Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Jeffery Greene, Tours France: How the French cuisine mesmerized my mouth

One of my favorite parts of the study abroad program in Tours, France was how the cuisine mesmerized my mouth. My French host family provided me with breakfast and dinner each day. For lunch I would stop by this amazing bakery not far from the Institut where we had classes and get a sandwich or hot dog (like the one in the picture) and often a pastry. Breakfast consisted of toast and hot chocolate each morning.

My hostess was completely shocked when I asked one evening if I could have leftover artichokes from the dinner we were finishing for breakfast the next morning. She said it was very strange and that she would not be able to eat such a thing for breakfast. I found it interesting how different that is from my habits at home, where I often have had leftover pizza or pasta to start my day.

Dinner was the biggest meal. I arrived at the home of my host family on a Sunday. My hostess Isabelle said that on Sundays her dinners are very simple, but as we began to set the table, I was surprised at how formal it was (the picture shows the table set almost all the way). “Simple” Sunday dinner was a five-course meal!

They were rather simple courses: 1- half a grapefruit, 2-a three-minute egg with bread and butter, 3-salad (romaine lettuce with home-made balsamic vinaigrette), 4-cheese and bread, and 5-a nectarine for dessert. It was delicious. Meals usually were much more formal than at my home here in the states, but they were fast, especially for French standards. While some of the other students spent a couple hours at the dinner table, my host family was usually done in 30-40 minutes.

All of us University of Utah students went together to a restaurant called “Au Lapin qui Fume” for our farewell dinner. There we were served three courses, of which I will share with you my two favorites. The first course included goat cheese fried in a honey batter, to be eaten with the dried fruit paste at the top of the picture, and a simple salad. For dessert we were treated to an amazing cake filled with hot caramel and served with a sweet milky sauce. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Like I said, my lunch often included a pastry. These are not the everyday desserts you can find here in Utah. These are serious creations. Often two of my friends and I would get one pastry and share it among the three of us. Other times we gorged ourselves and we each ate our own, often leading to a dreadful unsettling in the stomach. I saw meringues as big as my head and éclairs the size of your foot, assuming you wear about a size 7 in men’s. One of the most impressive to the eye, but kind of disappointing to the taste was thegiant réligieuse (French for “nun”), a massive éclair filled with rich chocolate pudding and topped with a smaller, identically filled puff. When my friends and I found the largest nun in the city, I went for it and captured the moment in this picture.

Although the réligieuse was not my favorite, there were plenty others to try. Mille feuilles and tarts with various fruits (my favorite was white chocolate raspberry), cakes and macaroons, and waffles and crepes from street vendors were in a never-ending supply in bakeries and pastry shops scattered throughout the city like precious stones in a new bejeweled game.

Overall, I would say that I ate well in France. Upon returning home, I missed having fresh sandwiches on delicious baguettes each day. Dinner did not feel complete without a cheese course, and of course treats like Twinkies just did not cut it.

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