasseur, one of my favorite Strasbourgian eateries. They have delicious food (in particular the tarte flambée—which is an Alsacian specialty) and cheap beer. What more could you want? This is where I ordered my first crème brûlée and loved every bite. Crème brûlée is actually a Spanish dessert (crema catalana), and there’s a Portuguese version called leite creme too. However you call it, it’s delicious.
Oh, quiche and éclairs—two of my favorite French foods. There’s this adorable place near the university (whose name just escaped me) that boasts the best quiche in town. They also have pretty good éclairs, even though I found an even better place nearby. Anyway, quiche is quite the common dish in Alsace because it’s a regional food. My host mother makes it often and I’ll just say it’s better than anything you’ll find outside of France. And regarding éclairs, who couldn’t love them? It’s a sweet custard with light breading and icing.