Why French women don't go hungry
Saucisson paves the way for calamari provení§ale, fromage, and fruit. Tomorrow's lunch is pí¢té de campagne, poulet basquaise, and salade de fruits with biscuit. No, it's not the table d'hí´te at some hip Yaletown bistro, but rather this week's menu for kids in the French village of Léran (pop. 600) in the Arií¨ge region. I've just returned from there, where the daily rundown is posted on the door of the primary school so that parents and anyone else can read it.
The grownups eat well, too. Besides the usual breads, our boulangerie bakes miniature quiches and gem-like macaroons, a trend that's trickled down from Paris. The épicerie sells everything from Roquefort cheese to canned anchovies. The fresh-fish truck shows up weekly in the village. The butcher's van parks outside the church every Thursday, and toots its horn at 10:30 a.m. on the dot, and out we all troop to buy muscular beef cuts for daubes, thin steaks for frying, duck confit and pí¢tés made by the butcher, as well as bacon-wrapped, cep-stuffed quail ready to pop in the oven.
Speaking of quail, the rotisserie folk sell these already roasted at the truck at the weekly markets in our nearest town, Mirepoix, as well as ham, pork, huge sausages, and the most succulent farm-raised chickens you'll ever taste.
This isn't Paris; it's a hard-working, agricultural community snuggled up against the Pyrenees. Think Cloverdale or Revelstoke, only smaller. Seasonality, regionalism, and all that trendy stuff are givens here.
What did I miss about Vancouver food? Don't ask me that just yet while I'm still remembering what my local French supermarket supplies. Such as fresh fish and seafood spread out in a glorious pink, silver, and blue-black array on crushed ice and a fish-counter lady who can tell you what you can use instead of rascasse (scorpion fish) in your bouillabaisse. The butcher at the supermarket is happy to debone, tie, and do all the fiddly things upmarket cookbooks tell you to ask your butcher to do.
It's not fair to compare cheeses, or the price of crí¨me fraí®che, or the raw milk I bought with the name of the farm on it. The local cows are beige, blond, and beautiful and spend their lives grazing outdoors. Oh yes, and butchers usually list the farms and the names of the farmers that supply their beef, lamb, and pork.
France isn't just about French food. Our département, the Arií¨ge, shares a border with Spain; North African immigrants have moved to the area. That means colossal pans of couscous, tagine, and brilliantly coloured paella at the local market. Also daube de boeuf, choucroute au Riesling, and aligot, a garlicky cross between mashed potatoes and cheese fondue that the person who made it scoops out of huge steaming pans and pots into takeout containers.
Being absent for a while puts Vancouver food into perspective. We are passionate here, some would say obsessed, about what we eat, but maybe we should be asking why if French outdoor markets can sell fresh meat and fish, we're restricted to frozen chunks. Or why an egg producer can bring his or her eggs to a French village market in a basket and sell them direct to the public. Could it be that we're, er, a little overprotected? Nobody I've met in France ever seems to get any kind of stomach upset, or take mountains of supplements, and food allergies are almost unheard-of.
I missed wild B.C. salmon while I was away, but I didn't miss Asian food as much as before, because Super U and Intermarché now sell limes, ginger, lemongrass, and all the other basics. Chinese restaurants and Vietnamese eateries are ubiquitous, and now, five kilometres from where we live, a couple runs Le Jardin du Siam, which turns out dishes as spicily authentic as you'll find in their hometown of Bangkok.
But although Le Jardin du Siam does takeout, it doesn't deliver, nor can you get those lovely, thin-crusted French pizzas delivered. So, as soon as we got home from the airport, we were on the phone to Tang's Noodle House (2805 West Broadway, 604-737-1278). Within the hour, Singapore noodles, a curry-flavoured tangle of rice noodles, red and green pepper, egg shreds, shrimp, and barbecued pork, arrived at the door.