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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Bonjour Paris gastronome

     The gastronomy of France has always delighted and intrigued me at the same time.  For a country that is as vast as it is interesting in this way, I thought about embarking on a deep study of each of its regions, as the only possible way to get immersed in the spirit of the true French cuisine, wine industry and hospitality in general. (It’s a hard job, but somebody’s gotta do it!).

     The French are a passionate people.  They feel strongly about almost everything, from politics to fashion, and food is no exception.  One can be invited to dinner at someone’s house and the topic of conversation, during the whole soireé, would be the food eaten that evening.  Is the wine appropriate for the cheeses served?  What about the bread and how it paired with the entreé?  Should the dessert have been lighter or heavier?  These are all questions that the true gourmets – and gourmands too, why not? – ask themselves all the time, and to which they all enjoy providing different, and more refined answers every time they’re pondered.

     The best place to start a tour of gastronomic France seems to me none other than its capital itself and the region immediately surrounding it.  Paris, the City of Light, of lovers, passions, luxury, splendid architecture, the city I aspire to move to one day, is the first focal point for my gourmet adventure.

     Paris is an ancient city.  In it one can find the marks of all the different times the city has lived through, ever since it was first conquered by the Romans in 52 BC.  When the Parisii (the first inhabitants of Paris) lived in it the city was called Lutetia

     The Parisii were Gallic people who lived in the area known today as the Ile de la Cité.  They were hunters and used the Seine river for trade and exchange.  After the Roman Empire conquered the land, Lutetia’s outlook was forged as a true Roman city with public baths and a forum.  Christianity took over the land when king Clovis, the first of the Merovingian kings, converted to the religion.  Thus the pagan ways of the Parisii were eliminated.  I first came accross Lutetia’s name in a fragance immortalized by parfumier Houbigant that came out in the 80’s - Lutèce.  Its advert at the time read “the perfume for days of gold and sapphire nights”.  I find there is no better way to exemplify the essence of Paris.

The paradox of Paris:

     For all that it is consumed in it and all that the city turns out gastronomically speaking, Paris produces nothing (Restaurants of Paris, Knopf guides, 1994, 52).  The city however, receives produce and ingredients from all over the world, which are then sold in hundreds of markets throughout.  Rungis, the biggest market in the world and precursor to the old Les Halles, is the major wholesale supplier for Paris’ many restaurants and individual sellers.  One can only buy at Rungis with a special business license, but anyone can go and watch.  Later one can stop at one of its many excellent restaurants for a truly gourmet repàs.

Take your pick of premium cuts of meat at Rungis.
Photo © David Leibovitz

Abundance of produce at Rungis Market

  Just like Rachel Khoo says in the introduction to her series “The Little Paris Kitchen”, the world generally finds French cuisine as difficult and fussy to prepare, something to be considered only for special occasions.  Yet Parisians eat very simple, uncomplicated food day in and day out.  Long are the days of the 20 course meals in places like Le Procope or L’Tour d’Argent of yesteryear.

     As I immerse myself in the local discovery of the gastronomic Parisian culture, I intend to live like a Parisian where I currently reside in Orlando.  If nothing else, just to use it as a preparation for my first visit to Paris in the near future.  Join me in my next post to see how a Parisian would start her day.

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