Can you get fat from broccoli? A seemingly ridiculous question to ask the universe, but relevant (to me) as I approach my seventh week of living in France. Ahh, France. The country of passion. Of cheese, of wine. Of sleeping in, of late evening dinner bookings and overdressing when it’s not that cold. Of nothing happening before midday, of no breakfast, of espressos first thing in the morning, at midday and mid-afternoon, and certainly after dinner. Of well behaved children and people who smoke as if it’s good for their health. Of fabulous art, wonderful poetry, and a language of devine melody. Of dessert at any time of the day, pastry, and lastly (for now; this list is not exhaustive) but certainly and absolutely not least… the country of bread.
If there’s anything I haven’t missed out on thus far (Here are other things I have whinged about in the past, and here too), it is DU PAIN. God, they really do it good. The bread supplied to the French people on an hourly basis really puts the rest of the world to shame. Australia, with its neatly stacked supermarket shelves, and even bakeries, cannot be compared. Yes, we have choice down under, and more now than ever before. Behold, the rise of the artisanal bakery! But I would personally exchange our aisles, lined row after row with sliced white bits of western-ness, with one local boulangerie. I would vote for all bread to be eliminated from said shelves, if it meant access to ONE single shop which supplied freshly baked bread regularly, The French Way, so that even on a Sunday evening at 5pm, you could wait five minutes for a fresh baguette. That is how much the French love their bread. And I don’t blame them.
I have mentioned le pain in other posts, namely here and probably again here, and that’s because of the exquisite nature of the stuff. They don’t just make it once in the early hours of the morning, they keep it coming fresh over the course of the day.
Enter a boulangerie, and you will see: wooden box-like structures to hold baguettes (of which there are myriad kinds – ha! And we all thought a baguette was one single long “breadstick,” oh, the shame) and glass cabinets full with bread-related delicacies; croissants, croissants with jambon and fromage (not close in comparison to what we have down under) croque monsieur, croque madame, croque chèvre. They do things with that involve sausages, cheese and pastry that you never thought possible. The selection of quiche is like nothing you’ve seen before and will tempt even those who usually refrain.
You will have never seen so much melted cheese in one location, and you will salivate involuntarily when you observe such a place of flour filled dreams. I often wonder what their weekly demand for butter is. The smaller baguettes (called sandwich) which are filled with things, are stacked all the way to the top of the cabinet, in anticipation of their daily consumers. Camembert, fromage de chèvre, jambon cru, salade. The choices are endless and exotic; yesterday I even saw one with framboise.
La formule du midi entitles you to a savoury, a sweet and a drink, but you get stuck halfway on a dessert choice; there are no finger buns for you to frown upon so it’s much harder to refuse. Pain au chocolat? Croissant aux amandes? Flan? Paris Brest? Cheesecake? Mille feuille? The speciality of the region? Sugar receptors are on high alert as you question your nutritional values.
The choice you’re faced with in a boulangerie is one of the better, luckier things you get to decide upon in your day. Pour moi, a fresh baguette (tradition française) with its tough, crunchy exterior cannot be beaten. The way the flour springs off the top and into the air, hovering, stationary, as you rip it apart, is a moment I regularly look forward to. How the butter melts just a little bit with the warmth of the soft interior; it’s like a tiny landscape of delicate peaks, which spring back up as the knife finishes its task.
Can you get fat from broccoli? No. But exposure to the above can see a woman get a little curvy round the edges from just inhaling the air in a boulangerie, so it seems. Or perhaps it’s the daily addition of a baguette at lunch and dinner time, which means that even our normal standard of healthy meals are contradicted with carbohydrates.
As if the zipper breaking on a pair of jeans wasn’t warning enough, alarm bells are humming steadily between my ears now. But how do I stop it? Just saying no is harder than it seems, the bread is just so darn delicious! Moving to a place of isolation looks like it might be the only way around this dough filled dilemma.
PS For more information on French bread, read here. They have a Bread Decree, for god’s sake. I love them.