American Dining in Paris
Twenty-one years ago today, my daughter and I landed at Charles de Gaulle airport after finalizing my divorce in the U.S. We went straight from the airport to collect our boxes sitting in the apartment in the 17th arrondissement where we lived the first three years. We then moved them directly into our new apartment in Le Marais that very same day. I’ll never forget that day for a zillion reasons, but mostly because it was the beginning of my life as a free and independent woman, seriously in survival mode, with a young daughter and nothing but a grand adventure in front of us.
Next week we’ll be celebrating our 24th year of living in France…and it’s still hard to believe. It’s the longest I’ve lived anywhere and given my age, I am sure Paris will always be more home than anywhere else. Like so many people I know and the (literally) hundreds of people I’ve helped move here over the years, we came “for one year” and “never left.” Even with Nice as nice as it is and how much I love being there, Paris will always be “home.”
My daughter returned to New York Friday, her home of the last sixteen years, after having spent half the summer here in Europe. But before she did, we had a very nostalgic American-style breakfast at Breakfast in America on rue Malher. It seemed like a funny thing to do – contrary to having one last French meal, we opted for a taste of America.
Owner of the restaurant, Craig Carlson, and author of the very funny memoir, Pancakes in Paris, joined us for the send-off. Shameful to admit, this was my virgin dining experience at the authentic American diner that’s been in Paris since January 2003, with a second location having opened in February 2006. One reason for that is because it’s just so popular that there is usually a line to get a table (and I hate to wait). Another reason I’ve wavered is that my recent strict diet doesn’t allow for downing pancakes or maple syrup or hamburgers. And lastly, because it just hadn’t occurred to me before to eat American food in Paris.
That’s the dumbest reason of all, I discovered. You see, there’s a reason there’s always a line to get a table. One look at the menu will tell you that the fare is as authentic as it gets and the prices are well under what you’d pay next door for something somewhat similar…like an omelet or hamburger. Hamburgers used to be American, but not really any longer. According to an article in Forbes.com this past March, hamburgers are more popular than the traditional “Jambon-Beurre-Baguette” having sold 1.5 billion last year. They are offered up on 85 per cent of French menus, outselling traditional dishes including beef bourguignon and magret de canard.
What’s happening to the French palate? At one time the American hamburger was a perfect example of our lack of sophistication and now it’s the culinary hot ticket of the decade. Still, even after ordering it more than any other sandwich on the roster, the French haven’t adopted the American style of eating the juicy concoctions with their hands. Quelle horreur! I still cringe when I see them cutting the burgers with their knives and stabbing them with their forks. It’s all I can do to hold myself back from interrupting their bites by offering to show them how to eat them “the right way.”
Once, when actor Jean Dujardin sat next to me at Café Charlot and ordered a burger, theirs being a mile high and virtually impossible to eat WITHOUT a fork and knife, he picked it up American style, squooshed it down and wrapped his entire mouth around it. I was so impressed that I simply had to lean over to congratulate him for eating it “the right way.” Clearly, he spends a lot of time in the U.S.
As long ago as 1990, a store named “Thanksgiving” opened on rue Saint-Paul selling American products for us expats and others who missed their peanut butter, maple syrup, cranberry sauce, Reese’s Peanutbutter Cups and the like. Sadly, Thanksgiving closed its doors this summer after so many years of service. This leaves us with just “The Real McCoy,” a grocery Store and American Restaurant in the 7th at 194, rue de Grenelle, to satisfy our American culinary cravings.
You can also now order your American products online at My American Market based in Toulouse.
Why are we having these cravings with so much great French food in our midsts? Breakfast, I understand, because breakfast in France consists of just coffee with croissant or “tartine” (baguette + butter). That doesn’t hold a candle to a real American breakfast of eggs, pancakes, bacon, etc., etc., etc. And burgers? It must be more than just the idea of it if the French have developed a craving for the taste as strong as ours. Of course, there’s plenty we Americans adopted from the French and made our own: French fries, French toast (pain perdu), quiche, croissants…to name just of few.
Give it a few more years, and we may not be able to discern what is “French” and what is “American” that we’re ordering up at any restaurant, in France or the U.S. That’s my real fantasy – that our cuisine becomes more global and universal than we are.
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
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