How to Eat Like a Parisian

“Mommy! They put fish in the mashed potatoes!” cries Charlotte, incredulous, at the school gate. I explain to her gently that it’s called cod brandade, and it’s quite delicious.

Charlotte, 7, is still getting used to her canteen lunches, which, according to the menu posted on the gate last Thursday, can include roasted lamb with puréed celeriac followed by a cheese course.  

We’re trying to assimilate as much as possible food-wise in France but there are a few North American things we miss. The kids long for Honey-Nut Cheerios and I do too given that all the cereal in France seems to have chocolate in it. Goldfish crackers from home are rationed like there was a war going on.

It’s amazing the lengths we will go to for the food we miss. When we were ice skating at the Grand Palais around Christmas I spotted one of the moms from school eating a Kind bar. Without even saying so much as Hello, I asked “Where on Earth did you get that!?”

“Amazon delivers to the Embassy,” she replied casually. “What flavour do you want?” That was the last thing I’d expect smuggled into France in a diplomatic bag. A few weeks later, at school pick-up, we did the clandestine trade off: a big bunch of pink hyacinths for a case of sea salt-chocolate. 

Like everything else, a lot of the food in Paris is becoming Americanized. Cookies are a huge trend right now and people line up down the street at a place called “Scoop Me a Cookie” in the 17th Arrondissement. I refuse to do this, and decide to make a batch at home. Once I had bought all my ingredients from the tiny, dusty, top-shelf baking section at the grocery store (minus baking powder and vanilla extract which don’t seem to exist here) including two miniscule bags of chocolate chips that set me back 8 Euros, I realize what the line ups were for: people just don’t bake at home here. I do make madeleines though, for our daughters 4 p.m. gouter, as they are only good hot out of the oven and dusted with powdered sugar. NB: That is one thing the French do better. Instead of coming in a lumpy plastic bag, icing sugar in France comes in a shaker with a built in sieve, so you can sprinkle it directly onto your crepes and chocolate cake. Mayonnaise, likewise, comes in a toothpaste-like tube with a star-shaped opening to pipe it fancily onto your hard cooked eggs like vanilla icing.

Le Cheeseburger is a ubiquitous menu item at all the bistros, only here, they eat it with a knife and fork. And pizza is everywhere, but in Paris they put ketchup on. There, I draw the line.

At a recent luncheon, when I ordered my coffee “allongé” (long, like an Americano) my host said “Oh, you are becoming so Parisian!” Really? “Espresso is for tourists,” she sniffed.