Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Eating In France: Dying Inside

"Restaurants are very expensive. There is a range, of course, but it starts high. Way higher than neighborhood places in Manhattan, for instance. And few places are truly child friendly. The French do not much like children.

Restaurant meals are available at very limited hours. You want lunch — it had better be between 12 and 2. Miss that and you can have a snack — but only if you are in a place big enough to have a range of restaurant types. Dinner starts at 7, no matter that you missed lunch and want a burger or a salad at 5, not ice cream or a beer. And meals take forever. I like the leisurely lunch as much as any journalist, of course. But not with my kids, every day — which leaves us with grilled-cheese sandwiches, hold the ham. Oh, you can’t hold the ham? Thanks.

Finally, there is a lot of bad food in France — especially around tourist sites, including the great museums. I will not say what I paid for two sandwiches and two salads — all premade so unwanted ingredients could not be removed in advance — and a few soft drinks at the Louvre, after braving the crowds to see the Mona Lisa (which attracts tour buses full of people eager to take group pictures of themselves in front of the picture). There is much excellent food, of course. But who wants really excellent food every day? Sometimes you just want to get everyone fed and get on with your activities.

Fast food exists because a mediocre, entirely predictable burger from McDonald’s is no worse than what you would get a certain percentage of the time at individual places that might not be as clean and certainly won’t be as quick. There is an obvious open niche for a service-oriented place that downplays the drama and provides reasonably healthy food in a clean setting.

And as for the health claim — I don’t personally buy it. But I am currently in a region where every farmers’ market, farm stand, and café sells foie gras, duck confit, and excellent high-fat cheeses, and what passes for a vegetable in restaurants is potatoes sautéed in duck fat. A few carrot sticks and an apple and Mickey D wins that one — so no surprise that it’s doing well."
-- Lisa Schiffren, on some of the many hidden truths about eating in France - others are an extremely limited menu, hearing the repeated phrase "We do not have" when ordering from that menu (France is a socialist country, so prepare to do without many advertised items) and - unlike anywhere in the FDA-protected United States - the daily danger of food poisoning, which you won't hear about anywhere but here, and in The National Review.

And when I say "food poisoning", I'm talking about a real whammy kiss of sickness, that would cause me to black out as I was eating and, when I awoke, swear off trying any of their "delicacies" ("It's the best!") ever again. When I was living there, I was always at McDonald's or Quick (the American jeans-clad Belgian Burger King that operates in France) or stealing away to a Muslim joint for a tasty kabob - a risk for any American.

But I found I'd do almost anything - anything - but take the chance of another debilitating night of the vomits or the shits - experiencing the depressing reality of, once again, suffering terrible stomach cramps - while inhaling the full-strength odor of my own insides because I was usually stuck, using an ancient toilet with no water in it. (France hasn't figured out standardized plumbing either. I swear, after the war started and American liberals started screaming, "France does not agree!", I was living there thinking, "So what? If these goofballs don't agree, it's probably the right thing to do." That started my very-serious re-evaluation of Bush, his policies, and just about everything else: Conservatism, here I come,...)

It was a fucking daily torture.

Another issue is this idea of "freshness" in France.

I can't tell you how often I sat in wonder as my French ex-wife (dumbshit that she is) would go to one restaurant after another ordering the fish - trying to make a point about French fish being better and fresher than American - but regularly discovering she almost broke a tooth because it invariably had sand still in it. (I almost always ordered a steak, which would drive her and the other frogs crazy, since they took it - and almost anything else I did, not to their specifications, to protect myself - as an insult, being the insecure bunch that the French are.)

And about that limited menu: You can go to a party in France and they'll always have a spread for the guests. Go to another party - it's the exact same spread!

And how would you like to find these guys - just like this - on your pizza?

Here's a couple of other culinary tips:

Stay away from Mexican food in France.

They don't understand the first thing about it, and will happily hand you a plate that can best be described as an ugly bean dip disaster.

And, black Americans, don't be surprised if someone slyly offers you "niggerheads" for dessert: They're racist as all get-out in France. They just won't admit it - even to themselves - just ask the Jews.

But, of course, they demand that Americans must have a black president, while France doesn't have a black anything. They don't even like printing the word "black" in newspapers. Hell, I once went to the equivalent of a Home Depot in France and they didn't even have black paint! (They also wouldn't sell me blue paint because I told them I wanted to use it on my kitchen. The reliable reply: "This is not done!")

Fuck France.