I thought it might be interesting to talk a little about the food on this trip. The first time I went to Paris was in was in the early 80’s, over 30 years ago. The boulangerie was where one went for coffee in the morning, and also for lunch and then dinner options were mainly fine dining restaurants with multiple butter heavy courses. There were also patisseries with multi-colored meringues in the windows and many little petits fours type of fussy desserts.
I have been back four times over the 30 years since that initial visit but have never seen such a big difference in Paris cuisine than what I saw on this trip, seven years since I last came. What is different? The old school Paris restaurant with the snooty waiter and the overly complicated menu seem to be on their way out. I saw a plethora of (gasp) vegan and vegetarian places and even some evidence of gluten free items offered. Many places were modern looking, light and airy inside, several had various types of quinoa salad and healthy types of smoothies. These places are staffed with young people, almost all of whom are English speaking and (gasp again) actually friendly to the customers.
I had more female servers in Paris than ever before and they were patient, polite and accommodating (there were a couple of notable exceptions in smaller French towns on the road trip). The bread was as fantastic as ever, the coffee quite good, they make a lovely omelette, but on the whole the food was a little……boring? Mon Dieu! Yes, that’s what I said. We had some great Vietnamese food and yummy street crepes but the menus at the French places were all variations on a theme that we were a little tired of after 10 days.
Another change in Paris was this chain we discovered ,”Paul”. Paul has fresh breads, baguettes, etc. as well as salad and/or sandwiches and pastries for eating in or taking out. One can go into Paul and get a coffee, sit down and drink and be done with the process in mere minutes as opposed to a half an hour at least of ordering, sitting, waiting some more, waiting for a bill, getting the waiter’s attention to get a bill and then paying and waiting for change. I actually saw some French people go into Paul and get coffee and a pastry to go and leave with these items to eat on the move. Wow! That is something I had never seen before in France.
I have mixed feelings about this change. I think the convenience of this type of eating makes sense in this day and age, the French people are living busy lives as well and this change accommodates that. My sense is that it is the young people who are driving the change and that for them, the lingering style of having even just a coffee is not something they want anymore. From my perspective as a visitor, I appreciated having the option to do it the old slower way or the shorter, whichever suited my other activities for the day. Perhaps that is the best of both worlds.
When Jack and I left Paris on the road trip into the South of France, Marseille and Nice, we noticed that the food really changed and the menus were definitely more Mediterranean and even Italian. In our opinion, the food improved the further south we went. With the notable exception of the bread, Italy’s food has just been better across the board than what we had in France. Granted, we are Pescatarians (fish but no meat or poultry) so perhaps that is skewing our perspective.
Italy seems to still be on the slow train when it comes to coffee and dining. We have not seen similar “healthy” themed restaurants to those in France or any chains with food that can be eaten in or taken out but we have seen menus such as this:
Gluten free pasta? In Rome? Who knew?
Jack made a delicious pasta with artichokes and eggplant sauce and garlic bread last night. We opened a bottle of Montepulciano to go with it. Yum!
We have discussed food, now I know what you’re thinking, “What about the drinks?”. Okay, here we go. These remarks will be limited to alcoholic drinks, non-alcoholic seem to be the same everywhere; water, still or sparkling, or various types of soda. In Paris, we saw mostly beer and wine drinking during cocktail hour but once we got to the South of France and into Italy, we kept seeing the same drink again and again, a beautiful orange colored, ice filled concoction that appeared at literally 70% of the tables at any given cocktail bar. I was entranced, what was that mysterious drink? I had never seen such a thing in the States.
When we were in Lirici by Cinque Terre, I asked our waiter what it was that everyone was drinking, his English was not the best and when he failed to communicate it’s ingredients to me, he disappeared and then came back with a glass full of orange colored something in a wine glass with ice and a straw. I figured out that he was saying “Aperol” and was able to determine that it was an aperitif, made of bitter orange and rhubarb along with other various things. The problem was that I think he just poured pure Aperol into a glass with ice and while some people might drink it like that, the vile, concentrated, syrupy flavor left me unconvinced that all these people were happily enjoying this concoction. I was also suspicious since the color, instead of being a lovely, golden orange that I had seen in other people’s drinks was the orange of a pumpkin. Needless to say, I thanked him profusely and told Jack I would just have to order one sometime to see what the big deal was.
Yesterday I got my chance.
This, my friends, is an Aperol Spritz, and pretty much all of Southern France and Italy is drinking it every day at cocktail hour. While my well-meaning waiter in Lirici had poured pure Aperol on ice, what he was missing was the all-important Prosecco! That is what waters down the strength of the Aperol and gives it the beautiful lighter orange color. I have to say, it’s popularity made a lot more sense to me after drinking it like this, it still is an unusual flavor but I think it might grow on me and I am going to try it on some friends at home next summer on a hot day.