draws me in to French cuisine, I think, is the complete integration of its old standing traditions into modern culture and the fact that gourmands, like me, can be found in any social status.
While I have no scientific data to support my assumptions, I would venture to say that the French must spend a significantly higher proportion of their income on food. From my experience it is obvious that preserving deeply-rooted culinary traditions is not only important to the wealthy but also to the population at large. During my travels in l’Hexagone I rarely ate a meal that was not prepared from scratch, something that most Americans consider a luxury. In all honesty, I think the only pre-packaged food I ate on a regular basis while staying with the Tremblais-Vignalou house was pâté brisée used to make some yummy tarts!
I think the general French population not only appreciates the results of a laboriously prepared meal, but also has a keen sense regarding the quality of ingredients. In America, we value the convenience of being able to shop in one all-encompassing supermarket where we have the ability to purchase produce, meat, dairy, eggs, bread, etc. While I do not consider this in and of itself a problem, per se, the fact is that this mélange of our dietary needs in a single location has a seriously detrimental impact on the cognitive and social processes involved with food preparation.
The last stop before heading back to Rue Heynen was the boulangerie. Unsurprisingly, fresh bread became a staple of my diet while I was abroad. This may have contributed to the embarrassing amount of weight I gained in five months, but regardless, having fresh bread every day is essential to the function of a French household. Like any mother would, Odile always bought my favorite kind of baguette (aux cinq céréales or muesli) and often a viennoiserie for my host brother, Benji. While there are breads available in the supermarket, both fresh-baked and shelf-stable, sliced varieties like the ones that fill our supermarket bakeries, I rarely ate bread like that. In fact, I would have rather toasted my stale tartine into oblivion before topping it with a smattering of beurre doux and confiture de Bonne Maman than eat the stuff from the supermarket! Luckily, Odile was vigilant and there was never a shortage of tasty bread on the breakfast table in the kitchen.
Now that I have moved to California, I have reconnected with the market, since I live within walking distance of a once-weekly farmers’ market. Every Friday, I walk downtown carrying my basket and rolling my cart. I may not have Algerian brothers to haggle with, but I have made a lovely acquaintance with Farmer Steve and I always come home with a basket full of the freshest fruits and vegetable around. Whenever I share the dishes and baked goods I have concocted using said produce, my friends graciously lavish me with praise, and I cannot help but think that I am making Odile proud. So while I may physically visit the market in downtown La Mesa all alone, I know that Odile is right there with me in spirit, like a little ange gourmand!