Saturday, October 23, 2010

Northern Cuisine

Ok, I have to bring you up to date on the eating thing, but because eating in French is such a big deal, such an art form, such a delight, and I got to do a lot of it with my friends in the North.

Let’s start with the chicons—endives—a staple in the northern diet. They are nothing like the pitiful offerings you may see in your grocery store, for exorbitant prices. The northern version is a plump and hefty torpedo that goes fresh into salads (especially good with walnuts, blue cheese and a vinaigrette), or gets steamed into casseroles on a regular basis. Or you could try them baked in an oven, wrapped in ham and covered with grated emmental cheese, with a hollandaise sauce.

Then there’s the leeks, as plump and sweet as the American version is small and bitter. They usually accompany any fish dish, and I ate them almost daily when I lived here.

Raclette, a cheese you melt in a special apparatus and pour over potatoes, or cooked eggs or cold cuts, or whatever you want for that matter, is a convivial treat for friends to enjoy together, sort of like a fondue.

Coquilles St. Jacques—scallops in a cream sauce with basil, or a white wine sauce—yep, had that the other day too.

“Moules Frites” is THE northern signature dish: mussels and French fries, usually accompanied by a good local blond beer. The mussels arrive in a black pot, unless you get them gratinée, or some other way, and piles of shells are a local folkloric sight, especially during the Braderie, the local flea market, one of the largest in the world. It takes place the first weekend in September, when it is time to eat mussels again, after the summer months, when the mussels aren’t good.

Of course, incredibly good wines accompany all these dishes, and an apero is part of the social encounter.

A plate filled with a variety of cheeses arrives after the main course, followed by dessert, then coffee. I will be rolling onto the plane soon, happy as a clam, but probably fasting and dieting as I get home!

Oh, and there’s nothing like a square or two of Cote D’Or chocolate, eh Francophone friends?!

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