I spent the past three months in anticipation of this trip to Europe and frankly one of the only things I did to prepare for the trip was start going to this exercise class in SF called BURN, which is 55-minutes of heart pumpin, body thumpin cardio/pilates. It’s hard as s*it, but you know, when you see those pounds turn into lean muscle, it’s all worth it.
But in the back of my mind, I knew that I was about to be in France: land-o-gourmet food. I tried not to think about it too much, for fear that the excitement would overwhelm me and I would run off the plane, straight to the boulangerie and start stuffing croissants into my face by the fistful. Upon arrival, for the first couple days I dined on salads and simple sandwiches. ”This is nice,” I thought to myself, “perhaps you’ve learned how to moderate yourself.” Then I had my first bite of foie gras and once that fatty liver pate hit my blood system, it was like my eyes dialated, my endorphines started running and my brain was all HOLY CRAP YOU’RE IN FRANCE! IT IS TIME TO GO ALLLLLL IN ON THE GRUB!!!
And. So. I. Did.
I have basically traveled from meal to meal trying to remember things that I loved and wanted to taste again such as fresh crepes stuffed with nutella, oozing smelly cheese on crusty fresh baguettes, duck duck and more duck, tartare, kebab sandwiches, pain au chocolats, West African stews, and of course foie gras.
The obsession with foie gras has a history for me. During my abroad program, we were taken to a field trip to a foie gras museum and factory where we saw first hand how funnels were shoved down the throats of geese who were force fed in order to fatten up their liver and create the flavorful delicacy. This process is called “Gavage” and yea, it’s not the nicest treatment of animals, but apparently the geese love it because they get to eat all the time. (Or so they say…) After this lovely and perhaps a bit too realistic museum, we were taken to a foie gras specialty restaurant where about 20 American students, with visions of gavage still dancing in their head, sat still and stared at the foie gras on their plates. Not a chance we were going to gavage ourselves on the livers of gavaged geese! Anywho, I hated the stuff until one night we came home from the Toulouse bars and that was the ONLY thing to eat in the house so you know how that goes…Since that night, I’ve had a special spot in my heart and stomach for foie gras.
It’s not as widely eaten in the states and when it is, it’s rather pricey. However most recently, cities like Chicago and my hometown of San Francisco have passed laws banning the consumption of foie gras–quel horreur! Why? You guessed it! GAVAGE! So as I explained to my French friends that I loved foie gras, but it was now “interdit” (banned) in San Francisco, they were aghast and their remedy was that with every meal, we order some foie gras.
I would guess that I was involved in about 10 plates of foie gras in a matter of 7 days. That is a LOT of foie gras. Heck, it’s a lot of ANYTHING! But I truly love the french way of dining, where you begin each meal with an “entree” (a.k.a. an appetizer) followed by “plat principal” (main dish) and of course dessert. I’m no alcoholic, but I also love the French way of drinking: a wine-soaked meal bookended by an aperetif and digestif (alcohols to appetize the palate and aid with digestion). Even my host family sent me home with a bottle of home-distilled fig alcohol, complete with customized label!
While I was tipping the scales and leaning towards an overdose of butter, sugar, cream, and cheese, you know what my French friends were eating?? HAMBURGERS! It was really a sight to see, this American gourmande plowing her way through a plate of fig encrusted duck surrounded by mes amies delicately consuming bacon double cheeseburgers with a knife and fork.
It’s not normal to eat the way I have eaten in France and I will return to my Burn classes soon enough. But, there is no simple way for me to resist all of the goodness of French cuisine. I am only human, after all. As every one said as they cheered on my every forkful, seeing how happy I was to be dining and swilling the goodness: “IL FAUT PROFITER!” (you gotta take advantage!) As a Friday treat, a few of my favorite eats from the trip. Bon appetit, mes chers!