France and America: Why Paris Haunts Us So

It's been several days now, the media stream moves onward, darting here and there to other news, other disasters. And yet I remain static, stuck, still mulling over the attacks on Paris, mourning the loss of all those lives, as well as the so-very-French joie de vivre. Why does Paris haunt me, and others, so? In the hours and…

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Dear Julia, Happy Birthday! #100, or, Why I Loved You

Dear Julia, Happy 100th birthday! Today lots of famous food writers will write or post reams of flattering words about you. I know, I’ve already seen them, the New York Times leading the charge with three features about you, one by your friend Jacques Pépin. Like Jacques, many others will point out, once again, that…

French Bistro: Seasonal Recipes

“A visual feast as well as a gastronomic one . . . Organized by ten essentials that any successful bistro must have, French Bistro almost reads like a graphic novel, thanks to the prolific and colorful photographs.” When you walk into a Paris bistro straight off the street on a cool fall day, the odd leaf rustling…

At My French Table

If as a child you loved fairy tales and dreamt of being Cinderella, or if you longed to be the handsome prince with a turreted castle, you’re going to adore Jane Webster’s gloriously illustrated At My French Table: Food, Family and Joie de Vivre in a Corner of Normandy. The book imparts the warm feeling you get…

La Tour d’argent poinct ne leurre*, or, Pressed Duck, Blood and Guts and All

What is sauce for the goose may be sauce for the gander but is not necessarily sauce for the chicken, the duck, the turkey or the guinea hen. ~ Alice B. Toklas The famed, if slightly faded, Parisian restaurant, La Tour d’Argent, embodies the French idea of culinary hegemony. So do ducks. As you stand…

Rationing and the Black Market in Nazi-Occupied France: Some Thoughts

"Life is hard (On vit mal). Everyone grows thinner. A kilo of butter costs one thousand francs. A kilo of peas forty-five francs. A kilo of potatoes forty francs. Still we must find them." - Jean Guéhenno, August 1944 Speaking as the beneficiary of an immense system of food production in the twenty-first century, as…

It Might Be a Stereotype, but ….

I love this picture of a snail. Like many mollusks, snails seem to have been  eaten in substantial quantities by early man, as witness the mounds of snail shells found in archaeological sites. See Prehistoric edible land snails in the cirum Mediterranean: the archaeological evidence (2004) (Extensive bibliography)

The Expert (French) Cook in Enlightenment France: A Review

If you scrutinize sixteenth-century Dutch artist Pieter Aertsen’s painting, “The Cook in Front of the Stove,” you will see a rather stereotypical image of servant cooks, one that persisted in popular memory in Europe until well into the nineteenth century. Sean Takats, assistant professor of history at George Mason University and codirector of Zotero, attempts…

Give the Gift of Cooking French Food at Home: Some Cookbooks That Make a Seemingly Impossible Task Possible

I have to tell you that the cookbook lists that come out every year around Christmas time drive me crazy. Like you’re really going to savor, say, 101 Recipes Using ___________? (Fill in the blank.) Or you’re going to run out and buy another Italian cookbook when you already own somewhere in the neighborhood of…

Who was Ginette Mathiot? And Why Should You Care?

Ginette Mathiot wrote books that bring up long-lost taste memories in France, much as Marcel Proust's oft-quoted prattle about about madeleines. Only her work proves infinitely more readable and enjoyable. She also basically sticks it to Julia and makes French cooking seem less like a prolonged session at the dentist's. One of her books, Je…

Belleville Revisited

The Belleville market -- straddling the crossroads of Paris's 10th, 11th, 19th, and 20th arrondissements -- presents the determined photographer with a tremendous dilemma: how to take pictures without being literally swept up in the crowds and jostled like a buoy bobbing in heavy seas? Although the market runs from the Menilmontant metro stop to…

Celebration! With Champagne …

Gherkins & Tomatoes / Cornichons & Tomates celebrates an anniversary in a couple of days, and I would like to thank all readers --- old and new --- for their ongoing and strong support. A special thanks goes to friends and family, who keep me going by saying nice things and bringing me champagne. This…

The Crêpe Makers of France

Want to make your own? Here's a recipe from Epicurious: Nutella and Banana Crêpes 4 servings Crepes: 1 cup all-purpose flour 1 tablespoon sugar 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 1/2 cups fat-free milk 2 large eggs, lightly beaten Cooking spraySauce: 1/4 cup hazelnut-chocolate spread (such as Nutella) 2 tablespoons fat-free milk 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract 2 large…

The Weird, Different, and Just Plain Interesting Restaurants of Paris: A Photo Gallery

Like many of you, I dream about being in France. A lot. And, of course, I daydream about eating in Paris, in spite of naysayers who point their compasses at other, more culinarily au courant corners of the globe. I'm already making lists of culinary adventures in preparation for my grant-sponsoredjourney this fall, doing research…

What was French about Mexican Cuisine?

When you bite into a chicken taco or scoop up guacamole, you probably won’t be thinking about France. Yet, France left indelible fingerprints on the cuisine of Mexico. Jeffrey Pilcher, in Que vivan los tamales!: Food and the Making of Mexican Identity (Dialogos) (1998), attempted to examine the question, but much remains to be done. In…

An Ancient Mediterranean Taste: France’s Boutargue

The Egyptians who fled to Marseille from Egypt after the Napoleonic debacle there  (1801) brought with them a hankering for batarekh, now called boutargue or poutargue in Provençal. Happily, Marseille happened to be a place where they could find batarekh, a caviar-like product made from the pressed and dried roes of grey mullets (Mugil cephalus).…

The Lost Arabs of Marseille: Food, Family, and France

In his  timely Arab France: Islam and the Making of Modern Europe, 1798-1831 (2011), Ian Coller writes of the Arab families associated with Ya'qub Hanna, an Egyptian, a Copt and first non-French general who'd served with  Napoleon Bonaparte in his military campaigns in Egypt. The cover, I believe, was chosen to highlight the idea of…

The Fish of France: Weever (Trachinus draco Linnaeus )

A bouillabaisse fish, the weever is. Mentioned in William Verral's A Complete System of Cookery (1759) as "weaver," the weever fish's spines emit poison. According to Clifford Wright, a restaurateur in Marseille likely invented bouillabaisse, an expensive version of fish stew and not really the traditional fisherman's fish boil.  So much for romantic nostalgia and visions of…

To India, via Paris’s Le Passage Brady

In spite of French presence in India for a couple of centuries, trying to find Indian curry in France tends to be a bit of a chore. The first Indian restaurant didn't open in Paris until 1975. Those in the know (mostly British expatriates pining for curry in London) lament the lack of good Indian food,…

East is East and West is West: Pondicherry and French Curry

In Pondicherry, Pondichéry, or Puducherry as it is now called again (since 2006), you still see streets sparkling with old colonial buildings, dating back to a time when passersby heard French spoken daily. Yet, those buildings, policemen's hats, and a fully functioning French lycée or school, are among the few overt signs that you'll notice…

Culinary Diffusion? Yes, in Alain Ducasse’s Kitchens

In a way, it's the French version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." World-famous French chef, Alain Ducasse, chose fifteen women from Sarcelles, a suburb of Paris housing mostly poor immigrants mainly from France's former North African colonies. An article in The New York Times tells the whole story, almost a Cinderella saga: 15…

Brassai’s Paris, a View Through the Tunnel of Time

Before the second world war, filled with the wandering souls of the "Lost Generation," Paris throbbed with the fluttering notes of jazz and the clattering of horse hooves on cobblestones. And Paris also served as a subject for the art of photographers like Brassai, one of the earliest photojournalists, influenced by surrealism. Brassai (born in…

La Malbouffe, Oui ou Non? Fast (Ethnic) Food and the French

If you saw the following headline  pop up on one of the many news feeds streaming into thousands of computers around the global, you might think, "Oops, some editor didn't ingest their caffeine fix in time!" French Get the Taste for Fast [Ethnic] Food (Click on the link above to read the article that inspired…

The Things They Carried*: Brief Glimpses of French Food in Vietnam

In the film, "Indochine," you sense the rampant orientalism that made Edward Said one of the most quoted scholars on the subject of colonialism and the creation of the "Other." The heat, the fans, the sweat, the passions, the exoticism and erotocism, all these visual cues recreate the mental picture many of us have regarding…

Gifts of French Food: Blogs to Hold in Wonder

With each gust of drafty air from the front door, the candles  shimmer, and the flickering light scintillates off blood-red wine glasses and the golden gilt rimming them. Your mouth rounds in an "O" as you see the table for the first time. The sight never fails to cast its spell as, for a brief…