Gourmandise is definitely an important part of French culture – hence why my entries revolve so much around food at the moment! Last weekend I went to catch the last day of the Salon du Chocolat at Porte de Versailles. This is the world’s largest event dedicated to chocolate and cocoa, whose theme this year was ‘The New Worlds of Chocolate’. Here you could meet the greatest chocolatiers from France and throughout the world. For example, there was a small stall promoting Vietnamese chocolate, which I didn’t even know existed. There were plenty of different exceptional displays to wonder over and activities to participate in, such as conferences, demonstrations of recipes, workshops for children, exhibitions, and last but not least, many tastings and the famous Chocolate Fashion Show. The exhibition had several intriguing mouth-watering creations, including a smart car decorated with macarons, a dress made entirely of chocolate, chocolate lipstick and a line of chocolate bras! As well as lots of sweet treats to satisfy chocoholics, there were several stalls selling sugar-inspired accessories for any shopaholics. Being a bit of one myself, I just couldn’t help myself and bought a macaron necklace from a brand called ‘Sweet factory’.
Last Thursday I went to an international dinner organized for Sorbonne students, which gathered different nationalities and cuisines from all over the globe. The event stated that everyone was to make a traditional national dish, which immediately got me in rut. Anyone who knows me well will know that I am actually half Belgian, and because of this I have been brought up in a rather continental household where English food is rarely consumed, let alone cooked. My other obstacle was my cooking facilities chez moi – my small Parisian studio does not have the space for an oven, which limited my options drastically. Joking about the lack of fine English cuisine, my French friend suggested that I should make something Belgian instead, seeing as most Europeans would turn their nose up at a Yorkshire pudding or a shepherd’s pie anyway! Plus, Belgium is well-known as being a nation of gourmands. I had thought about making some Belgian Pannekoeken (pancakes), which would be simple enough, though I thought this would be too similar to French crêpes. Everything else that I could think of (Moules-frites, waffles, tomate-crevette etc…) required either an oven or a lot of effort; and I thought just talking chocolate or Spéculoos would bit a bit of a cop out. That said, I did give in and cheated by making a cheeky trip to Marks and Spencer. I bought a Victoria Sponge which I put in my own tupperware and passed off as my own – no one ever needs to know! Another English guy (who had graduated from Warwick funnily enough!) did put me to shame and had made his own scones and fruitcake, though my no oven situation does give me an excuse!
The food themed evening naturally sparked various conversations about national cuisine. With a lot of French national cuisine in particular revolving around meat, the evening did involve a lot of questions about my vegetarianism. Such a dietary choice is almost unheard of in France – I have been asked several times how I could have never eaten a saucisson or foie gras. My French friend Guillaume was rather upset that I couldn’t try his quiche, though I am still convinced that his mum made it! Several of the French were also horrified to hear that I like putting Camembert in the microwave to make it hot and gooey and broke out into a mini uproar when I attempted to cut into some of their sacred cheese, which apparently I was doing completely wrong!
Having all eaten to our heart’s content, we ended the evening in a bar called Le Village in the quartier Latin. My journey home was very entertaining and involved an achievement that I am rather proud of! I was cutting it fine for getting the last metro home, and when I got to Nation to change lines I had just missed the last train. This wasn’t really a problem, as Nation is a walkable distance for me to get home. After asking some of the others on the platform if they were sure the last metro had gone, I was approached by a guy who asked me if I had a map of Paris. I showed him my map and asked him where he was going, which was when I realized that he must be American. Without even thinking to speak to him in English (his French was pretty awful), I deciphered that he lived around Père Lachaise, which is very near to me, so I suggested that we could find our way home together. When the chit-chat began and the guy asked me if I lived here with my family, I suddenly realized that he thought I was French. This was too good an opportunity to miss, so I decided to have a bit of fun and play along… I did feel a bit cruel forcing this guy to suffer by straining his pigeon-French, but I just found it hilarious that he had absolutely no idea that I was an Anglophone like himself. When he asked me if I spoke English, I said not very well and put on my best fake French accent when pretending to struggle to ‘spik ze English’. When we were due to go our separate ways he then asked me if we could exchange numbers so I could help him with his French sometime. Having had several glasses of wine and not wanting to end my little fantasy, I gave him my number before disappearing swiftly into the night!
Salon du Chocolat: http://www.salonduchocolat.fr/visit.aspx
The Salon du Chocolat will be in London next year from 22nd to 24th November 2013.
Sweet Factory: http://www.sweet-factory.fr/fr/