Paris To-Do List: DONE!

I wish I had posted my list of things I wanted to accomplish in France in the beginning of my study abroad experience, but I didn’t. Rest assured, I didn’t just put up random things that I did so it could look like I am Super Woman.

There were things I didn’t do that I would have liked to have done. For example, I would have liked to go to an apple ciderie in Normandy, but I really didn’t put that much effort into going there. It wasn’t on the list, but it was worth mentioning. Next time, I guess!

And there were things that I wanted to do that I did, but they weren’t that big of a deal. I drank hot wine, I ate macarons, I bought baguettes and ate half of them on the walk home. They weren’t big deals or anything.

Anyways, here are the top five things I would have been pissed about if I didn’t do them while living in Paris:

1. Eat weird animal products.

This was the biggest, and also vaguest, thing I wanted to do. There were specific meats I wanted to try—horse, rabbit, duck, snails—and there were specific animal products I wanted to try—foie gras and boudin, mostly. Basically, I wanted to eat all of the crazy French foods I would never eat in America, which is pretty much what I did, minus frogs legs. I really had no desire to eat frog legs and, what’s more, I didn’t see them at all on any of the menus I looked at.

Robert et Louise -- (L to R) rillettes, boudin, foie gras.

Robert et Louise — (L to R) rillettes, boudin, foie gras.

But whenever I saw something on a French menu I wouldn’t necessarily see on an American menu, I ordered it. Granted, I was still eating on a college student’s budget while in France, so that would sometimes mean a week living off of a one-euro bag of pasta, but I did eat out sometimes and when I did I tried to make it count.

The hardest part, for me, was finding a restaurant that sold horse meat too—I would only find horse meat at open-air markets or at butcher shops, and goodness knows there was no way I would try and cook horse. It wasn’t until the last week when I finally asked my program director where was the best place to eat horse and he gave me a recommendation.

Except, they didn’t have proper horse on the menu, which was good because the cheapest plate was 24 euros and my friend Jenn and I started hyperventilating about how to leave this super expensive restaurant. I asked the overly attentive waiter if they had any horse, and he even went to the kitchen to ask. I said we came just because we heard this had the best horse in Paris, and he said we could have “charcuterie de chevaline,” or horse charcuterie  which is basically saucission or jerky of horse meat.


Jenn and I split it for 14 euros and even though the waiter asked if we wanted wine, coffee, or dessert after, he let us do it. So I did eat horse, but not the kind I was expecting.

And, I ate a lot of unpasteurized cheese. So much that something weird should have happened with my body but it didn’t. I just liked the idea of eating cheese that was illegal in the States, so sue me. I would literally ask the fromager at a fromagerie or a cheese stand what was illegal in the States, taste whatever they offered me, and then end up buying it.

 2. Get my French makeover

I already blogged about this, but I did get a French makeover even if it was one that wasn’t exactly like celluloid makeovers. Still, I got bangs and five inches of haircut off, so I consider it a success.

I also picked out a nice pair of frames for my dad to give me for my birthday, which is December 28. They’re men’s glasses, but they don’t look like them, I swear! (although I have a wide face so they kind of had to be a little bigger). So I really will come back a whole new person!

 3. Receive an invite to a French party

I wanted to do this just because it would mean that I would make French friends, and good enough French friends to get invited to their house. Being invited to a French person’s house or apartment is like a big deal, because they are oddly private.

I did get invited to French parties … that were taking place in my house. Haha. But still, I was really, actually invited to them. And what’s more, at the last house party, my host mom came home early and I helped make the introductions between her and most of my host daughter’s friends. So that made me feel really welcomed!

 4. Give directions in French

The first time someone asked me for directions, it was only the second week I was in Paris. But, it was a letdown because some American girls asked me, in English, where the McDonalds was. Talk about stereotyping! The worst part is that I actually knew where the McDonalds was … because it was literally down the street, within viewing distance, so the whole asking for directions thing was completely unnecessary on their parts. Hmmph.

This is what escargots look like BEFORE you throw them up.

This is what escargots look like BEFORE you throw them up.

But the other times I gave directions in French were much better, mostly because they were done in French to French people. I’ve given directions to the nearest Metro stations, the nearest biggest streets, and how to get to my apartment from a cab. One time someone asked me where the closest Metro station with Line One was and even though that question was crazy specific, I was still able to do it (only because there were two stations with that line within walking distance).

So not only did people think I was a local, but they thought I was a competent local who knew where shit was. Boo yah!

5. Become a regular somewhere

This was just me being superficial and wanting someone to recognize me. The first time I became a regular was at my local Franprix, but that’s easy to do so it doesn’t count. I wanted a kind of Cheers deal where everyone knows my name, or at least my face or my drink order. But have this happen in Paris.

I got that at The Green Linnet, this Irish bar by Châtelet. It’s a block away from the Metro, and originally we only stopped in because I couldn’t remember the bar we had set out to go to and it was cold and rainy and we wanted to go inside somewhere, anywhere. Blindly, we made a good choice. It’s small and cozy, with couches and wooden furnishings and live Irish music every Saturday night. It’s a chill bar where you can hear yourself think and most of the other patrons let you do just that.

La Fée Verte -- parmentier de canard

La Fée Verte — parmentier de canard

Plus, there was an American bartender from Green Bay, Wisconsin who studied abroad when he was in college and loved to give us tips and ideas and recommendations. He warned us no one would ever know what our study abroad experience would be like besides us, and he said this to me so long ago I had no idea how right he was until now. He was wise that way, and also because he gave me the name of the best authentic Mexican food place in Paris that helps during those times he described as “when you just really want some fucking sour cream, you know?”

But, best of all, he knew my drink—the fantastically cheap and wonderfully strong martini blanc—and he knew me enough to say “Hey! How you doin’?” instead of “Bonsoir” whenever I would first come in.

Eating Good in the Hood…of the French Countryside

On the eve of physically preparing myself to go camping (!) at Oktoberfest (!!) in an Olympic stadium (!!!), I realized that I still never wrote a blog post about my weekend adventure last week. It’s hard being a jet-setter, all right?

It was a short trip to the Bourgogne region (Dijon specifically) this weekend—and by short I mean less than 48 hours—but I was still excited about it because 1.) my study abroad program was paying for everything and 2.) it was my first time traveling outside of Paris without my dad.

Whenever I’d visit him, we’d keep it simple and stick to Paris or the tourist traps immediately outside of Paris, like EuroDisney and Versailles. We never went to the countryside and when I told my dad that I would be going to Dijon, he said that even he’d never been to Dijon. So I liked that I would be able to make my own French memories without mixing them with my dad’s memories or shared memories. I wouldn’t be in Bourgogne very long, but I knew that when I’d look back on the weekend, I’d still think of it as mine and not my dad’s.

Bourgogne is known for its mustard (Dijon) and its wine (Burgundy wine—Bourgogne is French for what we know as Burgundy), but for me the best part about the weekend was the food. I was very impressed with the restaurants that CIEE brought us too. There were like 40 kids on the trip not including chaperones, and you’d think with that many people it’d be about finding a restaurant that could fit us all and to hell with the food. But that was not the case.

The best way to describe it is that I ate like Julia Child this weekend—in one case, literally, with her classic dish beef bourguignon. I ate food I didn’t know the name or ingredients of and I ate food I didn’t really understand and I ate food I never would have picked off the menu if I had a choice. But everything was delicious.

If only five-year-old (or fifteen-year-old) Alissa could see me eating this _______ (broccoli souffle puff, beet salad, escargots, fish, etc.).

Later, when I’d put up pictures of the escargots I ate, my dad would send me an email with the subject title simply “Really?” asking if that meant I would now eat Boudin Noir (sausage made from pig meat and pig blood) and foie gras when he visits in November.

My answer? “Yeah! And I still haven’t tried frogs legs either…”

But before we ate our first meal, we had the first of the weekend’s World’s Longest Bus Rides going to Vezelay, a tiny stereotypical French countryside town with winding streets and beautiful little stone houses and buildings. We went to this former Benadictine monastery called Basilica of St. Mary Magdalene that was very old and very Gothic and very pretty. It was nice to walk up the huge hill to the church and walk around inside after sitting for so long.

But my culinary interests are far greater and experienced that my old church interests, so I was really psyched when we went to this restaurant (l’Auberge de la Coquille was the name but I can’t find a website for it) AND THERE WAS FOOD WAITING FOR US ON THE TABLE LIKE WOAH. We were seated in the basement of the restaurant that was slightly dungeon-esque, but the food was very countryish and French (according to the head of my program).

Deconstructed salad.

The first course was a salad that was separated into different parts: plain lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, beets. A deconstructed salad in a non-hipster way, if you will. The colors of the foods were very striking and Crayola-colored and bright and friendly, and the taste was just as striking (a bad thing, for the beets, but good for everything else).

The second course was this big platter of birds, potatoes, and tomatoes, which made me feel like I was eating in the Middle Ages. The broccoli puff souffle thing that was served with it made me feel like I was eating a vegetable cloud. The dessert was an apple tart that made me miss fall at home and then I saw, for the first time, packaged sugar cubes for my espresso. A whole lot of firsts (beets, birds, packaged sugar cubes, dungeon interior decorating).

So. Um. Those are potatoes. And that’s a tomato back there. And that’s all I needed to know so that’s all you get.

That food lasted until Dijon, where I didn’t go on a mustard tour (thankfully!) but I did get inexplicably excited about the different flavors on mustard I could buy in the mustard shops. Green tomato mustard! Basil mustard! Cassis (blackcurrent) mustard! No one in my family likes mustard, but if someone had, well, let’s just say I would have bought them their Christmas present in Dijon.

And then … and then … it was escargot time! (not to be confused with peanut butter jelly time). I knew snails were going to be the dinner, and I had mentally, physically, and emotionally prepared myself to eat them. How could I not at least try them? (my parents are probably ready to tear my hair out for not adapting this mentality when I was younger). It was actually harder to get the escargots out of the shell, what with the little shell clamper thingamajig I had to use to keep the shell steady and then the tiny fork I had to stick inside the shell to get the meat (weird to think of escargots as meat). But once I finally had my tiny meat on my tiny fork, I was good to go—even though there wasn’t any bread or water left on the table, my two go-to foods I used to use to chase bad tastes or foods with when I was a kid.

Turns out, I didn’t need them. And it also turns out that as I’m writing this, now I kind of want some escargots. Who’d have thunk?

This is what escargots look like BEFORE you throw them up.

Maybe I really am a grownup if I’m craving escargots. Or, you know, I’m just a pretentious asshole.

After the escargots, I had the aforementioned beef bourguignon (which was very good although very hard to eat without making a SNL-Dan-Aykroyd-as-Julia-Child mess of my meal) as the main course. There was a little crostini on top of the noodles that came with the dish meant to be eaten with mini baguette breads—I love that I can eat so many carbs here and not feel guilty because I tell myself it is the French way.

The cassis sorbet with a beignet, starfruit, and some rum-based sorbet that wasn’t that great was the perfect light dessert to eat a hearty meal with. All in all, the food is probably the reason why I wasn’t too annoyed that Dijon didn’t have ANY kind of nightlife whatsoever and I was back in my hotel room bed by 11 p.m. ready to succumb to my food coma.

Julia Child is smiling down at me, I can just tell.

It’s probably a good thing I didn’t stay out late drinking Saturday, because our scheduled wine tasting on Sunday was at 11 a.m. ELEVEN IN THE MORNING. It’s five o’clock somewhere, right? Especially when it’s closer to 5 a.m. than 5 p.m. and the only people drinking alcohol at that time are the people who go to church Sunday mornings. Still, it was a little too early for me, especially because I had gorged on scrambled eggs (the first scrambled eggs I’ve seen in France!) just an hour or so before.

Still, I didn’t spit out my wine or dump it in the barrels. I did give most of the wine offerings to my friends, but I had little sips of a rosé, a Chardonnay, a Pinot Noir, and some other red wines. I was more excited about frolicking in the vineyard than drinking free wine.

And later, I was more excited about the fish I ate for lunch. I got stuck sitting next to the bus driver, which is awkward in itself when you’re not factoring in the little language barrier, and to make conversation I asked him what sauce we were eating with our fish, since it was very good. BIG MISTAKE.

Fish in a crayfish sauce. I asked so you don’t have to.

He didn’t know but he asked the waitress, who asked the cook, who told the waitress, who told the bus driver, who told me. And then my program director guy came over to make sure everything was okay, with the waiter anxiously shuffling around behind him.  And even when I got the answer, I didn’t really understand it. Apparently the sauce was sauce des crevettes, which means a crayfish sauce. But we were eating fish (don’t ask me what kind of fish, because there was no way I was going to be asking anymore questions that meal). So it was fish in a sauce made from crayfish, which seemed FISHY to me.

I’ll admit I was childishly annoyed at the bus driver for making such a hassle out of a simple question I asked to fill up the silence. But he did make it up to me when I asked him what he thought dessert would be (at this very nice restaurant, mind you) and he replied, “Doughnuts.”

The look on his face when I told him Americans ate doughnuts for breakfast all the time also helped.

To wrap it all up (like I wish I could have done with all of the amazing food I ate last weekend), the food made the trip. The church was meh, the wine tasting too early, and the bus rides too long—but the food? The pictures of the food are the pictures I’ll cherish most dearly.

Now, off to Oktoberfest tomorrow. Sausage and beer sold by the liter, anyone? ‘Cause that’s what will be served next on A Moveable Falcone.