Food is life. Food is anticipation. Food is pleasure.
Food is memories. Food is nostalgia. Food reminds you where you are from.
When I meet French people in the United States, we may discuss French current events, or our respective American locales of choice; but without fail, at some point in the conversation, food is brought up. “Where do you find Maille/Antésite/Levure Alsa/La Comtesse du Barry, here?” “Where do you find a decent baguette?” Code names, exchanged by expatriates who need not explain: They speak the same language.
I have lived in the United States for almost twenty years. I have sampled great food all over the country. Because I manage a blog named French Girl in Seattle, followed by a fast-growing community of francophiles, I have made it a game – no, my mission – to look for French food during my travels. Driven and focused, this French Girl investigates… and scores.
|Nothing stands between a Gaul and his boar… uh… food.
In the United States, I have sampled wonderful French products, some imported, some locally made: bread, cheese, charcuterie, salt, pastries, wine, and more. It can be a struggle to locate them locally, but there are online suppliers too. My favorites are the well-stocked d’Artagnan (as a Toulouse native, how could I not patronize a business named after the famous Gascon?;) and the more affordable le Panier Français and frenchybee.com. So if you absolutely need to purchase French food specialties – and are willing to pay at least twice what they cost in France – there are places you can go. Ah, the sweet taste of victory, when you finally get your hands on the prize!
What about cravings? What about instant gratification? Sure, it’s a great feeling to open the care packages shipped by your French relatives, but you often wish you had easy access to all these delicious products you used to find around the corner in your French neighborhood. And you think to yourself: “J’ai tellement envie de…” [insert the French product name.] I would so love…
So, without further ado, voilà this French Girl’s top 10: The hard-to-find, dearly missed food items that immediately bring her back home, as she savors them with sheer delectation.
1. La Baguette Tradition
Not just any bread; a French icon. Supermarket bread can’t compete. Bâtard, flûte, ficelle can’t compete either. La baguette de tradition française is the Queen of the French boulangerie. Eat it alone, or with butter. You must eat le quignon (the tip) on the way home. Buy two, just in case.
|Fellow expat, actor Olivier Martinez:
His Los Angeles grocery runs always include a baguette!
2. Le beurre demi-sel
Not sweet. Not salted. Just right. This is the butter that will make you forget all other butters. Spread it on toast in the morning; use it to make crêpes. Substitute for all other standard (boring?) butters in recipes.
French butter is really good, folks. Do not take my word for it. Try it! This week, when I posted this photo online with the caption: “Incredible. Albertsons sells this for only $2.99,” French Girl in Seattle readers went mad. I stocked up. They stocked up.
A few hours later, the folks at Albertsons were seen scratching their heads in front of empty shelves. They likely checked in with their chi-chi competitors at Whole Foods, who replied: “Are you CRAZY? Don’t you know you can charge three times as much for that French stuff?“
3. La graisse de canard (la graisse d’oie.)
Duck (or goose) fat. Sounds bad for you? But you use so little of it. Un peu. A smidge. How bad can that be? Besides, if you have ever sampled a serving of crisp, fragrant pommes de terre sarladaises, you know why you will never sauté dishes with anything else.
4. Les pâtes prêtes à dérouler.
Store-bought doughs. Ready to use. Monoprix makes excellent ones. So do Marie or Herta. You’re not a baker? Not to worry. From now on, you will impress your guests with perfect pâte brisée, pâte sablée, or pâte feuilletée. It is that easy.
When I lived in Paris, my girlfriends and I had a favorite dinner: Tarte aux tomates, fromage and herbes de Provence, served with a green salad, and followed by a cheese course, or dessert. Voilà. The most delicious dinner in the world, whipped in a few minutes.
5. Les Rillettes de Canard (duck rillettes.)
It’s not pâté. It’s not foie gras either. Find a baguette tradition (see above,) a good bottle of wine, and you’re in business.
6. Les Yaourts.
You have not eaten yogurt until you have had yogurt in France. Fact. The yogurt aisle in any self-respecting French supermarket is a beautiful sight. The photo below will probably make many French expats sigh. I get it.
7. La faisselle. Le fromage blanc.
It’s not crème fraîche, it’s not cream cheese. La faisselle and le fromage blanc (whipped faisselle) is fresh cheese, with half the calories and cholesterol of cream cheese.
|“Fromage blanc à la louche,” served with a ladle at outdoor markets
It makes a tasty dip when mixed with fresh herbs. People cook with it. It was for a long time French women’s go-to *healthy* dessert on restaurant menus (maybe it still is?)
|Faisselle au coulis de fruits rouges
8. Café Carte Noire.
The top-selling coffee brand in France. A couple of Carte Noire bags often find their way into my suitcase before I leave France. Oh, and the brand has produced some awesome TV commercials over the years!
9. Teisseire mint syrup.
Because Vittel Menthe (mint syrup and mineral water) or its poor parent Menthe à l’eau (mint syrup and tap water,) is such a pretty, refreshing drink. In my childhood, kids were only allowed to drink soda occasionally. We were very grateful for the reliable Menthe à l’eau: It quenched our thirst on hot summer days.
10. La crème de cassis (currant liquor.)
A classic, and the indispensable ingredient to prepare the iconic French apéritif Kir (dry white wine and currant liquor.) My personal favorite, le Kir Royal, is the elegant, pretty drink that whets your appetite and makes your head spin before you order your meal.
There are so many more I could list here. But this is a Top 10. Favorite French (and European) candy could be a Top 10 by itself. I once wrote a story about the candy of my childhood. You can find it here.
You know my selection. What about yours? Whether you are a French expatriate, or someone who still lives in their homeland, what are favorite food products you miss -or would miss – away from home? C’est à vous. Speak up.