The Frenchie Fifteen

21 09 2008

Today I reached a milestone.  Seven months and three days after my first post, I have reached a total of 15,000 hits to my blog!  Not too shabby, considering the first 3 months I only got about 3,000.  So thank you all for reading and commenting and coming back to visit.  I really enjoy writing Croque-Camille, but it’s infinitely more gratifying when I know there are people out there who are enjoying the fruits of my labor.  (Not entirely unlike cooking, in that regard.)

To celebrate, I’m creating my own meme: The Frenchie Fifteen.  Fifteen foods that, to me, exemplify France and its rich culinary history.  Except it has 21 items, because it’s the 21st of September, and I just couldn’t whittle my list down any more. 

I had two sources of inspiration that led to this.  First, I went to a book reading on Thursday at WH Smith, one of the biggest English-language bookstores in Paris.  The author was Alexander Lobrano, and he was reading from his excellent book, Hungry for Paris.  It’s a restaurant guide, but rather than spare descriptions of the restaurants and their dishes, Lobrano invites us to dine with him, sharing anecdotes of memorable meals he’s had at each place.  Interspersed with the restaurant “portraits” are essays on French cuisine, restaurant culture, and a little autobiography for good measure.  It’s a great read.  Anyway, in the introduction, he discusses French food and what, specifically, that refers to.  The essay culminates in a list of 10 dishes Lobrano considers to be the answer to the question, “what is French food?”  His list differs from mine (there are, of course, some overlaps), mainly because it focuses on complete dishes, while I have chosen to include pastries, snacks, and drinks as well.

The second source of inspiration was the blog Joy of Desserts, where Joy celebrated her hundredth post by creating a meme called 100 for the Sweet Tooth.  (I played at home, but I find the rules a little unclear, so I’m not posting about it.)  Since I let my hundredth post go by without fanfare, I’m celebrating 15,000 hits instead.

So here’s my list of quintessential French foods, and the rules for playing along.  If you’re interested, I’ve listed some descriptions and reasoning behind my choices afterward.

But first, the rules:
– Copy/paste the list and rules into your blog, journal, or even a piece of paper.
– Put the foods you’ve had the pleasure of eating in bold. Elaborate and add stories as you see fit.
– If you’re so inclined, leave a comment on this post to let me know where to find your results.

The Frenchie Fifiteen

1. Croissant
2. Ratatouille
3. Lait cru cheese
4. Kir
5. Croque-Monsieur
6. Crème Caramel
7. Tartiflette
8. Pain Tradition
9. Cassoulet
10. Macarons
11. Aligot
12. Pissaladière
13. Pain de Campagne
14. Choucroute Garnie
15. Tarte Tatin
16. Pastis
17. Roast Chicken
18. Eclair
19. Lentil Salad
20. Entrecôte
21. Escargots

1. Croissant – Is there a single pastry with more French connotations than the buttery, flaky croissant?
2. Ratatouille – This provençal classic even got a movie named after it. Not being a big bell pepper fan, I usually riff on the idea in my own kitchen.
3. Lait cru cheese – One of the best things about living in France is the abundance of cheese and the ease of procuring cheeses made with raw milk. They are unfailingly more complex and delicious than their pasteurized counterparts. How ironic that it was a Frenchman who invented pasteurization in the first place.
4. Kir – When I first moved to France, right after college, I lived in a small town called Moulins-sur-Allier. The first week I was there, I had arranged to meet the other two Anglophones in town at a little brasserie called Bar Les Ducs. (I later learned that this was some kind of pun.) We asked the bartender to make us something French. He gave us Kir: a traditional apéritif made with white wine and a splash of crème de cassis.
5. Croque-Monsieur – The über-French ham sandwich with a gooey and crunchy cap of melted cheese on top. My co-workers eat these things like they’re going out of style. I also took the name for this blog from said sandwich.
6. Crème Caramel – Perhaps more commonly known as “flan,” this one is a classic. The shy, sophisticated sister of crème brûlée, This silky smooth custard is baked in a cup with caramel in the bottom so that when it’s unmolded, the dessert sauces itself.
7. Tartiflette – Potatoes, bacon, crème fraîche, onions, and cheese baked together, it’s a heart attack on a plate. One of Nick’s co-workers introduced me to this scrumptious and incredibly hearty dish, and I foresee a lot of variations on it happening this winter.
8. Pain Tradition – It looks like a baguette, but brother, it’s no ordinary baguette.
9. Cassoulet – May very well be the heaviest dish in France. There are three cities that lay claim to this slow-cooked bean-based delicacy: Toulouse, Carcassonne, and Castelnaudry. Depending on who you ask, it can contain duck or goose confit, pork, sausage, bacon, lamb, or mutton. Pick three and throw some bread crumbs on top. An awesome winter dinner.
10. Macarons – Frankly, I don’t get it, but people can’t get enough of these little almond meringue cookies.
11. Aligot – A specialty of the Auvergne region, aligot really sticks to your ribs. Puréed potatoes mixed with enough Tomme de Laguiole cheese to render a smooth, stretchy take on mashed potatoes. Best prepared tableside, for maximum theatrical effect.
12. Pissaladière – Few things showcase the flavors of Provence as simply and eloquently as this humble tart of caramelized onions, anchovy, olives, and thyme.
13. Pain de Campagne – The antithesis of the baguette, this large, round, hearty bread is usually made with rye flour and keeps for a few days. Great for sandwiches.
14. Choucroute Garnie – This is what happens when the French take German food and run with it.
15. Tarte Tatin – Probably the world’s best use for apples.
16. Pastis – I think it’s against the law to play boules without some of this anise-flavored liqueur. Judging from the amount of shelf space it gets in stores, it may be illegal not to have a bottle in the house at all times.
17. Roast chicken – Homemade or bought fresh off the rotisserie, with roasted or mashed potatoes and a green salad, you can’t deny the pleasure of a succulent and satisfying roast chicken dinner. This is what French cooking is all about: great ingredients, simply prepared.
18. Eclair – I bet there isn’t a single bakery in all of France that doesn’t sell these.
19. Lentil Salad– the beautiful, green, caviar-like Puy lentils need little embellishment, but a little bacon, onion, parsley, and vinaigrette never hurt anyone.
20. Entrecôte – This thick beef steak is so omnipresent on Parisian restaurant menus that Nick coined a phrase to indicate one’s appetite: “entrecôte hungry.” As in, “I’m hungry, but not entrecôte hungry.”
21. Escargots – Really, how could I leave off snails?

Originally published on Croque-Camille.


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