Since I’m in no financial position to be dining out in gourmet eateries, my explorations are mainly limited to grocery stores, markets and falafel stands. I’m not complaining. I believe the broke but too old to stay in a youth hostel dining market is an emerging category and must be covered in depth. And I’m just the person to do it.
First and foremost, cheese is to the French what peanut butter is to Americans. In France dining on the cheap means lots bread, cheese and salad. At even a small grocery store there must be a hundred different varieties of cheese and all for approximately E2-3 for a pound. And trust me, these grocery store brands taste just as good as the “artisinal” cheeses sold at Elis in Manhattan for $12.00. In fact, I think they’re the same thing.
My one steadfast rule I’ve developed through weeks of living here is that Sprite and other lemon lime drinks do NOT go well with any French cheese I’ve yet to taste. Definitely a faux pas. I guess that’s where the wine comes in. The good news is, if you’re smart, you can get a good wine for the price of a soft drink of the same size.
France is a great place to be poor because even the cheapest foods sound rich to the untrained American ear.by Heck, real pate is cheaper than peanut butter even though I’m pretty sure pate is just a fancy way of saying liverwurst. But it sounds so elegant to be saying I’m having pate and a salad for dinner (liverwurst just doesn’t have the same ring).
Peanut butter is a different story. Not so easy to find. Chances are you’ll have to go to either a hypermarket or what is known as an ex-pat store. It’ll cost you at least 4 euros for a small jar of Skippy creamy. And that will be your only choice. It’s called Pate d’archide, which despite the first word being pate, doesn’t sound very appetizing—it sounds like it might mean pureed bugs.
I wonder if when standing in the check out line with a jar of peanut butter people think I’m a crude American, or someone splurging on some rare American delicacy. Perhaps they dream of someday going on a peanut butter tasting tour of America. Maybe they think that being able to discern the difference between skippy, jif or smuckers in a blind taste test is the height of culture and refinement.
Most meat fish and produce and bread you don’t want to buy at the grocery stores and hypermarkets because it’s better at the smaller specialty shops. The butcher in town is fabulous and probably the small town equivalent of a rock star without the piercings and tatoos. He’s usually got a line running outside the door, which made perfect sense once I splurged and tried the lamb. I still dream of it. I’m contemplating marrying him if he’ll have me. He’s got a lot of carnivore groupies to choose from.
The bakery is also good, although I’m convinced the women there hate me. I like to think it’s because they’re jealous of my incroyable beauty. But deep down, I suspect it’s because I keep forgetting to use the door specifically for exiting when I leave.
Fortunately, the bread at the local grocery store here in Auvers is often still warm when I buy it. And the boeuf hache (ground round)—is quite good at less than E1.30 per all beef 15% fat burger. I think that’s about the price of a regular burger at McDonalds back in the US, and this contains real meat.
The dairy cases are a veritable wonderland. Fresh milk may be in short supply,as is good ice cream, but the pots of yogurt, crème frais, mousse, soufflé, claufoutte, lemon meringue pie, chocolate fondant cakes, puddings, flans, crème caramel, pot au creme…are all things of beauty to my untrained palate. Some of the yogurts are good enough to pass off as dessert. And the prices are so reasonable, I consider it my personal responsibility to try all of them. I get the funny feeling that here, unlike the US, dairy products actually contain dairy products.
The cookie section is mesmerizing. Lu is probably the biggest brand here. A mind boggling assortment of previously unimaginable flavors, like mure (berry) filled wafers. Citron madelines. Real Chocolate covered biscuits, waffles, cakes. Tarts. The only thing missing is wafflenstroopen. I notice when I look at the ingredients that the first things listed are oeufs, beurre and farine, not corn syrup and hydrongenated whatyoumacallit. I hope eating all these natural ingredients doesn’t kill me—my body certainly isn’t used to them.
The packaged crepes from Reflects de France are delicious. As are the jams and jellies to go with them. You can get 6 crepes and two very good full-sized jars of jams for about 5 Euro. Dinner for days!
And possibly most exciting of all, a 6 pack of one liter bottled water costs E1.29 at the grocery store. That’s less than one bottle of water of the same size in New York. I’m very relieved to know that when the drought comes, I’ll can afford to survive here in France.