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French and Russian undergraduate student, trying my hand at the real world.

Friday, 8 February 2013

French Food

Hello chaps,

I have become one of those people that chefs and eating establishments in New York City now hate.
Yes, that is right, I have become one of those people who will take a photograph of their food in order to post it on social networking sites. I don't use flash though, as that would draw far too much attention to myself - so rest assured, fellow diners, that my own obsession with food will not interrupt your appetiser.

I have my reasons.
Firstly, in order to prove to my mother that I am indeed getting my 5 a day. 5 macaroons a day, that is.

Secondly, for the purposes of this blog and the sharing of my cultural explorations.

Finally, for me to reminisce about during moments of dead space when I have idle thumbs and a desire to mess around with my iphone. Stark confession - but don't deny you are equally guilty. At least it's not Temple Run.

I thought, then, after a few instagram sprees and emails sent to England, I would share with the rest of you some of my favourite things. France is a nation of food lovers and people who are not afraid of food, which is something I respect wholeheartedly. For those of you who know me, I am something of a foodie, as I suspect may now actually be apparent based on my earlier blogs.

I'm going to start simply, as that is always the best way. I have mentioned previously my intense love affair with Carrefour and the fact that you can make really good food for pennies. This is a concoction that I have since named "10 minute French garlic mushroom soup" and really was as good as it sounds.

It was rustled up from what I had in my cupboard - 4 ingredients. Low fat creme fraiche (cheap and essential for cooking in France), mushrooms, garlic salt and herbes-provencales. I have also mentioned previously my love for mushrooms that I spent time cultivating in Russia. What I love most about French cooking, as Rachel Khoo also advocates (fan girl moment), is that it is incredibly simple, yet healthy and delicious at the same time. Home made, French food probably would only get better than this if  I was actually French.

Now onto something a little more cultural and authentic. Perhaps the macaroon is something of a cliche these days, but that does not mean to say they are not the best things on the planet. This particular specimen was my dessert on Thursday - served hot with chantilly cream. Perfection. Gooey inside, melting in the mouth, and cooked by a large French woman in her cute little cafe on Avenue Grammont. She was the perfect advert for her food.

My favourite word in the French language is "moelleux", which means something along the lines of "succulent in a bread-like way/crumbly/melting in the mouth/soft". It's semi-translateable by a number of adjectives in English, but there is no exact equivalent - which I think is one marker of our culinary cultural divide. Moelleux au chocolat is a kind of chocolate cake, with a soft gooey centre. That'll be my dessert next time, and I am looking forward to it immensely.

Now for something a little more savoury. My Russian fans will recognise this as a 'блин' - or pancake to us English. It is not, however, a crepe, despite appearances. There is a difference. This is a savoury pancake, made with a particular kind of flour - different to that used in sweet crepes. The flour is actually made from buckwheat (sarasin in French) and gives the pancake an intense, wholemeal flavour. This kind of dish is in fact called a Galette - which is a bit confusing, given the type of biscuit called a galette (delicious) and the kind of pastry called a galette.

This galette is filled with the traditional filling of emmenthal cheese, ham de paris and an egg, which I think they cook in the galette itself, like the Italians sometimes do on pizza. It is probably one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten, second only to pepperoni pizza on Martha's Vineyard back in 1999. Galettes are very popular in France, particularly in the Breton region (or Brittany to us English). The way to eat them like a true Breton is with a glass of cider as an accompaniment, however I stuck with the tap water - it was pretty filling! I shared the meal with my new French flatmates, who told me a little about their favourite French foods.
Apparently, though, the galettes were nowhere near as good as Marie's mums. I think I shall have to invite myself round for dinner. How very un-British of me.

Speaking of galettes, this next picture is also a galette. This is a "Galette des Rois", or the rather less sexy, "King Cake". (English people do have a bad tendency to ruin things, don't we?!)

The galette des rois is a cake associated with the epiphany - the arrival of the Three Kings in the Nativity. It is therefore associated with the month of January and is highly traditional. It is a puff pastry case filled with frangipane, a sweet almond paste that is different from marzipan.

There is usually a small dried bean, or feve, in the cake, which will end up in the mouth of one of the people eating it. This is apparently an honour associated with much privilege, as the lucky person becomes King or Queen for the day. This usually means the cake is on them the next time around. I almost broke my tooth and choked, forgetting this.
 I bought this specimen a few weeks ago, as part of my gastronomical exploration of Tours. I thought it would be better than it was to be honest - if the pastry was sweetened, it would have been incredible; alas, this was not the case. You can't eat very much of it though, as it is incredibly rich. Think I'll stick to macaroons in future. (Oh and it took me a week to finish the whole thing and it acted as lunch!)

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