This article first appeared on InsidersAbroad, check them out for more expat news from Spain, Italy and France.
The best part of moving (and traveling) to a new country is exploring all of its culinary delights. France is well known for its cuisine. So much so that French Gastronomy was added to UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010.
When I moved to Paris three years ago, I dove right into eating and drinking some of what France is infamous for: baguettes, pastries, cheese, wine. I inevitably also came across some things I didn’t like and had never tried before.
Growing up in Canada, in the cultural mosaic of Toronto, I was exposed to foods from all around the world. But I was usually quite cautious and let’s face it, picky about what I put in my mouth. I wasn’t always the most adventurous with my palate. As I child I didn’t eat ribs, wings, or dark chicken meat! (All of which I love eating today.) My poor mother suffered the most with my pickiness as a lot of the foods she made from her own Portuguese culture like cow tongue and blood sausage, I would refuse to even try.
I’m proud to report, I’ve grown a lot since then. My tastes have really changed since moving to France. And today I am eating and enjoying foods that I did not like just three years ago.
Here is my list of foods I’ve come to enjoy since moving to Paris.
I love most kinds of cheese and with over 400 varieties in France, there is something everyone will love. And sometime everyone would detest. For me, blue cheese used to just gross me out. Why would anyone willingly eat something that is clearly rotting and growing green-blue, fuzzy mould? The smell alone can send most people running in the other direction. Before moving to Paris, I occasionally tried blue cheese but always came away with the same conclusion: it’s not for me. In France, blue cheese like Roquefort and Bleu d’Auvergne is a staple at parties and on assorted cheese plates. I’d first try it as a thin sliver on a crusty baguette with a dollop of fig jam. The sweetness cut the sourness. Over time, that sliver became a slice and the jam disappeared. Now I relish in its creaminess and sharpness.
The thought of eating liver or any internal organ would leave me feeling squeamish. Foie gras literally translates to fatty liver and usually comes from a duck or goose. Before moving to Paris, I have never tried it but it is everywhere here and considered quite a luxurious treat. It comes in different ways: either whole, cooked or semi cooked, in blocs, mousses and pâté forms. My favourite is bloc de foie gras that is fully cooked and moulded into a block shape. It is typically served cold as an appetizer with toasted bread and onion jam. I suppose when I first tried it, I didn’t think of it as liver. For starters, it helps that it doesn’t look like it. Combining it with onion jam helped me get used to the subtle flavour and rich texture which eventually won me over.
Before moving to France, I tried raw oysters about three times in my life. The salty brine, slithery squishy texture and their appearance just did not appeal to me. In the winter months, there is an abundance of oysters in all sizes and varieties in the outdoor food markets in Paris. Most oysters and other fresh seafood come from the Normandy region. With so much of it around, and a husband who is obsessed with them, I eventually kept trying them. The first time, I had two in one sitting before my stomach said to stop. Now, I would happily eat about six as an appetizer or heck, a main meal at lunch. I go for smaller oysters that are easy to eat in one bite. I drain out the brine and replace it with mignonette sauce, a mixture of finely chopped shallots and red wine vinegar, before slurping on the shell. When raw seafood is fresh, it doesn’t taste fishy. The fact they are an excellent, low-calorie source of zinc, iron, and calcium helps me appreciate them more.
I’m boring with my meat sources, typically sticking to pork, beef and chicken. Seeing whole rabbits, with head and fur still intact at the butcher, always made me cringe. However, I was given a beautiful French cookbook with traditional recipes. After trying and succeeding at many of them, I finally decided I would make lapin à la moutarde (rabbit in mustard sauce). I asked the butcher for a whole rabbit and made sure he cut it up in pieces. That helped me to avoid visualizing it in its entirety. When he asked if I wanted the head, I obviously said “no thank you.” The recipe was simple and the mix of mustard and cream gave the dish a rich, luxurious flavour. I won’t say the rabbit tasted like chicken but it is white meat and didn’t have a powerful, game-y flavour. It was a positive experience cooking something I had never even tasted before.
There are still iconic French foods I have yet to try or try again, like frog legs and escargot (snails). But I’m happy with the progress I’ve made in my ability to enjoy the wonderful foods that France has to offer. Some of which are now my favourite. I would be missing out had I not been brave and insistent on continually trying things even if I “thought” I didn’t like them. France has been the best place to challenge my picky palate.
The lesson here: if you are hesitate with a certain food, it’s best to try just a little, perhaps mixed in with something else at first. Try it at each occasion and perhaps over time, you’ll acquire a taste for it as well.
You might just find a new favourite food.
Have you grown to like a new food from living or traveling abroad? Share it with me in the comments