The FoodFamilies of France as observed in Paris and Caen in March 2007
The Bagette Family, whose major constituents are big and small & long and short breads of all sorts, is probably the First FoodGroup of France. Its stars are croissant, pain au chocolat and almond croissant... Cousin to Bagette is The Crepe Family, with siblings Crepe and Gallette. Unlike their cousin Croissant, they are NOT served at breakfast (petite dejuner, if you will). They live side-by-side on menus in creparie (Houses of Crepes) which, unlike American McDonalds, which are strategically located within a few blocks of one another in large cities, there are streets in Montparnasse with 20 Maisons des Crepes on a block. You can get anything you want in a crepe, as long as it's sweet: my fave is simple: crepe, sugar and fresh lemon juice. You can get anything you want in a gallette, as long as it's savory. No, I didn't know that a gallette was a buckwheat pancake.
My personal favorite, The Pomme (apple) Family, is most useful, as it contains Calvados -- a spirit-lifting apple liquer -- which is either part of or the totality of the Tru Normande, the shot of Calvados served mid-meal in Normandy to create the "Norman Hole" in your stomach so that you can finish your meal. How civilized. A more festive and flexible Tru Normande can also be served in a shot glass: a scoop of apple sorbet topped with Calvados. There is Pomme in alcoholic apple cider which is the star of Kir Normande (cider with Cassis), which should be everyone's everyday refresher and has bumped the ever-popular Spanish sparkling wines from my house. The Pomme Family is also home to apple strudel, apple tart and tarte tatin, which can complete any meal and will signifcantly raise the stakes for snacks. France is also home to exquisite juices -- go to any grocery and find fabulous "Pomme" or "Pomme and Cerise" (apple and cherry) juices.
At Mark Bittman's recommendation, I found the World Headquarters of France's Falafal Family, L'as du Falafal on Rue des Rosiers in Paris. As always, Bittman is right. Put this on your list of "Foods I must eat in Paris." And after your Falafal, go across the street to Florence Finkelsztajn's Boulangerie for apple tart.
The Fruit and Frite Family is outstanding. There is apparently law prohibiting selling any fruit or veg that isn't perfect. I was in outdoor markets in Paris and in Caen, and in grocery stores in Paris, Caen, Bayeux and Honfleurs. The mushrooms are packed like little jewels; the radishes sit up and salute, and the strawberries and tomatoes were both beautiful and they tasted just like they were supposed to taste.
Clearly the French worship both Jambon and Fromage (ham and cheese). The variety of fresh and cured hams and sausage is overwhelming, and many more expert than I have made their careers on cataloging French cheese. I just ate.
Any vist to Caen requires careful examination of the Poisson and Fruits de Mers Families. I ate Coquilles St. Jacques, lobster, salmon and smoked salmon, and nothing was found wanting except that I wanted to be able to have fish that fresh every day of my life.
French folk take their food seriously and I am grateful for it. And I apologize for misspelling any French words.