on eating baby goat and pigeon and baby duck and some frogs legs and . . .
While I am making a list, I will add pig (ham in various cuts and types) and entrecôte and baby cow and many kinds of fish, lieu jaune, loup, sole, rouget, dorade, cabillaud, morue, saumon, to name a few and let’s not forget the crustaceans, moules, huitres and palourdes and crevettes, gambas, coquille Saint-Jacques and let’s add the birds, chicken, duck, canette, pigeon, and, of course, foie gras and snails.
I have eaten everything from the list during the lunch hour either in Paris or in Marseille or both.
During a side trip to Antibes recently, a friend asked what I missed most during my 15 months absence from France due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We were eating lunch at a restaurant, and my first response, without thinking, was to say, “Eating lunch in a French restaurant.”
I was among friends I had not seen for fifteen months, and they had organized this lunch at one of our favorite restaurants in Antibes, La Petite Escale. Quickly I added, “But most important above all are the friends I have not seen in such a long time. I have missed them most.”
I have missed the friends and acquaintances whom I have not seen for over a year. Everyone knows. My life and their lives changed when a significant interruption occurred.
But, I had missed eating lunches in France. Eating lunches, and dinners for that matter, are different from eating lunches in Portland, Oregon, where I live in the States, and so are the dinners, although I do not have much experience there. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)
I do eat lunchs at restaurants in Portland. When I want to eat at a restaurant in Portland, which is not as often as my stays in France where I will eat lunch everyday, I will think first: “What dish do I want to eat. Will it be a hamburger? Pizza and salad? An unusual taco(s)? Thai food? Sushi?”
I know the Piedmontese Short Rib taco at Carlita’s. I know the chirashi at Yama Sushi. I will go to Bhuna for the Chettinad Chicken or the Kashmiri Lamb Rogan Josh. I know from week to week that those dishes will be there, in those restaurants; and if I go away for three months, let’s say, and return to Portland and return to those restaurants, those dishes will still be on their menus. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)
Those dishes are tasty, and I can try other items. But basically, the menus and the dishes are structured in the same way.
The lunches in French restaurants are structured around an entrée, a main dish, and a dessert and something to drink, usually wine, either red, rosé, or white. One will often see une carte, think à la carte, and will choose whatever dish you want and pay the price, and one will often see a menu that offers some special dishes for that day, and often only offered that day. The menu, or la formule, will be some entrées, some main dishes, and some desserts. You might see two to four items in each category. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)
France has pizzas and hamburgers and salad and sandwiches and recently I am seeing tacos and the French taco. France has all the fast food places and foods we see in the United States. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)
What I do not see in Portland are the two to three course menus during the lunch hour. Americans do not eat that way. A good portion of the French do sit down during lunch, one to two hours, and order multiple courses and drink wine.
(At this point I want to mention Justa Pasta in NW Portland. It has a menu that changes regularly, and it is structured around two and three course meals at lunch time. When Piazza Italia, another Italian restaurant, is open during the lunch hour, it has two and three course meals, but their menu, except for the daily special, does not change.) (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)
The menus change in France, depending on what is at the vegetable and fruit market and what meats are available and what fish are caught by the fishermen that morning. It is true that the pigeon you ate on Monday will not be available on Tuesday, most likely.
Recently, at the restaurant L’Hippocampe in l’Estaque, a small village where Paul Cézanne lived, I saw that la carte had a long list of fish, but the waiter told me what fish had been caught, but even then my choices were limited further by the size of the fish itself. Some were too large for one person. That day at that lunch hour, I could choose the dorade or the rouget. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)
During the last seven days, what have I eaten during lunch? Cuisse de canette confit (a little duck), veau (veal) sliced thinly, chevreau de 7 heures (little goat braised for 7 hours), lieu jaune (white fish of some kind, probably pollock), coquille Saint-Jacques (scallops), entrecôte (beef cut), magret de canard à la mangue (duck with a mango reduction).
There is a lot I have written that can be proven false. I can prove it myself. I have made many generalizations, and they can be shown to be untrue with examples. For example, I stay each year in four locations: Paris, Lyon, Marseille, and Antibes. They are all large cities and one small town. They are rich with restaurants. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)
Many small villages in France will not have the variety of meats and fish nor the vegetables that can be found in the large metropolitan areas.
However, those small villages will have restaurants, and they will offer meals structured the way I have described them. Regular customers will come in, check l’ardoise, and without much thought make their choice. That is what is being cooked fresh that day and that is all there is. Sometimes in those places the waiter will be the menu. There will be no written menu. The waiter will tell you what is available. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)
When someone asks me why I spend so much time in France, I tell them I like to eat and drink. What France will offer me during lunch is far greater and more varied than what is available in Portland. And, I do need to eat and drink in order to live, and to live well.