22.2.13

Franco File Friday: Marie of Food Nouveau


Do you recall the first time you traveled overseas? My journey began in London and continued in Paris where the experience was, as you can imagine, life-changing. With 30+ million foreign tourists a year, Paris remains the ne plus ultra in fantasy travel destinations. But does it hold the same allure for visitors from other French-speaking regions?

For Marie Asselin, graphic designer and author of the food and travel blog Food Nouveau, the French mystique was an ever-present fixture of her childhood growing up in Quebec City. From French books and television programs to frequent visits from French friends who lavished her family with local specialties and gifts, her proximity to the culture naturally informed her ambitions. When she finally took her first trip abroad ten years ago, the connection solidified. Though her blog covers culinary adventures from all over the world, French inspiration is never out of sight.


Describe what you love about France in three words. 
History, gourmet shopping, pastries.

First thing you do when you return to Paris? 
I usually fly to France on red-eye flights, so when I get to Paris, the first thing I do after dropping my bags at my rented apartment is to go out and have a classic “petit déj,” or a Parisian breakfast. This habit helps me get through the first day, even if I got very little sleep on the plane, instantly chasing jet lag away. The petit déj consists of a freshly squeezed orange juice, a coffee, and a pastry or sliced baguette served with butter and jam, and it's sold as an inexpensive morning formule (fixed-price menu) in cafés all over the city. I always stay in the second arrondissement, which has come to feel like home away from home to me, and my favorite place to go for such lazy breakfasts is Le Rocher de Cancale, a 160-year-old café on rue Montorgueuil. It’s a friendly, laid-back place with a small, heated terrace where I can sit for a couple of hours, people watch at leisure, send a few e-mails to local friends (they have free wi-fi), and let myself soak in the joy of being back in Paris.


Some of your favorite culinary experiences in France? 
When I travel, I usually spend lots (and I mean lots) of time planning where and what I will be eating. Ironically, given France’s important culinary heritage and the countless excellent restaurant options, I never plan ahead when I go to Paris. The only Michelin-starred restaurant I have visited is Hélène Darroze for lunch (it was great, but expensive); I usually prefer stopping at cafés along my way, or even better, cooking with friends after shopping for the very best ingredients at the city’s many excellent markets and gourmet shops (one of the perks of renting an apartment in Paris). I try to do as the locals do, and I am faithful to the same caviste (wine shop), boulangerie (bakery), fromagerie (cheese shop), and fruiterie (produce shop), all located along Montorgueil, where I delight in recognizing familiar faces, even when I return after an absence of a year or more. Gourmet shopping is also how I usually organize visits to new neighborhoods, turning casual strolls into mini food tours.

There are classics though, things I just have to have every time I go to Paris: croissants, of course (as many as my lactose-intolerant tummy will allow), macarons by Pierre Hermé, chocolate éclairs from Stohrer, Berthillon sorbets on Île St-Louis, and a Japanese kaseiki meal at Guilo Guilo.

How do you get your French-fix at home? 
The good thing about living in Québec is that our culinary heritage is very much inspired by our French ancestors. We have mastered classic French specialties such as cheese making (I’ve had French guests admit that some of our cheeses surpassed their favorites at home—quite a feat), and local meat producers make delicious terrines and foie gras. Sometimes, I make a simple meal out of a fresh baguette, fine cheeses, terrines, and charcuteries, just like in Paris.

When I feel especially nostalgic, I make macarons. I first learned to make them in Paris five years ago, and I have made hundreds (thousands?) at home since then, to the great pleasure of my family and friends. The whole process has a soothing effect on me, and getting a homemade fix of those delicious, colorful cookies also buys me time before I surrender to the urge of flying off to Paris again!



Most amusing or frustrating interaction with the French?
Another good thing about being from Québec is that in Paris, there is no language barrier… most of the time. The French in general love their “cousins” from the other side of the ocean, and they find our accent charming (the Québécois speak with an accent that is very different from that of the French, and they use different expressions, just as the American and British varieties of English differ). Many Québécois come back from Paris frustrated, having had to repeat themselves endlessly or having been taken for someone speaking a different language. 

The Parisians working in the service industry seem to want to hear things one way, so sometimes you have to know exactly how to order food or drinks or how to interact with the cashier at the grocery store to make sure you’ll avoid enduring too many annoyed looks. Many foreign visitors find themselves misunderstood in Paris, even when they're trying to speak French, but it can be especially irritating to people from Québec – we speak the same language after all! 
****

Thanks, Mariei! If you're as curious as I am about Montréal and Québec City (and beyond), be sure to follow Marie's work: 

Blog: Food Nouveau
Travel guide: About.com 
Twitter: @FoodNouveau
Facebook: Food Nouveau

You can also find her contributing to Food Bloggers of Canada, Foodie.com and Houzz.com

[To check out my contribution to Marie's 'Edible Cities' series on Philadelphia, click here!]

*Photos courtesy of Marie Asselin 

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