Sunday, August 24, 2014

The top 10 food products a French expat yearns for outside of France




Food is life. Food is anticipation. Food is pleasure. 

Food is memories. Food is nostalgia. Food reminds you where you are from. 

When I meet French people in the United States, we may discuss French current events, or our respective American locales of choice; but without fail, at some point in the conversation, food is brought up. "Where do you find Maille/Antésite/Levure Alsa/La Comtesse du Barry, here?" "Where do you find a decent baguette?" Code names, exchanged by expatriates who need not explain: They speak the same language.

I have lived in the United States for almost twenty years. I have sampled great food all over the country. Because I manage a blog named French Girl in Seattle, followed by a fast-growing community of francophiles, I have made it a game - no, my mission - to look for French food during my travels. Driven and focused, this French Girl investigates... and scores.


Nothing stands between a Gaul and his boar... uh... food.

In the United States, I have sampled wonderful French products, some imported, some locally made: bread, cheese, charcuterie, salt, pastries, wine, and more. It can be a struggle to locate them locally, but there are online suppliers too. My favorites are the well-stocked d'Artagnan (as a Toulouse native, how could I not patronize a business named after the famous Gascon?;) and the more affordable le Panier Français and frenchybee.com. So if you absolutely need to purchase French food specialties - and are willing to pay at least twice what they cost in France - there are places you can go. Ah, the sweet taste of victory, when you finally get your hands on the prize!




What about cravings? What about instant gratification? Sure, it's a great feeling to open the care packages shipped by your French relatives, but you often wish you had easy access to all these delicious products you used to find around the corner in your French neighborhood. And you think to yourself: "J'ai tellement envie de..." [insert the French product name.] I would so love...

So, without further ado, voilà this French Girl's top 10: The hard-to-find, dearly missed food items that immediately bring her back home, as she savors them with sheer delectation. 

1. La Baguette Tradition

Not just any bread; a French icon. Supermarket bread can't compete. Bâtard, flûte, ficelle can't compete either. La baguette de tradition française is the Queen of the French boulangerie. Eat it alone, or with butter.  You must eat le quignon (the tip) on the way home. Buy two, just in case. 




Fellow expat, actor Olivier Martinez:
His Los Angeles grocery runs always include a baguette!

2. Le beurre demi-sel

Not sweet. Not salted. Just right. This is the butter that will make you forget all other butters. Spread it on toast in the morning; use it to make crêpes. Substitute for all other standard (boring?) butters in recipes. 


French butter is really good, folks. Do not take my word for it. Try it! This week, when I posted this photo online with the caption: "Incredible. Albertsons sells this for only $2.99," French Girl in Seattle readers went mad. I stocked up. They stocked up. 




A few hours later, the folks at Albertsons were seen scratching their heads in front of empty shelves. They likely checked in with their chi-chi competitors at Whole Foods, who replied: "Are you CRAZY? Don't you know you can charge three times as much for that French stuff?"




3. La graisse de canard (la graisse d'oie.) 

Duck (or goose) fat. Sounds bad for you? But you use so little of it. Un peu. A smidge. How bad can that be? Besides, if you have ever sampled a serving of crisp, fragrant pommes de terre sarladaises, you know why you will never sauté dishes with anything else. 





4. Les pâtes prêtes à dérouler.

Store-bought doughs. Ready to use. Monoprix makes excellent ones. So do Marie or Herta. You're not a baker? Not to worry. From now on, you will impress your guests with perfect pâte brisée, pâte sablée, or pâte feuilletée. It is that easy.




When I lived in Paris, my girlfriends and I had a favorite dinner:  Tarte aux tomates, fromage and herbes de Provence, served with a green salad, and followed by a cheese course, or dessert. Voilà. The most delicious dinner in the world, whipped in a few minutes. 




5. Les Rillettes de Canard (duck rillettes.) 

It's not pâté. It's not foie gras either. Find a baguette tradition (see above,) a good bottle of wine, and you're in business. 




6. Les Yaourts. 

You have not eaten yogurt until you have had yogurt in France. Fact. The yogurt aisle in any self-respecting French supermarket is a beautiful sight. The photo below will probably make many French expats sigh. I get it. 




7. La faisselle. Le fromage blanc.


It's not crème fraîche, it's not cream cheese. La faisselle and le fromage blanc (whipped faisselle) is fresh cheese, with half the calories and cholesterol of cream cheese. 



"Fromage blanc à la louche," served with a ladle at outdoor markets

It makes a tasty dip when mixed with fresh herbs. People cook with it. It was for a long time French women's go-to *healthy* dessert on restaurant menus (maybe it still is?) 


Faisselle au coulis de fruits rouges

8. Café Carte Noire.

The top-selling coffee brand in France. A couple of Carte Noire bags often find their way into my suitcase before I leave France. Oh, and the brand has produced some awesome TV commercials over the years!


9.  Teisseire mint syrup.

Because Vittel Menthe (mint syrup and mineral water) or its poor parent Menthe à l'eau (mint syrup and tap water,) is such a pretty, refreshing drink. In my childhood, kids were only allowed to drink soda occasionally. We were very grateful for the reliable Menthe à l'eau: It quenched our thirst on hot summer days. 






10. La crème de cassis (currant liquor.) 

A classic, and the indispensable ingredient to prepare the iconic French apéritif Kir (dry white wine and currant liquor.) My personal favorite, le Kir Royal, is the elegant, pretty drink that whets your appetite and makes your head spin before you order your meal. 







There are so many more I could list here. But this is a Top 10. Favorite French (and European) candy could be a Top 10 by itself. I once wrote a story about the candy of my childhood. You can find it here

You know my selection. What about yours? Whether you are a French expatriate, or someone who still lives in their homeland, what are favorite food products you miss -or would miss - away from home? C'est à vous. Speak up.

A bientôt. 



33 comments:

  1. Oh Veronique! This brought back so many wonderful memories. I do miss real bread. "La Brea bakery" is good enough and my mustard has to be from France. I just think I have been in the States too long as I really don't miss anything but my 19 year old son does. Thank God for "Trader Joe's", "World Market"… when cravings kick in. What I really miss are places where I can buy french books translated in english and french DVDs. "La Cite des Livres" in Westwood (Los Angeles) was wonderful but it closed down many years ago.

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    1. Bonjour Fellow Expat! You're right: What would we do without Trader Joe's and World Market? We would get ripped off online, that's what ;-) As for French books and DVDs, best thing is to bring them back yourself - or have some kind relatives ship them. I have quite the collection of French DVDs at home. They all fit in a large plastic crate hidden under my bed so far. Bonne semaine !

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  2. A l'étranger, la seule chose qui me manque vraiment c'est le pain (sauf en Allemagne , où ils en ont encore plus que nous!).Peut-être aussi le chocolat chaud, type Poulain ou Benco, on est loin d'en trouver partout, et j'en bois le matin .Pour le reste j'arrive à m'adapter .
    J'espère que ton été se finit bien et que cette rentrée, avec toutes les nouveautés qui sont arrivées dans ta vie , se passera bien . Pour moi, été "animé" , et j'en ai jusqu'au moins debut novembre ..
    Bises et à bientôt !

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    1. Bonjour Madame la Niçoise. Ravie de te retrouver ici. Alors comme ça tu aimes ton Benco, comme Franck Dubosc dans "Camping?" ;-) Je t'envoie un message privé pour discuter plus longuement. Bisous.

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  3. Yes to all of these! Although we can find similar products in England nowadays, I always come back from France with the following:
    - a bottle of Teisseire grenadine (my personal favourite over the menthe a l'eau)
    - Saucisson sec. We currently have two 'batons de berger' from Justin Bridoux and a Cochonoux in the fridge.
    - Pistachio flavoured things, like the la Laitiere cremes.
    - Les flans Alsa: the powders to make 'entremets' (raspberry, chocolate, pistachio and vanilla) and also the mix to make flan patissier.

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    1. Thank you for stopping by, FrogAtLarge! Grenadine, of course (Lait grenadine makes a delicious summer drink too!) Saucisson: Fortunately, it can be found fairly easily in my neck of the woods, even if the selection is limited (I browsed the saucisson section at Monoprix in Toulouse this summer and almost had a heart attack!) And Alsa, of course. Classics. Thank you for your contribution. Bonne semaine.

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  4. Etait-il VRAIMENT necessaire de signaler aux gens d'Albertson qu'ils pouvaient vendre leur beurre deux a trois fois plus cher..?? de facon a ce qu'ils le fassent...?? (leur beurre).. maintenant ils vont augmenter..
    A signaler, en Floride, (Wynn-Dixie, Publix), les biscuits Lu, avec entre autres les irremplacables "Pim's".

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    1. Point taken, Hervé Thomas. No, it was not necessary to remind Albertsons they could have charged twice as much for their French butter! Mea culpa. ;-) Lu biscuits, of course. As tasty as ever. Pim's is a favorite of mine too (it's particularly fun to try and nibble the chocolate layer and be left with the sweet jam filling...)

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  5. Oooh, so delicious! Such mouth-watering delights. I used to make my own pâte brisé all the time. Getting lazy in my old age. I would love to find Marie's version here. Do Whole Foods or Trader Joe's sell it?

    M-T

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    1. Great to hear from you, M-T. You are a brave woman. Why attempt a pâte brisée when our friend Marie does such a good job? ;-) Trader Joe's may sell a French dough, but not the ones I know. They were so easy to use == and pre-rolled. Sigh. Merci de ta visite, ma chère.

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    2. Actually, the brisé is lots easier than the feuilletée, which I have never attempted.

      M-T

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  6. This is one of the many reasons we moved to France. I wish we had one of the pneumatic tubes between us like in the old office buildings. We could exchange food treasures back and forth. I could make a list of the top 10 US foods we miss... starting with sweet corn, BBQ sauce, Maryland blue crabs, (I guess I can take hamburgers off the list since they're everywhere here now), okra, hush puppies... you probably can tell I'm from the South! Thanks for your wonderful post... it reminds us how lucky we are.

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    1. Dear Stuart. Pneumatic tubes between your locale and mine: Brilliant idea! :-)

      By the way, I can totally tell you are from the South (I went to college in Atlanta GA a long time ago...) -- How about some pecans?

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    2. Stuart, you need to find the Paris Store imported foods shop (mostly Asian foods) over in Tours Nord. Okra (often but not always), pinto beans, black-eyed peas, corn meal, headed frozen shrimp etc. etc. And hushpuppies are so easy to make at home. I have recipes on my blog.

      Also, there is a little grocery store in Blois called Asia Store that has a lot of the same imported products (watch out: cash or check only). Finally, the Grand Frais specialty supermarket in the south Blois suburb of Vineuil is another place to find "exotic" vegetables like okra (des gombos in French) and other imported food products.

      Véronique, I'd have to add good hot Dijon mustard to your list. And lardons fumés. I never could find good moutarde de Dijon extra-forte or good lardons (slab bacon, for example) in California when I lived there.

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  7. Wonderful photos! Luckily I live in Paris, so I can just run next door and buy these goodies. Years ago I first came to France as a student. We ate in student restaurants, and we always gave away the yogurt that was desert because all we knew was American yogurt, not worth eating. One day, my friend Jane said to me, Jo, TASTE this yogurt! And we never gave away our desert again. Josephine

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    1. Bonjour Josephine-- Loved your yogurt story. I would not share my French yogurt that easily either! A bientôt.

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  8. Very nostalgic article! I mostly miss “La Baguette”. I remember when I was growing up in a small village dans “Le Pas de Calais”, when I came home from school at lunch time, my Mom would always send me to the local bakery in our village to buy a couple of baguettes. I would eat half of one riding my bicycle back home the Boulangerie.

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    1. Good boy, Jean-Marie. You did not stop with "le quignon," I see... Thank you for stopping by and for leaving a message in English. My readers will appreciate it ;-)

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  9. I know I'm not a true French expat, but having lived in France and spent so many holidays there I think I qualify to miss my favourites! Firstly, only a baguette fron a good boulangerie in France has that very special taste and texture. I'm pleased to say however that our local little supermarket now stocks Président butter. We always return from France with mint syrup (and the grenadine flavour too!) and it has to be the Teisseire brand. It was during my first holiday at my penfriend's that I discovered 'un diabolo menthe' at the village café. Happy memories!

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    1. Great minds think (eat?) alike, miss b. ;-) Since you travel so much, you could have told us about what you miss when you leave the UK for long periods of time. Merci de votre visite et bonne semaine.

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  10. You're right! You did make me hungry and thirsty too. I love kir royal too! A santé!

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  11. Bonjour Veronique. You made me miss my second home today. I miss my routine to the boulangerie. Oh man do I ever miss those baguettes and pasties! My mom would try and make baguettes when we lived in Saudi. Hee hee it didn't last long. You reminded me of my youth with the menthe a l'eau... but I would have the fraise syrup with milk. Yummy! I haven't had one since I was 18. I can't believe I have never tried Kir? And creme fraiche avec un pue de sucre on top. Hurts my feelings just thinking about it. Bon Journee!x

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    1. Bonjour Sandy. Welcome back! I know you have experienced a lot of these when you were a child. Funny you should mention le sirop de fraise. Grenadine and Strawberry syrup were the only way my mom could ever talk me into drinking milk! Bon weekend du Labor Day in the 24 Corners ;-)

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    1. Beggars can't be choosers, comme disent les Américains. On n'a pas toujours les moyens de faire les difficiles...

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  13. Despite the fact that Carte Noire belongs to the Kraft / Mondelez group,, I suppose you can't find it over there! ... and what about the Nespresso (Nestlé group)? :-)

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    1. Good point, Peter. Thanks for stopping by ;-)

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  14. Friends living in Andalucia say the butter there is akin to rancid lard. They had their French butter taken away when they entered Spain from France (a jar of peanut butter, too!). I would like to bring them some French butter when I visit them. Do you know of a shop in Barcelona where I might find it?

    P.S. If you can find it, butter made by Vermont Creamery in Websterville, Vermont, is insanely good.

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Bonjour! I love hearing from you, my readers. To quote a fellow blogger, my friend Owen, "Comments are the icing on blogcake... Comments are the UFO in the twilight sky bearing news from other planets... Comments are raspberry vinegar in salad dressing... Comments are the cool balm of after-sun moisturizing lotion... Comments are the moment the band comes back out onstage to play an encore... Comments are the gleam in the eye across the room in a smoky bar... Comments are the rainbow after the rainstorm..." Merci for your comments! French Girl in Seattle