Aaaah, France in winter…. the snow, the cold, the icy wind, the trains blocked by frozen-up rails, running 1, 2, 3 hours late! The beautiful puddles of melted snow sludge mixed with dog sh.t… The constant sneezing, runny nose, everyone being sick around you, the daily trips to the chemist…. Nope, really I don’t think I’ll ever say I miss French winters again!
Those few weeks in France were spent in particular circumstances though, so I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to appreciate much of anything (first time I’m back from France having lost weight!). We were there to follow the Australian Pastry Team to the World Pastry Cup in Lyon, which was intense enough, and at the same time my mother was in hospital, then we all got sick, and it was a bit difficult for a while! But it all got better in the end thankfully
I managed to snap a few of the tasty bites I’ve had while over there though, like this little Galette des Rois I bought just before taking the TGV at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle.
I’ve talked about Galette des Rois in that article on shiny & new food website Eat Love. The Galette des Rois is eaten once a year in January, to celebrate the visit of the Infant Jesus by the Three Wise Men. It consists of a flaky pastry tart stuffed with creamy marzipan paste, subtly flavoured with orange blossom water.
The tradition requires the youngest member of the party to go under the table and choose to which guest each slice will be served, so that the finding of the “fève” hidden inside the tart remains completely left to chance. The “fève” (= fava, or trinket) is traditionally made out of ceramic, but nowadays is mostly in plastic. The person who finds the “fève” is then crowned king/queen for a day and has to wear a beautiful golden paper crown!
But I just ate one by myself at the train station, I love the taste too much!
I stayed a few weeks at my parents’ house and sometimes strolled in my hometown’s quiet streets to buy baguettes, groceries or medicines. One day as I was walking back from town, I had to stop suddenly for a double-take in front of one of the closed shops (shops seemed to be always closed): Excuse me?! “Coucougnettes” lollies??? You must be joking!
Nope, it’s not a joke. The story behind the Coucougnettes (“Lil’ testicles”) is that they were an homage to King Henri IV, who apparently was quite active in that area, with supposedly 57 lovers and 24 children under his belt! They are roasted almonds, covered in almond paste flavoured with raspberry, ginger and Armagnac and candied in sugar. Didn’t get to taste them though, but apparently they’re really tasty. No really!
I also enjoyed lingering in the dairy aisles of supermarkets, just admiring the generous displays of the hundreds different types of yoghurts. People must have thought I was a bit of a weirdo…
But look at all that choice!!! And there were at least two more aisles of cheese, plus two smaller displays with specialty cheese… Sigh.
Also got to eat a lot of kid food thanks to my niece & nephews: chocolate cereals (Chocapic), chicken nuggets, macaroni with ham, instant potato mash, fish fingers, and of course my favourite…
Danettes are creamy dessert chocolate, that for some reason I don’t feel guilty eating… it’s just a dairy product you eat at the end of the meal, like a yoghurt… Right?
I got to go the restaurant though a few times though, with my family, and with my highschool and uni friends.
There was a new bistro in town, Le Bistro de Joël, described on their website as quite “branché” (hip), and you could see they really made an effort with the decor. The menu was quite traditional though, mainly bistro, Lyon bouchon-style of food, which turned out quite nice.
As I might have told you in a previous post, Ravioles are a specialty from my home-town, Romans: a small ravioli filled with cheese and herbs… can never go wrong with that! Every little bistro, café, brasserie, up to the fine dining gastronomic establishments in the area will feature some ravioles in their menu. You can find ravioles gratins, fried, plain, in salads, on pizzas, or for desserts, chocolate ravioles! (quite yum by the way).
There were lots of vintage ad posters, old books, giving the place a pleasant retro feel.
The Banania ad, which we grew up with never quite understanding where the design came from at the time (a Senegalese soldier from the colonial times), provoked a big controversy in the early noughties, and still raises eyebrows these days: I was surprised to read that they kept the design, even though it’s been reworked as a little boy wearing the red hat and that the slogan “Y’a bon” (bad French grammar, typically attributed to Africans from the colonies) has been removed.
However, the vintage Banania products are still popular and still sold as collectors items.
A nice little Beaujolais went perfectly with our meal.
The Saucisson Brioché is a specialty from Lyon and looks a bit like a big sausage roll, but instead of being encased in puff pastry, the sausage has been baked inside a loaf of brioche. Here the chef added some jus, mushrooms and prosciutto, but I thought it could have done without the ham, it was very good as is. Quite filling though!
I couldn’t complain about these nice and plump scallops, which I had as my main, they were very well cooked and the accompanying jus was very good too.
I didn’t order any desserts, but I sure regretted it when I saw these arrive on the table for my table companions! I ended up stealing a bit from each.
Couldn’t help but smile when I saw this vintage ad on my way to the bathroom, he he!
And thus passed the days, and weeks, between hospital visits, washing up, picking up chewed-up food from the floor, picking up my niece from school, playing with them… I even changed nappies!!! It went quite fast though, and it was soon time to go home.
I got to visit my friends in Lyon on my way back to Paris, which was great as they always spoil me with lots of good food.
Mont d’Or is a vacherin-type of washed-rind cheese from my birth place “Haut-Doubs”, in the Jura region. It is made from raw cow’s milk cheese and benefits from the AOC tag (Controlled Origin Appellation). The smell is quite strong, but the taste is quite mild and the texture is very soft and creamy. Together with Comté, it’s probably one of my favourite cheeses! It can be eaten hot or cold, and my friends served it warm from the oven, then poured onto potatoes, like a Raclette, which was the first time for me. It was as delicious as expected.
My other friends also spoilt me with a gigantic breakfast (coffee, fruit juice, pastries, viennoiseries, tartines…) and later for lunch beautiful roasted beef with pan-fried “olden-days” root vegetables, which are coming back into fashion in France: rutabaga, parnsips, etc.
My friend had also served me a chestnut soup the day before, which was very smooth and tasty, as well as little parcels of pastry with a whole St-Marcelling cheese inside and a hint of honey, delicious!
Couldn’t be in Lyon and not enjoy and pink-praline brioche, a mini-version of the St-Genix, which I’ve talked about a few times now!
These pastries were from one of the best bakeries in Lyon, L’Atelier du Boulanger, located in the Croix-Rousse area, at the top of the hill.
And that was it for France, I didn’t even stop in Paris, nor Hong Kong as originally planned, it’s going to have to wait for another year unfortunately. I have to admit I wasn’t displeased to be back in Sydney and find more welcoming temperatures, my thongs and good Asian food! But I sure would like to go back to France soon, hopefully in better circumstances… And in spring or summer, thank you!