A Day of Food in France


Flower Market in France


I’d like to take a moment and tell all the Chilean miners trapped in the bowels of the earth for two months just how much I admire their spirit and their ability to deal with adversity, including the lack of food until food began to reach them through the efforts of people above ground. I wrote this post before the miners began their journey to the surface. I imagine their idea of Paradise would be something entirely different at this point. But this is mine, what (I hope) would sustain me (in part) if I ever I sit in darkness for 20 days like they did, not knowing what my fate would be. I spent most of October 13 keeping those men and their families in my thoughts and prayers. And so I dedicate this post to those 33 ordinary men who survived extraordinary events. The saints and prophets tell us, enjoy the moment, live in the now. Eating is one way to be present to the moment, and that is why I discourage multitasking while eating!

A day in a French market. For me, that’s like bellying up to Paradise.

If you’re like me, and most food lovers, France still exudes a sort of mysterious aura, an inexplicable pull no matter how much you adore Chicken Tika or how many avant garde pizzas comprise your kitchen repertoire.

But first, I’d better confess something.

Once upon a time, even though I owned both volumes of Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, French food still represented nothing but snobbery incarnated. Until I actually stepped on French soil, that is.

How could I not love a cuisine that featured croissants with little bits of chocolate nestled inside, like butterflies nesting in a cocoon? How could I keep ignoring a cuisine that seemed to demand the freshest food possible, not just because nobody’s apartment boasted a refrigerator (and if it did, that fridge could do double duty in a Playskool kitchen), but because people really cared about what they ate?

Truth be told, I felt like Alice in Wonderland when I first discovered the real food of France.  With my first bite of an Opera (cake-like confection sold in most patisseries or pastry shops), I went to a place in my being where I knew I’d never be the same again. Remember that scene in the film “Julie & Julia,” where Julia tastes her first bit of sole fried in butter? I identified completely with Julia at that moment.

And so, when I go to France (and I don’t often enough), I walk through the open-air markets (which, on this last trip in September, I thought might be diminishing in importance, usurped by supermarkets like Franprix and Inter Marché) and I press my nose up against the windows of bakeries and stare through the glass at some of the most beautiful art in the world and I take pictures of food that I can’t cook, because I don’t always have a kitchen at hand.

The following pictures represent several paradisiacal days in France.


Hot Chocolate in the Morning



Croissants, oui!



Cheese in the Open-Air Market



Organic Bread in French Market



Cheese Plate



For more on French markets, and a Cheese Soup recipe:

The Ethnic Paris Cookbook, by Charlotte Puckette and Olivia Kiang-Snaije (2007)

Markets of Paris: Food , Antiques, Artisanal Crafts, Books & More, by Ruthanne Dixon Long and Alison Harris Long (2006)

Open-Air Markets, Vanishing Communities” [previous G & T post]

Cheese Soup for a Fall Day
Serves 4

This soup is a lot like fondue, thinner, but quite satisfying on a crisp fall night with plenty of toasted bread.

1/4 pound Gruyère
1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
4 T. unsalted butter
3 T. flour
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup dry white, fruity wine like a dry Riesling (Fendant if possible)
White pepper and sea salt to taste

Bacon, fried crisp, and sliced green onions, for garnish, or chopped parsley

Cut the cheese into 1/2-inch cubes. Set aside. Sauté the onion in the butter until translucent in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Stir in the chicken stock and the cream. When just about bubbling, add the wine. Heat to boiling. Stir in the cheese cubes and stir gently with a wooden spoon until cheese melts; do not whisk. Season with white pepper and salt. You may make some large croutons and serve the soup poured over the croutons. Garnish the soup with some crisp bacon, cut into matchstick size.

© 2010 C. Bertelsen, text and photos

20 thoughts on “A Day of Food in France

  1. That’s right, Meli really got into French, I remember her talking about French House. Must have been wonderful. I could see you getting away with fooling someone that you were French! Well, now you’ll just have to go back sometime and soak up all that wonderful food!

  2. Mom’s time in French house at UW inspired me, as well as her family trip through Europe ending in Turkey in ’69. I managed to squeeze in 3 years of French in high school, which culminated in having a French exchange student stay with us the spring of my senior year, and then I spent a little over a month in France after I graduated.

    The highlights of my time there: croissants for breakfast every morning! And fooling a street vendor in Paris to think I was really French!

  3. Hi Leyla,

    Good to hear from you. I didn’t know you’d spent time in France — we went because my mother presented a paper at a prehistoric art conference near Foix. Utterly fascinating caves and scenery, not to mention food.

  4. Cynthia,
    Your posts always make me hungry!

    I wish I had paid more attention to the food in France. But looking back the family I stay with did most of their shopping at Inter Marche. But we also spent time on the coast (I’d have to look at a map to remember the names!), and there we had fresh mussels and other delights from smaller markets!

  5. Cindy, I came a little late to the Pen Women meeting the other day so I didn’t get to meet you personally. I love this sight and like Peggy said, I didn’t think I was hungry until I starting reading your work. It’s amazing how you lure the reader in with your knowledge and expertise. Well done lady, well done. I look forward to seeing you again and getting to know you.

    Beth Ann Rossi

  6. Lovely words about French cuisine though it is your Morocco posts that I stumbled upon. As the author of 5 cookbooks on Morocco;s food I found your comments and bibliography very informative. It might interest you to know that Jessica Harris once told me that she had found out about Moroccan dadas (cooks keepers of tradition akin to southern “mammies”) in my first cookbook Come with me to the Kasbah: A Cook s tour of Morocco.
    Forgive the typos but I am presentlmy in Morocco typing on an Arabic French keyboard

    Kitty Morse

  7. Hi Anne,

    Good to hear from you. Yes, I think being a vegetarian in France relying on restaurants for provisioning might indeed be a challenge.

    The Road to Vindaloo, on your blog, one of the best books I’ve seen praising cookbooks!

  8. Oh my! Oh my! Cynthia, your writing about French food makes me want to lick my screen! I love love the pain au chocolat description! Thanks for making my day! I really miss living in France for the food! Lila

  9. yes, i’d have to agree
    i fell in love with french food on my last trip to paris
    and i am so glad i can replicate a lot of what i enjoyed there in my own kitchen, which i often do these days, to remind me of the wonderful time i had there

  10. Cindy,
    I am so hungry now that I have seen your pictures!!!
    I am so glad you joined Pen Women, Roanoke Valley. You are a great addition to our tireless creative pen women. Peggy

  11. If only I could retrace my steps and pay more attention to the food! Having only been to France one time, I tried to take everything in at once. I should have slowed down and enjoyed a small bit at a time. Your pictures are wonderful and inspire us all to march into the kitchen and become one with our “Frenchness” as we dream of results such as you picture here.
    Thank you for including us in your journeys!

  12. As a vegetarian, I can find eating out in France a bit of a trial as it seems to be an entirely alien concept to most chefs there. But I still love that there’s a bakery on nearly every street, which many visit more than once a day for real fresh bread (ie not loaded with preservatives!)

    btw just spotted the note on your new book – congratulations!

  13. Very beautiful photos! I’m a little startled to see a tomato wedge on the cheese plate. Do you see this as a changing tradition?

    best… mae at maefood.blogspot.com

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