Published on June 6th, 2017 | by Ann Rickard2
Simple Food in France
Every time I arrive in Paris – and I have done so every June for the past 12 years – the first thing I do is go in search for two things: a glass of pink wine and a Croque Monsieur.
But having been to the top of the Eiffel Tower, queued for three hours to get into the Louvre, eaten and drunk my way around the Latin Quarter, mingled with all the other tourists at Montmartre, stood in awe before Notre Dame, done the length and breadth of Pompidou, gazed up at The Thinker in Rodin’s Gardens, walked the length of the Champs Elysees, mounted the steps to Sacre-Coeur and driven around the chaos of the Arc de Triomphe, I feel I have paid my respects to Paris more than once.
So, it is straight to the pink wine and the Croque Monsieur I go the minute I disembark the plane and get into the city.
I love the pink fruitiness of a rose and try as I might I have not found one in Australia to match any French rose.
Of course, we can buy French rose in Australia, but being stingy by nature, I don’t like paying more than $20 for a bottle of wine – $10 is more my limit, ($5 if I’m being truthful) and I can’t find a good Aussie rose for around $10, although Jacobs Creek do a reasonable one for about $12. Some of our Australian roses are more red than pink, but I will continue the search for the perfect Australian rose.
In the meantime, when I hit France it is straight into the rose. And I love it that most French cafes and bistros serve it freely by the glass, or better still, by the pichet. A pichet is a lovely French word for a carafe. While I wouldn’t be seen dead drinking a carafe of wine in Australia (does any restaurant serve it a carafe now, anyway?), I love a pichet of vin de maison in France.
On our first day in France my man and I go for the modest 50 ml and work our way up from there to the litre pichet (we are big people with big appetites.)
As for the Croque Monsieur, well frankly speaking it is nothing more than a ham and cheese sandwich. Not something you usually associate with la haute gastronimie in France. But it’s a fancy ham and cheese sandwich. The ham is in the middle of the bread but the cheese is on the outside, all melty and gooey and smothered with a béchamel sauce.
I believe it began life as a quick snack, sort of cheap peasant food, but it has hung in there and it can be found in any bistro even if it is not on the menu as we found out yesterday. “You don’t have Croque monsieur on the menu,” I almost wept to the waiter in the modest bistro next to our hotel. (We were only about an hour off the plane and my craving was intense.)
“But we can do one, of course,” the waiter said and off he went and approximately three minutes later there it was in front of me.
Wikipedia tells me Croque Monsieur translates to ‘Croque’ (to bite) and ‘Monsieur’ as we all know means Mister.
Biting Mister sounds a strange name for a ham and cheese sandwich but who are we to question?
Some bistros serve the Croque Monsieur just as it is, a sandwich on a plate, while others will bring it out with a little pot of mayo and a bucket of fries and a neat little salad. I love all versions.
If I am feeling particularly frisky, usually on the second day in France, I go very upmarket and upgrade to a Croque Madam. I cannot speak highly enough of a Croque Madam. Oh, the deliciousness of it.
It is the same ham sandwich with the gooey cheese and béchamel on top, but this time with a big fried egg plonked in the middle of it. Gourmet Paradise and don’t let anyone say otherwise.
After a few more days in France when I’ve settled down and got over the jetlag and the Croque Monsieur attraction, I do eat good food: lots of duck and plenty of salads. I don’t know what it is about the French but they make even the simplest of salad sing with flavour. It’s all about the vinaigrette. They don’t mess with it. They use olive oil, vinegar, mustard and garlic, and that’s it. Get the quantities right, season it a little and you have a thing of culinary magnificence.