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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Bouillabaisse for the Grinnellian soul

La cuisine française is often perceived as the symbol of French culture. The stereotype of wine and cheese is more or less true. Even in Paris, the most expensive city in France, you can get a nice bottle of wine for three or four euros. Have a bite of a baguette and a sip of wine along the Seine River—that is probably one of the preeminent French experiences you could get. However, besides this picturesque image of France, there remain numerous dishes one can enjoy throughout the entire country, all of which may be accompanied by the aforementioned baguette and glass of wine.

Just as different regions in France have their unique landscapes, each has its signature cuisines. When I tasted fondue for the first time in Annecy, my mouth was filled not only with melted cheese but also pure euphoria as the savory substance met my lips. Fresh seafood dishes in the Provence region, notably the Bouillabaisse (a fish soup) from Marseille, are unbeatable, although within the dish itself I found it almost impossible to distinguish the countless kinds of Provencale herbs for which the region is known. In Strasbourg, a city heavily influenced by the Germanic culture, I tried the famous Alsatian dish Choucroute—traditional German sausages with sauerkraut. Even if you have not tried any of the dishes mentioned above, I bet you have tasted or at least heard of the prestigious crêpes from the Bretagne region—quick, cheap, and delicious, these hearty snacks can contain anything from nutella to ratatouille.

In spite of its classy reputation, French cuisine does not have to be expensive. According to my French friends, the biggest secret of the French culinary culture is time. Many traditional dishes require preparation from the night before they are cooked (la veille). For example, in my first French cooking lesson when I learned to make La Daube (a traditional dish from the Provence region), we marinated the beef in red wine the night before the lesson in order to get the best taste. However, that was just the start of the process. The actual cooking took more than three hours and the dinner took another three. It is not too difficult to understand why many French people are often hostile towards the American fast—food culture. For the French, it takes time to prepare good food, and more importantly, to have a good time with your family and friends. Well, c’est la vie.

While Americans and French have very different culinary attitudes, exploring the French cuisine often reminds me of the similarity between Chinese and French cultures. Like the Chinese, the French eat almost everything—from liver to snails. At a meal at Strasbourg, I wanted to try a dish called rognons flamblée sauce moutarde, but I did not know what rognon means in French. My American friend told me in an extremely low voice that it means kidney in English, which was, unfortunately, another word that I did not know. The dish was served and I understood immediately why my American friend urged me not to order it; yet for me, it was a great discovery because rognon, or kidney, is one of my favorite dishes at home in China. I can write a whole list of similarities between Chinese and French cultures—on the top of the list, should there be “we love food and eat everything”.

With its diversity and delicacy, French cuisine has dominated the world of gastronomy ever since the Middle Ages. Recently, French cuisine is recognized by UNESCO as a world immaterial cultural heritage. My politics professor once joked: “If there were any policies that the Left and the Right in France reached consensus, it must be the promotion of the French cuisine.” After living in France for a year, I now find it difficult to imagine life without French food. Let’s forget the fast—paced modern world, and get ready for a good meal.

-Liyan Chen ’12

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