Written by Alexandra Gautier
When imagining fancy food and fine dining, the mental picture of sitting along the Seine river at a table with an array of large plates donning tiny food comes to mind. When thinking of fast food, the image morphs into one of drive-throughs and McDonald’s, an American specialty. Upon returning to America after a semester abroad in Lyon — the foodie capital of France (contrary to the popular belief that it is Paris) — I’m here to set the record straight.
I immediately noticed the quality of food was better in France because produce was sourced from local vendors who refrain from genetic modification and harsh chemicals. Therefore, the food is fresher and richer in flavor. Even home cooking was done this way. Each morning locals stroll past the French farmer’s markets sprinkled across the expansive city to retrieve fresh ingredients. In America, the only strolling I do is through the isles of the supermarket, picking up pre-made packaged meals and genetically modified fruit.
There were many fine dining options, like Chef Paul Bocuse’s Michelin star restaurant, but France wasn’t entirely free of fast food chains – there were plenty of Burger Kings and McDonald’s, merci to franchising. There were also taco kebab vendors every few blocks. Despite what the name may lead you to believe, there was nothing taco-y about taco kebab. It is basically a burrito stuffed with kebab meat, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and fries that has then been panini’d. Though I definitely miss my regular order of taco kebab, it was nothing compared to the cravings for Tex-Mex that I experienced across the pond. Never again will I take spicy food for granted, as the French are vehemently opposed to seasoning with a kick.
In America, we are encouraged to eat a large breakfast, followed be a smaller lunch and an even smaller dinner. In France, it’s the exact opposite. Breakfast is a quick espresso and croissant or slice of baguette with jam. Lunch usually takes the full hour to eat a decent spread. Dinner is more than just a meal; it is an excuse to eat well while in the company of family and friends. Depending on your host, this process can last a few hours starting with hors d’oeuvres, a salad, the entree, cheese platter and finally dessert. Not to mention the wines, aperitifs (spirit drank before the meal) and digestifs (spirit drank after the meal) served throughout the evening.
Though I dream about French baguette, cheese and macarons on a daily basis, at least I’m now on the same continent as Chic-Fil-A.