Where I come from, people stand in line for celebrities and iPhones.
Here in Auvers, it appears the most wanted men are the butchers. On Sunday mornings before they close for their weekend, the line stretches down the main drag.
J.Y. Gicquel Boucherie comes highly recommended by the Ladoux family. I’ve been a little hesitant to venture in there because it will require speaking French and I shudder to think what adorable forest creature I might wind up taking home for dinner. I’m also not sure whether those numbers before the decimal point in their prices, are ones or sevens and whether we’re talking francs or euros and I’m afraid I can’t afford it if I have to ask.
I’m feeling a little lazy tonight and have decided that my lack of energy is due to a protein deficiency and I need a good piece of red meat. Preferably something someone who’s lived on takeout for the past 20 years can cook.
I’m a little nervous entering, the vibe here is a lot friendlier than the boulanger down the street, where I feel I must apologize when I enter, again when I order and one more time when I pay. Sometimes I apologize when I leave for good measure.
It’s not like I’m a total stranger here. I wave to them every time I walk by and they wave back. There are usually two butchers; a younger one with a roundish face and receeding hairline and an older guy with salt and pepper hair and a nice northern european face. They may be wearing bloody aprons, but here, they’re captains of industry. A woman mans the prepared foods counter (quiche, Frenchy salads, things en croute and terrines with hardboiled eggs in them) and cash register.
A couple of people are ahead of me which gives me time to get my bearings and look at all the meats behind the counter and try to figure out what they are so I can point knowledgably. There are about 7 different kinds of chicken shaped items in various sizes. Lots of fillets of chicken colored objects of various sizes, slabs of red unrecognizable red meats. Lots of unrecognizable parts. Sausage galore. Chops. Ribs. Rabbits. Geese. I’m getting a little sad and consider fleeing or at least turning to the deli counter, but it’s my turn.
Here are the french words for meats I know I’ll eat: poulet (chicken), agneau (lamb), boeuf (beef), dinde (turkey), porc. But then we get into cuts and I’m lost. Is an onglet a steak or some organ I don’t want to know about? And is it an onglet de boeuf, ou cheval? And what the heck is french for goat? Je ne voudrais pas goat. Or lapin (rabbit). I’m now in a cold sweat and probably look guilty.
The younger guy greets me in French. I try to say something in French, but all I can do is look behind the the glass and point desperately at a kebab and ask ‘qu’est ce que c’est.’ He doesn’t understand me. Shit (merde). He’s one of those French people who doesn’t understand English OR really bad French. This could be a problem.
I point again at the kebab and ask “c’est l’agneau?”
He looks at me blankly. I repeat myself slowly. Nothing. By now everyone in the store has stopped and watches curiously. I really want to flee now, but I might want to come back here sometime, so I blunder on.
I point at the kebab and “baaaaah” loudly like a lamb. His face brightens and he nods vigorously. I point to my leg. He nods again.
I shout excitedly, ca! Un de ca s’il vous plait. He doesn’t understand what I’m saying, but we’re on the same wavelength.
He wraps it up and I hold my hand out to take it. He gives me a slip of paper and points to the cash register while babbling something in French. And I totally get it. They give me the meat after I pay. I say merci beaucoup, he says something and the transaction is completed. We’re both very pleased with ourselves.
Next stop, cash register. Grand total about E4.92 which is about 9 dollars, so, pretty pricey. It also presents the problem of whether I pay with the pocketful of coins in my pocket or just hand her the E10 bill I have and get even more coins. If I pay in coins it could take hours for me to figure out the right amount. But if I get my change in coins, I’ll just have to face the problem down the road. I do the only logical thing and dump the contents of my pocket on the counter and let the very nice cashier pick out the coins she needs.
I leave the store with my package, calling out “merci, bon soir!” feeling very French.
I broil the kebab, which is all seasoned lamb cubes with a chunk of some sort of sausage at each end and make a salad.
All I can say is that kebab brought me more pleasure than Springstein, Jagger or an iPhone ever could. Hours later, I’m still fantasizing the subtle seasoning and the tender juicy lamb cubes. And the sausage! OMG! A veritable medley of spices in perfect pork harmony that I can’t get out of my head.
Tomorrow is Sunday, so I’m going to get in line first thing in the morning. Maybe I should camp out front over night. I’ll just die if they’re sold out when I get there.
Consult this meat translation guide before venturing into a boucherie.
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