There was no better way to be introduced to French cuisine on our first full day in Paris than to have lunch at “La Coupole” in the Montparnasse neighborhood. The place was stunning, the food was incredible, and what about the fact that all of us could enjoy a glass of wine? It was quite “un autre monde”. Vasudha was seated in front of me, and I loved the way we kept on looking at each other and asking whether it was really happening. Well, it happened.
What a down-to-earth experience. Paris in movement, but Parisiens holding tradition still—placing the cutlery faced down to allow the seal on the back to be seen. If you every get the chance, I definitely recommend this tiny restaurant on Île Saint-Louis.
The concept of this restaurant is to eat and drink in total darkness- the premise being, losing one sense (sight) will heighten the other senses (taste, smell etc) to create an entirely different dining experience. Eating an entire meal in total darkness is difficult to describe. I don’t know how I felt. In all honesty, at some point, I got bored, but to have my eyes open and not see anything was truly remarkable. My senses of hearing and taste were definitely heightened. And there I was, sitting and trying to understand. Or trying to absorb—there wasn’t much else to do. I touched my food, felt the area around me, and listened to my table as well as the crowds around me. I will not forget the image of complete darkness, there is nothing else to say.
More days than not, we had a meal in a café. I took advantage of the opportunity to taste unusual foods. We all shared a plate of escargot (snails) when we dined at the Tastevin, I tried les cuisses de grenouilles (frog legs) at a café across from Notre Dame, and I ordered steak tartare (finely ground raw beef) on two occasions. I really liked the escargot and steak tartare, but the frog legs were only so-so. I was afraid to eat raw meat, but I figured that the French do it all the time, and they aren't dropping like flies, so I just tried to relax and enjoy the food in spite of my nervousness. It was definitely worth it for the experience, even more than for the taste.
The pouring rain and grey skies this morning did little to diminish our excitement for our much anticipated Cours de Cuisine with Emilie. Ligne 1, the metro line we usually take from the stop Saint Paul near our hotel, had a lot of delays for some reason this morning and so it took us almost 20-25 min to get to Ternes after changing lines at Charles de Gaule Etoile. We met up with Emilie and made our way through the rainy streets to a market area in the 17th arrondisement. As soon as we stepped into the crossroads of the market streets, the aroma of produce, roasting meat, and baked bread permeated the air, despite the rainy weather. Many of the vendors called out to us as we walked by advertising their goods and prices. We first stopped to get some produce at an épicerie- I saw some “Canadian apples” which actually don’t look much like apples at all--they were brown and pear like--but are apparently good for desserts.
Afterwards, we went to a fromagerie to get a few different kinds of cheese. Emilie handled the purchasing as we were much too busy looking in the display case and wondering how people are able to select what they want given the variety. While we have metaphorically just dipped our toes into the world of French cheeses, we’ve been told that here one can literally have a different cheese each day because of all the varieties and regional differences. So far my favorite has been "le chèvre", which is a light goat’s cheese that is very fresh and airy. We also bought compté, camembert, and roquefort. We finished our shopping with a trip to a wine store and a boulangerie for some freshly baked baguettes and headed over to Emilie’s parents' apartment (they were out for the day) to prepare lunch.
We worked together to prepare a soupe de corgettes, julienne of vegetables, a potato gratin, dinde, and of course a fabulous chocolate cake dessert with a Nutella core. It was nice to cook a meal from scratch, with none of the shortcuts of premade mixes or precooked components. Though it was definitely more time consuming, there was also a sense of tangible satisfaction from working on a meal from start to finish.
After all the preparation and cooking, we sat down to eat our way through the meal. It was nice to sit and relax over some good food, taking our time to eat and talk. It’s easy to see how meals here can encompass many hours and it was nice to experience a change in pace of life, especially compared to the hectic schedule of MIT life that we had left a few weeks ago, where sometimes meals are just another item on a to-do list, squeezed in between problem sets, meetings, office hours and countless other demands on our time. Many times visitors to the city only get to see "Paris qui bouge", and as much as Paris is a city that moves, this movement is defined by relation to moments of pause--"Paris qui ne bouge pas". Today was our own pause--one that we all enjoyed, as the saying goes, with good food and good company.