One of my favorite things about the French is that they tend to be well-rounded: The French dress fashionably, travel, read a ton, keep abreast of politics and quite famously, eat well.
Collectively I’ve spent about a year and a half living with French families so I’d like to think I know a thing or two about French home-cooking. But returning to Paris this year reminded me of so many French eating habits I have yet to work into my daily life.
While there are many French food customs I’ll never get on board with- like oeufs en gelée (blergh) and small, sweet breakfasts, there are others, like a salad with every meal and good wine that I’m more than behind.
*Note- not every French person or family does these things, these are just food customs I’ve observed personally.
A Salad with every meal
Salad is truly an art form in France. In fact I never liked salad until I lived there.
When I lived in France, I made a simple green salad every day to accompany the main dish at dinner. I loved how it wasn’t a question- at dinner you always have baguette, and you always have salad.
You start with fresh, butter lettuce that you wash and dry with a salad spinner three times. It’s usually from the farmer’s market and speckled with dirt so it’s important to wash thoroughly!
Then you always, always, always make the vinaigrette from scratch. (I’ve never even seen bottled dressing in France!) Here’s my recipe.
And voilà, you have a delicious salade verte!
Yogurt after every meal
After dinner in France we would bring out an assortment of yogurts: mousse au chocolat, lemon and strawberry, among other flavors. In my opinion, yogurt is the perfect low-key, weekday dessert, and boasts plenty of health benefits as well.
Sadly, this is one French food tradition I sadly won’t be replicating in America as American yogurt is sugary, processed and terrible for you. You might as well just eat half a candy bar.
Also, if you’re ever in France, the above yogurt, Fjord, is the yogurt of dreams: thick, tangy, creamy, addictive. As in like worth smuggling through US customs.
Interestingly enough, there’s actually no viable English translation for apéro dinatoire! Cocktail party with snacks? Drinks and finger food?
Essentially an apéritif dinatoîre is when you invite guests over to drink and snack on an assortment of hors d’oeuvres. You don’t “officially” serve a meal so it’s not a dinner party; it’s more of a casual, often weekday gathering that lasts late into the night.
(Fun fact- did you know no one says hors d’oeuvres in France? It’s an antiquated word.)
Gougères, or cheese puffs, I made for an apéritif dinatoîre last year. They’re surprisingly super hard to make- this was my third batch!
Sparkling water always makes me feel kind of fancy. Plus, if you’re trying to cut out pop, it’s a healthy carbonated alternative.
Always using a tablecloth
Another thing that makes me feel a little more put-together? A tablecloth. The French never sit down to eat without one.
Epic, five-course dinner parties on the regular
Oh god. French dinner parties are so much work yet so worth it. Here’s the drill:
1. Decorate your house beautifully, with a fresh tablecloth, flowers, chic stemware and your best china. Your best china isn’t just for holidays- it’s also for impressing your guests. And turn on some music!
2. Wait for your guests to arrive- they’re always a little late. Once they arrive greet them with a kiss and serve them hors d’oeuvres and cocktails (kind of like an apéro dinatoire but with a lot less food).
And don’t forget to thank them for their gift, usually a bottle of wine or flowers. In France it’s rude to show up empty-handed.
3. Sit down to the table for the first course (entrée in French. Yep, it’s backwards from English!)
4. Serve the main course. It is imperative for everyone to rave about the food- in France people talk a lot about food. Points for serving more exotic dishes like tagine or goulash.
5. Serve the cheese course. Ideally you will have at least 3-4 room-temperature cheeses on a plate- here’s my guide on how to serve a good cheese course.
5. Serve dessert. Also, this isn’t a throwaway course- it’s a lot of work. Ideas: financier with a berry coulis, omelette norwegienne, a poached pear in a salted butter caramel sauce.
6. Serve coffee.
7. Chat about politics/sex/family life until as late as three a.m., serving up plenty of wine.
8. Wake up mildly hungover and wash about 8,000 dishes. Each of those courses had a fresh plate, remember?
Buying good wine
Once I grow up (ha) I vow to never buy Yellowtail again- good wine is worth paying extra for, in my book. Unfortunately, good wine in the states is pricey, but in France you can pick up a decent bottle from 3-5 euros!
Also, someday I will have a badass wine cellar like my host dad in France with a gravel floor and a million wine bottles. #seriously
Ah, I love a good farmers market, especially in France. Most French farmers markets are open two-three days a week, and serve up all the good stuff: charcuterie, seafood, cheese and fresh produce.
Um I think if I mention one more picnic on my blog you are all going to kill me, but really- I never have them in the states. Picnics=the best.
A cheese course before dessert
Eating healthy on the weekdays and indulging on weekends
This is one healthful custom I’ve observed in France. The French often eat simple foods during the week, and on the weekends indulge in pastries for breakfast, barbecues for dinner and sinful desserts. It’s the perfect mix of abstinence and indulgence.
Omelets for dinner
I’ve actually never seen anyone in France eat an omelet for breakfast! But we did often eat them for dinner with chives and other fines herbes on top. Yum!
More cheese and butter in my life
And especially more goat’s cheese.
My actual favorite food in the world. Also it kills me that this cost literally two euros.
Which French eating habits would you like to adopt?
Over my three weeks in London, I finally settled upon my dream neighborhood- the East End. The East End is everything you’d want as a twenty-something; it’s packed with street art, cute cafés, lively bars and some of London’s trendiest restaurants.
The East End also has hundreds of years of history. For centuries it was synonymous with poverty and over-crowding, and Huguenot refugees, Irish weavers, Ashkenazi Jews and Bangladeshi immigrants have all called it home.
So when Eating London invited me on a food tour of the East End I was totally on board- as both a foodie and history buff how could I pass up the chance?
And if I haven’t already convinced you that London’s a foodie town, prepare yourself, dear reader.
St. John Bread & Wine // Bacon Sandwich
Our first stop? St. John Bread and Wine. Featured on my favorite travel show ever, No Reservations, St. John is known for its nose-to-tail dining approach, which as an offal lover, I’m all for.
This bacon sandwich was near perfect: thick, cut-with-a-spoon-tender slices of bacon slathered with a secret ketchup sauce and held together by grilled white bread. And what’s neat is that both the bread and bacon are baked and cured in house.
And while normally I prefer American-style bacon over English, this was the bacon sandwich to rule them all.
The English Restaurant // Bread and Butter Pudding
What’s that you say? Who eats bread and butter pudding at 10 a.m.?
Well at the English Restaurant, you can! Between the creme brûlée crust and the luscious crème anglaise sauce, I was literally sighing with happiness over my bread and butter pudding. And plus, the English Restaurant had the most cozily English atmosphere- I could’ve nursed a pint there all afternoon.
Androuet // Cheese Platter
To my delight our third stop was Androuet, a little French cheese shop! We tasted two of my favorite English cheeses, cheddar and stilton. And from the first mouthful of perfectly ripe cheese I was in fromage-ophile heaven.
The young French owner explained that Androuet was started in Paris in 1909. I also learned that the owner and I are cheese twins; both of our favorite cheeses is Sainte-Maure de Touraine, an unpasteurized, full-fat aged goat’s cheese with a piece of straw through the middle.
Poppies // Fish and Chips
British readers, please skip this paragraph. But to my palate fish and chips is overkill- why pair fried with fried?
But the fish at Poppies was light as fried cod can be, and was especially delicious when doused in vinegar. I also loved the throwback American diner interior and kind of wanted to play Elvis on the jukebox.
Pride of Spitalfields // Ale
Next it was time for drinks, so we headed to Pride of Spitalfields for an ale tasting.
While I love beer, my inner hipster hates that I can’t get myself to love ale- it’s just too lukewarm and still! And although I sadly hadn’t been converted into an ale-drinker by the end of the visit, I’d definitely return to Pride of Spitalfields for its cozy, red-plush interior and dozens of beers on tap.
Aladin // Indian Curry
Would a tour of the East End be complete without stopping by Brick Lane? Probably not.
Brick Lane, also known as Curry Mile, is home to a large Bangladeshi community that immigrated to London in the 1970’s and 80’s.
The chef served up three curries for our visit, and all were scrumptious- I especially loved the lamb curry. But by this point I was so stuffed even the tastiest curry could hardly entice me.
(But don’t worry, I made room. You think I’d let a lamb curry go to waste?)
Street art by Stik on Brick Lane
Beigel Bake // Salt Beef Sandwich
There was quite a line outside Beigel Bake, and from my first bite of this salt beef sandwich I could see why. The fatty, melt-in-your mouth meat paired with the yeasty bagel and dab of sharp yellow mustard made for a perfect fatty-acidic taste combination.
Pizza East // Salted Caramel Tart and Tea
And the grand finale? Dessert at Pizza East! I fell in love with Pizza East for two reasons- first, the uber-chic, warehouse interior which oddly enough we weren’t allowed to photograph. And secondly, this salted caramel tart was possibly the best thing I had all day- decadent, chocolaty and topped with coarse sea salt.
My only regret- I wish I would’ve had room for pizza as the pies coming from the kitchen looked to die for!
Final remarks on the tour
As you may have guessed, I absolutely loved the Eating London food tour. I loved that the tour guide, Nicole, provided so many interesting facts about the East End’s history and culture- I was jotting down facts on my iPhone during the tour. And as I’ve mentioned, the food was bar-none.
And my favorite eat of the day? It’s a two-way tie between the bread and butter pudding and the salted caramel tart.
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After lunch I burned off a fraction of the calories I had just consumed by combing the East End for street art. Sigh… I love London.
Have you ever eaten in the East End?
A big thanks to Eating London for providing a food tour in exchange for a review. They in no way insisted that I write a favorable review, and all opinions are (as always) my own. If you’d like to join the Eating London food tour, here are a few tips: don’t eat breakfast, bring a camera, show up on time and DEFINITELY wear loose-fitting pants and comfortable shoes.
Okay, world. Here’s my personal declaration: London is now a foodie town. In my humble opinion, you can find more creative and diverse food in London than you can in Paris or Chicago.
Yep. I wrote it.
Don’t believe me? Read on to learn all about London’s best food markets I discovered during my three weeks in the Smoke.
I ventured to all of these markets under the shrewd guidance of my friend and fellow travel blogger Amanda. Amanda knows all about where to find the best eats in London; she’s even writing her dissertation on London’s up-and-coming craft beer scene!
What’s up: Netil Market is a tiny market located nearby larger and more frenetic Broadway Market. Its aesthetics are delightfully hipster-friendly with clapboard stalls, green pinstripe awnings and picnic benches. And despite its small size, Netil Market has lots of great eats.
What I loved: Um, this bao from Bao London. The only dish on the menu, this classic gua bao is filled with slow-braised pork belly, pickles and cilantro, and dusted with peanut powder.
It took everything in my power not to order a second one.
Also, the market offers lots of childhood classics like cupcakes and grilled cheese (which kind of goes with the hipster theme, no?). And I always thought grilled cheese was an American thing!
Where to find it: Every Saturday 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. at 23 Westgate Street, E8 3RL. Website: netilmarket.tumblr.com
What’s up: Craving London’s best ethnic food? Get ready to queue up at Broadway Market, the sprawling market located only a stone’s throw from London Fields.
The market offers up quintessentially British eats like Scotch egg and stilton cheese, as well as a kaleidoscope of ethnic cuisines, from Italian to Indian.
What I loved: At Hanoi Kitchen I had some of the best Vietnamese I’ve had outside of Saigon; I was in heaven over my barbecued pork and my beloved Vietnamese coffee. I even went back for a second coffee… whoops.
Amanda seemed to enjoy her first taste of Ghanian food quite a bit too!
We finished off the meal with a bit of caramel New York cheesecake in London Fields. While it didn’t quite compare to the cheesecake I’ve had stateside, it was still a nice taste of home.
Where to find it: Every Saturday 9:00 a.m. – 5:oo p.m. at Broadway Market, E8 4PH
What’s up: Brixton Village is a covered arcade market boasting the kind of fresh-off-the-boat fare that foodies dream of, from jerk chicken to traditional Japanese. It’s located in Brixton, a rougher immigrant neighborhood that’s a bit out of the way; but this food is worth the hike, I promise.
What I loved: We beelined to Okan, a tiny Japanese eatery for my first taste of okonomiyaki. Um, yeah, how have I never had this AMAZING dish before?
Okonomiyaki is a savory pork and scallion pancake topped with fish flakes and spicy mayonnaise. Drool. And because it’s always beer o’clock in Ashley and Amanda world, we cracked open some icy Japanese brews to accompany.
As we wandered around the market after lunch I cursed my stomach for not having more room; everything looked so good! I did find space for some frozen Greek yogurt that I tried in Greece a few years ago. It was as delicious as I remembered!
Brixton Market also seemed like a great place to buy inexpensive groceries; I saw tons of fishmongers and vegetable stalls in the area.
Where to find it: Brixton Village is open 8 a.m. – 11.30 p.m. every day except Monday, when it shuts at 6 p.m. The directions are complicated so check the website below.
What’s up: Borough Market is a food market located in Central London, right on the Thames. Although a bit pricey, it’s the perfect spot to stop while sightseeing. The baked good selection is particularly tempting!
And as I so eloquently wrote last year, spit roast pork sandwiches, chocolate chip cookies and sangria all in one sitting? Yes please.
What I loved: While in town I stopped by Borought Market on at least four occasions. But the best thing I discovered this year was La tua pasta, a pasta stall that sells some of the tastiest black truffle tortellini in existence. My mouth is literally watering just writing about it.
Where to find it: Borough Market is open for lunch Monday and Tuesday (10 a.m. – 5 p.m.) and offers a full market Wednesday and Thursday (10 a.m. – 5 p.m.), Friday (10 a.m. – 6 p.m) and Saturday (8 a.m. – 5 p.m.). It’s located at 8 Southwark Street, London, SE1 1TL, right outside the London Bridge tube station.
Here is a map I made to help you find all the markets!
View London Food Markets in a larger map
What’s your favorite London food market? And if you’ve never been, which one entices you most?
While my stint in Singapore was (sadly) short-lived, I still managed to cover a lot of gastronomic ground in four days. Which had no small part to do with my extensive preliminary research- besides grilling Edna, I also devoured as many Singapore food guides as possible.
Once I hit the ground I quickly learned that Singaporeans know how to eat; Singapore’s a nation positively obsessed with food. Which is no surprise- Singapore is a culinary wonderland, a delicious blend of Chinese, Malay and Indian cuisine. (more…)
In stride with my goal to take a cooking class in every Asian country I visit, I knew I would have to find a cooking class in Bangkok. And after spotting their rave reviews on Trip Advisor as well as an enthusiastic review from a close friend, I settled on Silom Thai Cooking School for my introduction to cooking Thai food.
Wet Market Tour
The morning begun by meeting our adorable instructor, Mai, outside the local wet market. I loved how she took the time to explain the difference between ingredients- by 10 am I had already learned about everything from identifying mushrooms to levels of curry spiciness by color.
Mai showing us finger ginger and the difference between a regular and kaffir lime.
Yellow curry paste, red curry paste, green curry paste. Mai taught us that red is the spiciest but personally green is my favorite!
Learning How to Cook Thai Food
Next we walked to the cooking school which I have to commend for its cute design as well as being clean, well-organized and spacious.
We began the class by washing all of the produce we had just purchased. Among the familiar (tomatoes, plantains, limes) were some new ingredients like yellowgrass and Thai eggplant.
The first lesson of the day was how to make coconut milk which was surprisingly laborious. You take shredded coconut, soak it in water and then squeeze it into a sieve. After you repeat the process a few times you have coconut milk!
Our adorable instructor, Mai.
Making coconut milk from shredded coconut.
I loved having a local teacher because she taught us so many little cultural quirks about Thailand. “We put sugar in everything,” admitted Mai with a smile. Which may explain my slight aversion to Thai food, ahem…
As we squeezed the water out of the shredded coconut, she told us. “Good food take time, no?”
And when asked to explain how Thai people eat such rich food and stay slim, she replied, “Thai people no fat because chili and tamarind paste make you digest quickly.”
Other fun fact of the day- apparently kaffir lime keeps your hair from greying and can be used as a toilet deodorizer. Who knew?
Learning how to grind chili paste which apparently is how you tell if you will be a good wife or not in Thailand!
Something I noticed about Thai food was that the preparation for each dish is long, but the actual cooking time is quite short. Each of the dishes we made was on the flame for no more than one of two minutes. As I learned in Hong Kong, using a wok speeds things up considerably!
Here were the five courses we made.
First course: Chicken in coconut milk (tom kah gai)
Chicken with cashew nut (gai pad med mamuang). Personal thoughts? Meh.
Fried fish cake (thod mun pla) with homemade sweet chili sauce. My favorite dish of the day!
Red curry with chicken (kaeng ped gai). By the time we had this I was so full I could barely touch it!
The dessert. Which I can’t remember the name of but it had banana and was delicious.
Overall I loved Silom. Aside from the wonderful instructor, I loved how the class included so many personal touches like giving us a recipe book at the end of all the recipes we had made. One word of advice- do not eat breakfast the day of the cooking class as you’ll be absolutely stuffed by the end!
Even though I’m far from a Thai food convert, I still enjoyed getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse into how to make Thai food at home.
Have you ever taken a Thai cooking class?
Many thanks to Silom for the complimentary cooking class. I have truly never had such a warm and helpful instructor so thanks especially to Mai for her patience with us!
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There are few things I love in France more than the open-air markets. There’s just something about the beautiful produce, friendly vendors and shameless people-watching that I adore.
I have been to the markets many times but never with a camera in tow. To my surprise and delight the vendors were more than happy to be photographed, and even made jokes like, “What, am I not pretty enough for your pictures?”
In the photos below you will see lots of my all-time favorite food items: blocks of salted butter, buckets of crème fraîche, large pots of rilletes and pâté and sausages like boudin noir and andouillette coiled up like garden hoses.
The produce at markets in France is different from markets in the U.S. : Vegetables come in covered in dirt, the cheeses are often made with raw milk and the wild game birds are displayed with their heads on, which I found out is so that you “know which animal you are buying.” There is also lots of offal, some of which is great, like the tripe-based andouillete sausage, and some of which is truly awful, like kidneys.
I hope you enjoy the photos, and Bon appétit!
Have you ever visited a fall farmers market in France?
In France, bread is a daily staple. Everyday mothers send the kids to the local boulangerie to pick up a baguette. (Sometimes one for breakfast, one for snack/dinner!)
But let’s start this French bread guide off with a pop quiz.
Which baguette is better? (more…)
So, what’s good to eat in Paris? Um, if memory recalls, everything.
As I sit and wait for the French ministry of labor to send back my visa documents, I’ve been musing over some of the most delicious meals I’ve enjoyed in France over the past three summers. Hopefully the ministry sends the documents soon because this list is starting to make me hungry.
Note: This list does not include cheese or bread as both of these things are so spectacular in Paris that they require their own lists.
As we all know, the French love their cheese. I love their cheese. I love them for loving their cheese. And frankly, sampling oozing, raw-milk French cheese is one of the best parts of visiting the country, at least for this fromage-o-phile.
I have worked as an au pair for a French family for past three summers so hopefully I have learned a bit about cheese by now. Here are some tips for buying, storing and serving this delicacy properly.
This is my love letter/free advertisement to the best spot to buy spices in the U.S., The Spice House.