This morning I thought it would be fun to reread my Poland blog, and compare my experiences there 3 years ago to my experiences in Paris now. Its clear to me looking back how little I really knew then, even just about being on my own-not to mention living in a foreign country!! I was really struck, in particular, by the post I wrote about food. The highlight was the picture I unashamedly posted of my powdered soup collection…
…Followed by a picture of a hot dog I bought at a street stand and a plate of food I received at a vegetarian restaurant that still, to this day, remains the worst meal I’ve ever had in my life.
The thing that really struck me about this post, though, was the obvious misunderstanding I had of the Polish diet. I didn’t know, yet, that most people in Krakow buy their fresh fruits and vegetables from the produce stalls located on most every street corner, or from the farmers’ markets that fill up whole city blocks even in the middle of town. Those little grocery stores are really just for picking up some dry goods or supplies in a pinch. Since I hadn’t figured this out yet, I assumed that everyone must be eating powdered soup and no vegetables, like I was. As an American used to huge supermarket chains, this was a revelation and a completely different way of life that I had to learn. In Paris, there are also huge outdoor markets, but it’s also easy to find anything you might need at the supermarkets in town. Best of both worlds, I say.
Its unfortunate how little I really got to understand Polish food. It wasn’t that I was uninterested, it was more that I didn’t really step out of my comfort zone to truly discover it. I like eating out, but I don’t like spending money on eating out. Especially when I’m on my own, I tend to make my own dinner. It’s also intimidating to step into a restaurant and face human interaction when you know you cannot speak more than 3 words of the language. This is fine, but sometimes when you’re in a foreign country, you need to get out and navigate the menus to try some real local cuisine rather than stay home and eat some weird powdered soup out of a packet. To be fair, in Poland I had a cafeteria and two favorite Bar Mlecznys I frequented, but I mostly ordered the same things, and I’m not sure if I could tell you much about Polish cuisine beyond the obvious Pierogis, gołąbki, or Barszsz. I never even tried many staples such as Bigos or zurek.
The good thing about culinary school in France is, even if I don’t want to spent all my money on eating out, I still get a wide sampling of French cuisine. By the time this program is over, I’m pretty sure I’ll have a good understanding of food from all over the country.
And with that, I present you with what is by far my favorite Regional menu dinner we’ve made so far, Alsace. I think it’s been three weeks since we cooked this one, which tells you just how far behind I am on blogging, but the food was so good I can’t help but share it with you, even if it is late. Alsace is a small region on the border with Germany, and as such, shares a lot of German culture and influence, especially when it comes to food. Since it’s landlocked, we thankfully didn’t have any shellfish courses for this one (I’m getting a little tired of clams, scallops, and snails). And, to begin the meal, we were served a healthy slice of something familiar:
It was a little bit different thanks to the flavors of Fromage Blanc, nutmeg, and lardons, but it was still comforting and delicious. Fromage Blanc is a ubiquitous substance around here, and I’m still not really sure what it is. It’s often sold in little individual cups in the dairy aisle, and it’s easy to get confused and buy a pack when you think you’re getting yogurt. People eat it the same as they might eat yogurt–often topped with some jam or some honey. It’s almost got a flavor like cream cheese and the consistency of greek yogurt…it’s not bad but I’m not sold on it. It clearly works on pizza, though.
I’m not a big Foie Gras eater—it’s ok in small quantities, but a slice this size was pushing my duck liver limits. Still, I managed to finish my plate, thanks in part to the sweetness of the fruit served alongside. Figs are everywhere here (France’s favorite fruit?) but I’m still always a little surprised to see them. The bread on the side is Kouglof, which was delicious! It would be perfect to have on hand during the holidays and served with coffee. Find a recipe here.
I wish I knew what the English equivalent would be, but in France this fish is known as Sandre, and it is found in the freshwater rivers of Alsace. It was served on a bed of homemade sauerkraut, with a butter sauce, chives and a piece of the dried skin for garnish.
For the meat course, we had one of the best plates of food I’ve ever had in my life, and I’m so glad I was on the team that made it. Venison prepared two ways (we stewed part of the meat in a dutch oven, saving the finer cuts to be seared in a pan just before serving), with a delicious jus from the pan drippings. They really were perfect-tender, flavorful, and indulgent. My chef told us that these cuts of meat cost 80 Euros a Kilo…so this truly was a luxurious meal. Along the side we put a duchesse potato, some roasted root vegetables, and a puree of sweet potato. 5 stars.
To round out a perfect plate with a perfect dessert:
This was something almost like lava cake, which is definitely a dish you can’t go wrong with. I don’t remember much about the sorbet (there’s that fromage blanc again) but i’m sure i ate it happily. The croquant (that cracker-like decoration) made a fine snack on its own.
This week we had restaurant service, but there’s really not much to be said about it. I was on the Amuse Bouche team, which meant that once we had our ABs prepared, there really wasn’t much to do and we just sat back and took it easy for the rest of service. It was kind of boring, actually, so I don’t think I’m going to dedicate a whole post to this one. BUT I’ll be back next week with more food updates, and another regional menu review!