The Pursuit of Eating Adventures {Book Club}

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

Photo by Nil Castellví on Unsplash

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6 Comments

  1. Rachel Kahindi November 2, 2021

    I haven’t started the book yet, but I’m going to after we travel at the end of the week. My first trip overseas was to Paris. I was a picky eater at the time, but even I loved the food. 🙂

    The first time I came to Kenya was to meet my then-future in-laws. I had so many new foods those two weeks… One that stands out in my memory was from the first day. My boyfriend (now husband) took me to a restaurant for lunch and wanted me to choose from the menu. It was in English, but I still didn’t know what anything was! So I decided to have what he was having, which was called githeri. It’s a very filling dish made of beans, maize, potatoes, and whatever else the cook decides to throw in.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann November 5, 2021

      Rachel, I hope your travels go well! 🙂
      That sounds like a good dish to end up with when you weren’t sure what things were. Do you have a favorite Kenyan dish now?

      1. Rachel Kahindi November 14, 2021

        The best is nyama choma – marinated red meat grilled on charcoal. We sit around the grill and eat it as it gets done.

        1. Sarah Hilkemann November 16, 2021

          Oh, that sounds tasty!

  2. JoyH November 5, 2021

    Hello, I’m Joy and, along with my family, live in Nepal. I’ve been a long-time lurker, looking for book ideas, and reading your responses, and decided to try out reading with you all, since after reading a good book it is such a delight to get to talk with people about it.

    My first time outside the US was to France for a high school French class trip. It was a lovely trip, and I enjoyed the food, although only the crepes and the mousse made much of an impression. One afternoon a friend and I wandered out on our own and found a little seller making crepes–that was my happy introduction to Nutella. Yum.

    I’ve heard of andouillette because of living not so far from New Orleans for several years and researching Cajun food. I had no idea that it was made with intestines…

    I’m enjoying the book so far, her writing style is nice, and I like people who hunt down authentic recipes. A few quotes I liked are below:

    “People who love to ear are always the best people.” Julia Child

    “I’ve always felt there are two states of existence: being in Paris and being out of it.” I kind of feel like this about Nepal, especially after we had to leave for a few years, and are back now. It might not be the healthiest perspective, but there it is. I’m trying to work on having a proper perspective, but it is hard to step back and get a good look at my life while I’m living it!

    “struggled daily with identity issues” Somewhere in the first half of our time here, when our kids were young, I read an article in the (old) Women of the Harvest magazine about an American woman in Egypt who said that her Egyptian friends said her home was “so American,” and her American friends said her home was “so Egyptian.” She realized she was a little of both. That realization was so freeing to me! I knew/know I am not Nepali, but I am not as American as I was or would be if I lived there. It is nice to know that I can be a mix of both in whatever way it has come about for me.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann November 5, 2021

      Joy, welcome! I’m so glad you decided to join in. I agree that chatting about books is the best. 🙂
      So fun that you got to do a class trip to France! I discovered Nutella when I was in Italy in college.
      I love what you shared at the end about identity. I know when I was living in Cambodia, I got lots of comments about the way my house was set up or what I had and it was very much a mixture of my two homes (US and Asia). In some ways, that combination of the places that shape us can feel isolating when we don’t really fit perfectly anywhere, but being honest about it and finding others who have a similar mashup of identities can be so good. 🙂

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