Having a large dining table, a reasonably equipped kitchen and a gas stove inspired me to invite a couple of friends over for dinner.
The burning question is … do you cook French for the French?
Especially when the French in question happen to be food lovers, with a discerning palate and not shy to be self confessed food critics about what is served up in front of them.
Although the two French men I speak of don’t know one another well, have only met once and the common denominator is me, they both have a knack of shrugging their shoulders, cocking their heads to one side, with that certain Parisian je ne sais quoi and slowly answering with pouted lips, urgh, it’s ok, when asked if they like what they are eating.
That is enough to have me shaking in my wonder shoe.
Remembering that I have had dinner at both Julien and The French Historian’s home, where I was treated to fine food, I was starting to wonder whether this was a good idea on my part.
Armed with a shopping list, key French food words and screen shots (like the one to the left) of food images in case I ran into language difficulties, I was off on a food shopping adventure.
When I am in Paris, I eat predominately French food, but when I am at home I tend to lean towards Asian flavours.
Reminiscing over the time, when a few years back in Paris, preparing for a dinner party, I found myself googling my heart out, trying to find where to buy a bottle of the Indonesian sauce Kecap Manis. I ended up at the Indonesian Embassy to add a mere two tablespoons of the tasty morsel to my recipe.
Although it was an exciting and funny adventure, this time, I wanted to shop, buy food and cook, with no adventure necessary.
With this in mind, I knew that I probably wouldn’t find all my ingredients in one spot and even if I did, there was no way I would be able to lug everything back to the apartment and up two flights of stairs in one shopping bout. A few excursions would be necessary. I made a mental note to either recommend to the apartment company to ensure there is a shopping trolley included in their apartments, or next time I will buy one and leave it at a friends home.
Beginning the first leg of my shopping expedition, I started at the Monoprix supermarket in Saint Paul.
It is large, spread out over two floors with not only an array of food but homewares, clothes, stationery and a wine cellar.
As I added items to my shopping trolley, I was starting to feel excited. I was ticking off my shopping list, and felt comforted that this would be hassle free and allow me to venture out to a market that I had hoped to visit and get back in time to start preparing for tomorrow nights dinner.
Perusing the aisle containing preserved foods, I found everything to make a tummy rumble and taste buds to dance with joy! Preserved duck legs, soup de poisson but not preserved lemons, which is what I was after.
You can do this, I told myself as I approached the man stacking shelves in the aisle.
Bonjour Monsieur, I start out, I don’t speak French well but – ‘but’, being a good breathing word, giving me time to formulate the next part of my monologue, can you help me please?
Of course, he tells me. I stumble a bit more; I am searching for lemons in a bottle.
Since checking with numerous French friends, I got so far so good but lemon in a bottle, combined with my bad French, could have meant a lot of things.
This is where it got tricky, he may have asked me; ‘do you want preserves in a jar’ or he may have asked me if I wanted a conserve, being a jam – either way, I said no.
Very kindly and politely he lead me out of his section and on a journey through the supermarket.
Fresh lemons, no but at least we had confirmed that it was lemons that I wanted.
Lemon butter, no, we continue, lemon juice in a bottle – you have to give it to him, this is what I asked for but in the end, he left me in an isle with preserved cucumbers, what the Germans call gherkins and the French cornichons, with me slightly deflated and him noticeably disappointed that he couldn’t help me.
With a healthy population of Moroccan’s in Paris, I was hopeful that I would find a jar of preserved lemons somewhere but studying the shelves, I found a jar, much bigger than I needed but I found them.
Hobbling back to Monsieur’s aisle. I hold up the jar in glee, I have found them, I tell him. He beams, where he asks and I lead him to the aisle and point them out. Well I never. I reckon this was a good enough translation of his exclamation and we were both happy, smiling at one another.
The Chef Extraordinaire (The French Historian’s dad) had told me that he visits the Marais, especially to visit a Jewish butcher that is a hop skip and a jump away from my apartment.
I had a romantic notion that it would be nice to buy my lamb shanks there but the place I thought it might be, only sells preserved meats. Over the road is a butcher – maybe this is it. I excitedly wait, whilst he playfully flirts with a middle aged woman, calling her the much younger, Mademoiselle than she deserved.
He doesn’t have any, he tells me as he steps outside to suck on a cigar that he has wedged into the wall. Puffing away, trying to get the cigar started again, I might have some for tomorrow he offers. Perhaps, was not good enough for me, so I headed for Marché couvert Saint-Quentin.
Before I left for Paris, I made a deal with myself that I would visit at least one market per week to buy food and maybe more to explore and photograph. This plan fell apart with my broken toe but today I had a valid reason to visit a market and I chose the large ancient covered market in the 10th arrondissement.
It was chilly and getting dark by the time I reached the market for their second opening for the day. They open in the morning until lunch time and re-open again in the afternoon until 7pm.
The butcher was my first stop. If I couldn’t get lamb shanks, my menu needed to be changed.
How does one ask for lamb shanks in French? I had no idea and I later found, neither did my French friends.
Therefore I start again with my usual French monologue, Bonjour Monsieur, I don’t speak French well but … can you help me please, I am looking for and I produce my iphone with a screen shot of lamb shanks, raw and cooked in various ways.
No, we have one, you can order for tomorrow. This was a tough call, what would happen if I travel to the market tomorrow to find they let me down. How do you call this in French I ask, mouse of lamb I understand.
OK, I try another – do you have mouse of lamb and produce the photos on my iphone.
Voilà – he does but I am still not sure that it was lamb shanks that I got, even although I watched him smash the clever into the lamb’s leg and slap the off cut down onto the bench.
I was aiming for five. Two each for the guys and one for me. He can only give me two but they were huge. The sheep must be on steroids in France I think, but agree to purchase.
Thank you I tell him with a big smile, grateful that now at least I have my main ingredient for dinner.
You speak French well, he flirts with me as he wraps the meat in waxed paper.
Is it universal, I thought to myself? Do butchers from around the world go to flirting school? Is it part of their trade requisite that flirting is part of the passing exam?
Cheekily he hands over my slabs of meat, confirming this will be enough for three. Although both of us knew he was lying about my French, his flirtatious butcher skills worked a charm and I left with my giant pieces of mouse of lamb and a big grin from ear to ear.
The vegetable stalls had me feeling slightly disappointed that I didn’t go to a temporary market for fresher produce and slightly nervous that I couldn’t see all the items I needed but I venture off on my French monologue again.
In hindsight I think my French monologue has been very helpful for me to achieve many things that I have needed to get across, forewarning people that patience was required but I was giving it a shot.
Although I couldn’t see most of the produce I required, the stall owner with the aid of his assistant playfully deciphered what I needed and seemed to pluck the items from the air.
By now my bag was full to the brim and almost more than I could carry home on the metro.
Before leaving, I wanted to slow down and admire the ancient covered market place of Saint-Quentin.
Built in the style of Victor Baltard and designed by Rabourdin. The large market is a combination of stone, bricks, timber and iron with a high glass ceiling allowing the the space to be flooded with light during the day.
Although it was a gloomy day and raining outside the ceiling was still spectacular with the fading dark sky.
The Parisian city architect Baltard designed the now defunct Les Halles markets which consisted of twelve large ‘halls’ similar to Marché couvert Saint-Quentin.
Marché Couvert Saint-Quentin is one of the few covered markets of this ilk that has managed to survive and still operate as a market.
Although the food probably isn’t as good as some of the other markets on offer, it was a good choice for me to be undercover away from the rain and gave me an opportunity to explore the architecture.
Not only does Marché Couvert Saint-Quentin have the usual stalls you would generally find, meat, fish, cheese but it also has an array of international foods, a beer boutique and a bistro where you can take a rest on a stool at the bar and sip on a cocktail!
Hobbling back to Gare de l’Est train station, laden down with my purchases in the rain I was grateful for the hood on my coat and that I could admire another, even more spectacular glass ceiling.
What another fine piece of architecture.
With the peak rush hour commuters swarming around me, I stopped put the groceries on the floor and gazed up.
Now that, is a ceiling!
Gathering my ingredients for tomorrow nights dinner, I joined the commuters to head home and cook up a storm.
Paris Adèle’s Information Nécessaire:Marché Couvert Saint-Quentin
85 bis Boulevard Magenta
Tuesday to Saturday from 8.30am to 1pm and from 4.00pm to 7.00pm
Sundays from 8.30 to 1.00pm.
Gare de l’Est
Monoprix Saint Paul – official website
71 rue Saint Antoine
Monday to Saturday
9:00am to 10pm