Ch. 4: French cuisine

Long before Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking brought French cuisine to the Western masses, France has been the epitome of culinary excellence. Birthplace of the Michelin Star, the croissant and crème brûlée, it’s the ideal world for chefs and food-lovers alike.

It’s no secret that dining to the French is both an art and an institution. The term “24/7” is not commonplace here and, unlike in Canada, if you ask for a takeout box at a restaurant you’ll likely be scoffed at. In France, food is meant to be savoured, and while fast food is available you’ll be hard-pressed to find many restaurants open past 12.

To understand the French culinary experience here from back at home, first picture Ottawa. Replace every shawarma restaurant with a bakery, and you have Paris. The smell of butter and freshly baked bread is the eau de parfum here.

For the purposes of satisfying my curiosity and giving you readers the full scope of French cuisine, this edition of my column could easily be renamed to “Ch. 4: The one where I subject myself to seemingly cruel and unusual punishments of the meat-tasting kind.”

Let me be clear—I was raised on chicken and beef kabobs. I’ve never faulted chicken for its ability to satisfy me, but prior to coming to France I never understood the French fascination with raw meats and animals that have no business out of picture books.

This exploration led me to try a selection of foods that Canadians consider to be strange, and formulate my own opinion. Below are my reviews of some classic French dishes that I’ve tried over my past two months here in Paris. 

Foie Gras 2.5/5

This French delicacy is made of the fattened liver of a duck or goose. It is, at least in my opinion, the French equivalent of spam. Having tried it on multiple occasions, it isn’t as bad as it sounds, but not necessarily something I would eat on a daily basis.

Roquefort cheese 3/5

While very few people may want to be presented with a slab of moldy cheese, it’s a classic part of French culture. Its strong taste is strangely not unpleasant, and if you can get over the mold part, it’s definitely worth a try.

Escargot 3/5

This classic food is available in restaurants all over France. The snails are generally cooked in a delicious garlic basil sauce. Once I got over the hurdle that was the texture of the snails, I finished the plate with ease. Although I wouldn’t go out of my way to try them again, I also wouldn’t mind if they were presented to me.

Frog Legs 4/5

To try this dish, I visited a specialty French restaurant and ordered a Mediterranean twist on frog legs, and was genuinely shocked at how much I enjoyed it. I finished the plate in around ten minutes—partially because it was so delicious and partially because I didn’t want to acknowledge that I was eating frog legs.

Although the almost $50 plate was a hefty price, it was by far one of the best dishes I’ve had in Paris.

This experience led me to realize that the brilliance of French cooking lies in its ability to transform mundane and often strange ingredients into extraordinary dishes.

And while my sustenance has thus far been attributed to a large intake of bread and butter, I take comfort in the fact that there is a shawarma place not too far away from my apartment whenever I start to miss home.