French menus

9 11 2011

A gorgeous little restaurant in Chartres

French cuisine has a deservedly excellent reputation the world over. Not only for the difficult techniques, amazing sauces and spectacular desserts, but also for the – well, to our Australian tastes, shall we say, “more exotic” things that they eat.

Escargot = snails
Grenouille = frogs
Tete de veau = calf’s head
Boudin = blood sausage (similar to the English black pudding, I believe)

Larousse Gastronomique even includes recipes for Camel’s Hump and Camel’s Feet. None of these appear on your average Australian restaurant menu.

So prior to our recent holiday we had of course teased the children with tales of what they would need to eat in France. We had done such a fabulous job, that I think they had decided they would live on crepes for the entire trip.

As per a previous post, you may have read about our first two meals in Paris. Pizza and McDonalds. Oh, we were living the high life! But given the state of jet-lag we were in, we will make excuses for ourselves.

However, after our slow start, we threw ourselves enthusiastically into trying the local cuisine. After a number of restaurants and cafes, both in Paris and around France, we found that the French menu has a few core offerings.

1. Jambon. There is always some ham, often several different offerings that are ham-based. Ham is also a major component of breakfast, along with cheese. If, like me, you aren’t particularly fond of ham, you will find difficulties for all three meals of the day.

2. Saumon. Now I love salmon, so this was perfect for me, but even I was amazed that pretty much every restaurant we went into had salmon on the menu. Usually poached. There is a limit to how much salmon you can eat.

3. Pate de Frois Gras. Goose liver pate, often more of a terrine than the sort of pate / paste we have in Australia. Yummy. Initially we felt like we were eating the local cuisine, but one tires of this twice a day quite rapidly.

4. Magret de canard. Breast of Duck. The French (or at least every restaurant we went into) do this dish magnificently. Not too dry, not too much fat on it.

The children’s menu was also a revelation, albeit a limited one. Children’s menus usually included four items.

1. Steak hache. This is essentially a meat patty. Ask for well done or it will be rare. In fact for all meat, if you think of how you normally would eat it, and take it up a notch or two, you will find the French equivalent (so if you want medium-rare, ask for medium or even well done, etc) If you want it as a burger you will have to request “steak hache a sandwich”, but most places will not be able to assist you.

2. Frites. Chips. No surprises there.

3. Haricots verts. Green beans. Often a mountain of them. I am not sure why the French choose beans of all vegetables to encourage children to eat. They were nice but the children could have done with a bit more variety in their vegetable intake.

4. Saumon. Yes, salmon. At first we were surprised (and pleased) to see salmon on the children’s menu. Real food, not the “crumbed-and-deep-fried” offerings that Australian restaurants seem to offer for children. But when it appeared in every restaurant’s children’s menu, they tired of it.

I think our expectation of French cuisine was that there would be enormous variety. Often there were not many dishes outside these core offerings. Menus tended to be limited, not the extensive lists we have become accustomed to in Australia. You either like what you are offered, or you don’t eat. None of this “trying to please everyone” that we do.

For the most part, the quality was excellent, with honourable mentions to a gorgeous little restaurant in Chartres – pictured above – and La Celtique restaurant / hotel in Carnac, a Moroccan restaurant in Bussy Saint George, and La Souris Gourmande which was a cheese-cuisine restaurant in Tours run by the wonderful Gregory who had worked at Disney World in Florida and entertained the children with magic tricks.

Waiting staff were without exception, very helpful. Because we were often away from the tourist areas we came across restaurants where no-one spoke English, and our French was not fabulous either. Waiters would help us, mime animals and attempt to explain what some of the less well-known words on the menu meant. And we all survived, had a great time, and laughed at our poor (but improving!) language skills. In the tourist areas we came across waiters speaking five or six languages and happy to entertain the children (as well as the lovely Gregory, there was also a waiter in a cafe across the road from Notre Dame who teased one of the boys about his incessant questions and had all three acting-out his job).

What do you think of French cuisine? Does anyone know the name of this gorgeous restaurant in Chartres?

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