Descending from our apartment at 36 Rue Ballu into Place Lili-Boulanger, we set out in search of our next repast. A quick saunter in any direction yields an almost unimaginable bounty, qualified as such because my imagination around food appears to be limitless, fueled into frenzy by my current Parisian surroundings. Bistros, cafés, patisseries, boucheries, boulangeries, traiteurs, caves à vin, poissoneries, restos, fromageries, épiceries; there is a micro-segment of the food world for every occasion and appetite.
There are times that I get so lost in my various culinary sleuthings and wanderings that I forget to actually eat, an outcome signaled by the hypoglycemic thundercloud rolling over my horizon. Poor Violet. With our geographical reach aided by our vélos électriques, there is no place in Paris that is truly inconvenient for our gustatory adventures. OK, I would not feel too bad for my daughter. Still, even with two months of exploration ahead of us, the sheer breadth of choices feels borderline oppressive.
Oppressors of a wide swath of colonies, the French not only subjugated people, but coopted their customs and cuisines, in many cases resulting in mélanges of French methods and native ingredients. The banh mi is one such edible portmanteau, a tasty but stark souvenir of a violent past in Indochine. A conglomeration of pillowy/crusty baguette, forcemeat, and garnishes that are decidedly not indigenous to L’Hexagone, it would be easy to see it simply as a great sandwich. But the banh mi is also an important homage to the indomitable spirit of an invaded populace. That is why I like to take mine with a hearty dollop of sauce piquante; the sweat and burning mirrors a bit of pain and shame.
Politically speaking, immigration has long been a flashpoint in France. In America, I find the anti-immigrant sentiment to be superbly absurd, given the nature of our formation. The French are similarly hypocritical; they have no issue destroying countries, as long as the survivors do not attempt to find themselves a better life on the shores of their erstwhile conqueror. Despite Le Pen and her cadre and particularly given the lack of plurality in the Vail Valley, it is a joy to see the full spectrum of nationalities on the streets of the capital. Restaurants helmed by Lebanese, Syrian, Malian, Mauritian, Senegalese, Moroccan, Algerian, Caribbean, and other immigrating proprietors fill the air with enchanting aromas and their charming mix of French and local dialects.
There is no food more archetypically French than the croissant. However, the buttery crescent is actually an immigrant. A more perfect rebuke of French nationalism is hard to concoct. The croissant comes to France by way of Vienna, where its predecessor the klipfer was created to commemorate the liberation of Austria from the invading Turks, who bore the crescent on their flag. Now found on essentially every street in Paris, it is a ubiquitous national symbol and an extremely convenient snack when one needs something quick and flaky on which to munch. Of course, that presupposes that you are not first seduced by the pain au chocolat or kouign-amman or pain Suisse or escargots au raisin that are neighbors in the patisserie case. Some days, that is my hardest decision, a wonderful sign of a summer well-spent.
Of course, there are many very healthy counterparts to all of this glutinous gluttony. But, my pursuit of a smoothie or a salad has become a running joke. Every time that I try to counteract the calories with something vitamin and fiber packed, I am stymied by the fact that the store lacks the necessary ingredients. I’ve been offered tropical smoothies without mango or pineapple, protein shakes without the powder or bananas, salads without lettuce but with pasta. Violet takes it as a sign that I should just relent from my attempts at circumspection and I suspect that she is correct.
To simulate meals around the world without having to leave our arrondissement is a treat that we are not taking for granted. Let us know if you want to come visit; we have a list of places that may take Violet’s lifetime to complete, particularly given that it is growing at the same rate as my waistline.