Several years ago, my teammate and I made a last minute and very uncharacteristic-for-us decision to fly the long way to the US for a home assignment so we can spend a few days in Paris.
This city of lights and romance and good food wasn’t necessarily on my bucket list. But who can resist the lure of art and beauty, baguettes and good cheese?
Our visit was short—just three full days of exploring—but we wandered the streets of Paris with a list of a few of our desired sites, split a bottle of the best champagne I’ve ever had, and popped into patisserie shops just because we could.
I’m not sure I realized until I started reading our book for this month, Mastering the Art of French Eating by Ann Mah, how much I love reading about food. I’ll binge watch the Great British Bake Off any day of the week, but there has been something special about these stories and discovering the history of a country’s most loved dishes.
Food unites us, doesn’t it? Often new dishes and new phrases around food are some of our first experiences in our host country. Whether it is learning how to say the words for “iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk” (one of my first Khmer requests) accompanied by laughs and fumbling attempts, or balancing steaming bowls of rice while gathering around a giant pot of curry, food stirs our hearts for community and connection even when we are in a new place.
Mah said, “Food offers not only fuel for the body but also a connection—between the people who have joined you at the table, between the generations who have shared a recipe, between the terroir (the earth) and the culture and the cuisine that have sprung from it”.
Do you remember some of the first dishes you tried when you arrived in your host country? Did someone take you around to their favorite spots as you learned your way in a new place? Or did you set out to explore on your own and discover your own special spots?
As the author discovered as she ate her way around France, people love to share about their country’s cuisine. It is a sense of pride, joy and connection. This week we read about steak frites, andouillette, and crêpes. Did you learn anything new about these dishes? What were your favorite parts of these chapters?
Although Mah and her husband’s work might be different from our own, I’ve enjoyed the cultural experiences she describes and have smiled with understanding more than once. We’ve probably all discovered an item we didn’t realize we had held on to while unpacking boxes from storage or celebrated the small victories in language learning. When Mah’s husband left and she was alone in Paris, she wrote, “I found myself navigating a new country, a new language, and a new culture alone while trying to keep the worry and loneliness at bay.”
But she made friends. She traveled to new places, tried new things and in this first section we saw the building of community. I’m excited to keep learning through these chapters about what she learned along and the history and of French dishes.
Join me in the comments! I’d love to hear what you thought about this first section of Mastering the Art of French Eating. Have you been to Paris? Did you try steak frites, andouillette, or crêpes?
Here’s the schedule for the book:
November 9: Chapters 4-6
November 16: Chapters 7-8
November 23: Chapters 9-10, Epilogue
November 30: Giving Tuesday