Hailey and I had a simple goal for our 48 hours in Paris: Walk around and eat stuff. To some extent, that’s exactly what we did (we certainly walked around), but we ran into a few challenges when it came to eating stuff. 1) We had limited time, so we felt like we had to make every bite count, which led to paralyzing indecision. 2) We went without a plan for any specific meals or restaurants. 3) More money would have helped. 4) Restaurants and shops closed much earlier than we were expecting, especially in quiet Montmartre where our Air B&B apartment was.
But we did have good food. Here’s the story of our best meal in Paris.
1) First, we drank wine. About an hour earlier, after spending eight hours walking all over the city, we completely ran out of steam in the tunnel under the Arc De Triomphe. Cold and tired, we stayed there, under one of the most famous monuments in the world, for a loooong time. A long time, friends. We didn’t know where to go next, and, more to the point, we didn’t know where to eat. We decided to go back to Montmartre to retrieve warmer clothing and, hopefully, find something like a pastry shop where we could buy fabulous, wonderful things to take back to our apartment. On our way home, we bought wine. And we drank some. I think this informs what comes next.
2) I love foreign grocery stores. I like seeing the eggs and milk on the dry goods shelf and the yogurt in glass cups.* Sure, I love seeing farmers’ markets and anywhere people buy food, but I have a special love for grocery stores. I like to see where people shop when it is late and they are out of other options, which is exactly the situation we found ourselves in. For about two seconds, I was sad that one of my three dinners in France would be from the equivalent of a bodega, then I got really excited. When I made it to the canned goods aisle and saw they had cassoulet with confit de canard (duck! confit! cassoulet! FANCY!), I could hardly contain myself.
3) This was our haul: ratatouille provencale, cassoulet de castelnaudary au confit de canard du sud-ouest, bread, wine and strawberries. And yogurt, bananas and hazelnut cream for the next morning. This is the most proud I’ve ever been of canned goods I didn’t can myself. THEN, I opened the cassoulet and saw the duck legs were still on the bone. They canned the bones, ya’ll! But I guess you can do anything in France. Or with access to a pressure cooker. Best of all, it smelled good. Any doubts I had disappeared, and I went to take a quick shower while Hailey heated everything on the tiny stovetop.
4) From the moment we got to the apartment, I realized that the tiny shower had a little window that overlooked the kitchen, presumably so the otherwise interior space could enjoy a little light. Somehow, Hailey had NOT noticed the window. So when, a few minutes into my shower, I opened the window to chat with her while she was cooking, she completely LOST it. When she handed me the pan of duck legs and beans to demonstrate that one could conceivably cook while showering, well, neither of us could contain ourselves. I think it’s the hardest I’ve laughed all year. In other circumstances, it might have been a “laughed so hard we peed our pants” moment, but I, at least, wasn’t wearing any pants.
5) Then we ate. And it was good—very good.
I’ve been thinking about this since March and pondering a few things:
1) Do normal French people ever eat canned cassoulet and ratatouille? If so, who and when? Under what circumstance?
2) This is why I love Air B&B. We would never have had this experience in a hotel because 1) we probably wouldn’t have been in a regular neighborhood with grocery stores for regular people; 2) we wouldn’t have had anywhere to cook food; 3) hotels don’t have windows in their showers.
3) As with my other most memorable meals (the naked spaghetti incident at my grandmother’s house; my first sangria experience in Spain; etc.), the quality of the food was inconsequential, almost an afterthought. I attended a panel discussion a couple years ago at the International Culinary Center in which a researcher explained that, despite having consumed plenty of food, a French person might say, “I haven’t eaten all day” if the food she ate wasn’t shared with others, at a table, most likely with wine. It is by that standard that I deem this meal the best of the trip, by far.
* Don’t let me or anyone else tell you that the French have everything figured out. See that dairy shelf? That’s some kind of KitKat pudding cup there on the far left. They aren’t so perfect, those French. Or maybe they are—I like KitKats.