The first real Parisian I met once told me being a vegetarian in France was “unpatriotic.”
At the time, I was trying out pescatarianism, and between slurps of my green smoothie, I must have given him quite a look. He said I’d understand once I got to France — c’est la vie.
And, boy, in just a month’s time, have I gotten a crash course. Between the galettes, boeuf bourguignon, choucroute and roast chicken, I don’t think I’ve been as much of a carnivore in my entire life.
It’s true, the French do love their meat. But as my arteries surely begin to clog and my jeans fit a little more snugly, I’m asking myself just how much a girl has to eat to truly experience la vie en France.
My first week in Paris, I tied the napkin around my neck and dove right in. After class, I went to Rue du Montparnasse — the moveable feast of crêperies.
I nestled into a wicker chair on the sidewalk and ordered a gallette (savory crêpe) stuffed with duck, baked apples, candied walnuts and goat cheese. I felt a twinge of guilt, which quickly went away when the waiter brought me a complimentary glass of wine.
Obviously it was as a sign from the universe to eat the duck, so I did. With the marinating apples soaking into the cheese, the nuts giving texture and the duck tasting just a bit like my family’s Easter dinner, you could say it was good.
Later that week, my school took us out for a traditional, four-course meal. Did I want the vegetarian option? Bah, non!
After a sprawling roasted vegetable platter and salad course, the waiter had come back with my entrée. I swear I glanced away for one second and when I looked back at my plate, there it was — an entire chicken.
Ok, well really it was nearly an entire chicken but it was so large the accompanying potatoes and zucchini nearly tumbled off the plate.
So I ate the chicken and enjoyed every bite.
In Strasbourg, France, came the choucroute, an Alsatian comfort food masterpiece of sausage, finely cut cabbage and roasted vegetables. In Nice, France, it was fruit de mer, a tower of fresh shrimp, clams, crab and honestly I’m not sure what else served over linguine.
In retrospect, I’m honestly not sure how I ever considered my defrosted tilapia to be fine dining. This semester is truly ruining my taste buds.
That being said, there have been some less-than-savory meals along the way.
It all started from a little game I play when I don’t know a word on the menu. Rather than just looking up “andouilles” on Google Translate, why not order it and find out what it is when the waiter brings out your plate?
I call it "French roulette" — often you’ll win, but there’s always that one chance you pick the barrel with the bullet. Tasting andouilles — which ended up being some sort of pig intestines — was definitely that bullet.
After over a month here, I’m not entirely sold that meat is the only window to France’s soul. Sure, it’s always good to taste the local culture, but this is Paris, not Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.
So while there will be no more French roulette on this trip, I’m still intent on enjoying every bite. Wednesday morning, it was fresh figs along the Seine. Tonight, it was my host mother’s fresh roast with mushrooms.
And you know what, both still tasted pretty patriotic to me.