Thursday, 9 August 2012

My Week in Food: What I ate in Paris

It is no secret that I love food. Many of my best memories involve food. Sometimes when I think about a favourite moment I don't just remember it - I taste it. 

I ate a lot of food when I was in Paris, and good food at that. In fact I spent most of my time wandering from café to café and thinking about what delicious place I could visit next. So here is my week in Paris, told through the food I ate.

Dunky Eggs and Soldiers

When I was younger boiled eggs were 'dunky eggs', buttery toast fingers were 'soldiers' and together they were a pair reserved for Sundays or flu.

In a café in Paris I sit and eat dunky eggs and soldiers for brunch because I am a grown up now and I can choose to eat eggs for breakfast at twelve o'clock.  The eggs arrive guarded by a troop of French soldiers who are substantially more muscly than their English comrades. Alongside the strips of crispy bread is a golden packet that I unwrap to find a present of creamy butter.

With some salt and pepper and a mug of mint tea the combination is just as delicious as the Sunday mornings I remember.

Better, because I don't have to go to school tomorrow.

Pulp Fiction Sushi
My friend Juliette lives above a sushi restaurant, which comes in handy on our first evening together. We are both exhausted. We order our meals and carry the plump paper bags upstairs to her room.

Then comes the almost ritualistic preparation for eating: putting our pyjamas on, tying up our hair, laying the table and making sure everything is arranged so that we can best enjoy our food. We take the sushi and miso soup out of their plastic containers and transfer them into pretty dishes. I say 'we', but Juliette prepares my meal for me, our friendship served up on the floral tray alongside my californian rolls and a thoughtful glass of water. She lays the table with care and puts pink (of course) chopsticks on my tray, next to a wooden pair (in case the new pink plastic ones were more pretty than practical) and finally a fork (in case both chopsticks failed me, or more accurately, if I fail them).

We settle comfortably on the sofa together and watch Pulp Fiction, eating sushi in our pyjamas as Paris continues to be Paris outside the window.

Strawberry Tart and Lemon Meringue Pie
I don't think I could ever love a man as much as I love food.

After wandering around Paris and sitting in a park to read my book, I headed to a Salon de Thé recommended by my friend Camille, where I am now sat eating a strawberry tart and drinking a pot of tea.

I am going to be incredibly fat when I return to England, but I don't care.

The walls here are covered in posters and a painting of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, where a rather stylish white rabbit eats a large slice of cake. The chairs in the Salon de Thé are mismatched, just like the characters that are sat in here sipping tea.

I chose the strawberry tart (like summer on a plate), but the woman next to me has just been served a lemon meringue pie that I think now I should have chosen. I don't even like lemon meringue pie.

Rising out of lemon foothills is a mountain of meringue that climbs to a crispy white peak. To scale the mountain will be an achievment; I watch in admiration as my neighbour attempts the climb.

The lemon meringue pie woman is sat by herself and is sketching the room in a ringbound notebook. She has started on the empty chair opposite her. So far it has a back but no legs. I wish I could draw. I scribble and eat cake to fill my time and the empty seat instead.

Carrot and Orange Sunshine Soup

  We are creatures of habit. On one of my last days in Paris I head back to my favourite café (the dunky egg and soldiers café) and sit at the same table, leaning against the bookshelf as I look out into the bright street.

I order soup from the chic café manager. She is an older woman with a silver bob, red lips, a crisp striped shirt and a silk 'foulard' fluttering in a bow at her neck. I decide that her outfit is beautiful, but much like the slate grey walls in the café I also decide that it is too chic for me.

The soup is orange and carrot and is 'ni chaud, ni froid' (not hot or cold). It arrives in a large glass, into which I dunk fists of crunchy bread.

It looks like liquid sunshine. Sweet, peppery, fresh and friendly. It smiles in my mouth.

Angelina's is famous, and rightly so.
Angelina's is a pastry shop in Paris where the cakes look like Christmas baubles. They look too fragile to touch, and much too beautiful to eat.

Like someone carrying a rucksack through an antiques shop I stand still and timid in front of the glass counter as I eye up the dainty pastries and colourful macaroons.
There are chocolate puddles and round choux pastries topped with white cream swirls that look like rabbit tails. Eclairs the size of a giant's fingers and strawberry tarts that look like wedding hats. The trays of macaroons look like summer flowerbeds.
A woman in a white apron serves bewildered customers who are asking themselves the same question: "How can I possibly choose?"

In the room next to the shop people sit at tables and wait for their desserts to arrive on trays carried by neat waiters who treat the puddings with a deference normally reserved for celebrities.
The room is loud with the sound of teaspoons clinking against plates, tea being poured into teacups and people inadvertently letting out squeals of delight as their teeth sink into cream and sugar.
On the street outside people buy ice creams and eat them greedily before they melt. Really the heat is just an excuse.

Back inside the shop I make my decision. I hand over my money and leave triumphantly with my prize in a cardboard box.

Angelina's Mille Feuille

There is a lot of tension involved with eating a mille feuille. Untouched, it is a beautiful building constructed from floors of pastry that are supported by walls of custard. The icing roof is perfect too, decorated with chocolate tiles making intricate chocolate patterns.

You look at this masterpiece of pastry architecture and feel at once happy and sad, because you know that these walls will have to come down. And you know the tragedy with taste divine.

For a while you merely admire it. And then perhaps you try and scoop out some custard with a finger, or poke at the pastry gently so as not to disturb the structure. But this is futile. The only option is full scale demolition.

The roof collapses. The pastry crumbles. The custard spills. It is a catastrophic, delicious mess.

The pastry is golden and snaps like gingerbread. The custard is eggy and peppered with vanilla pods. I eat it sat in the Jardin de Tuilleries in the shadow of the Merry-Go-Round. I sit and eat and think about how much I love Paris and how happy I am right now eating an overpriced pastry by myself just because it feels good. It is the best mille feuille of my life.


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