Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Paris II: Food

The best French food is Lebanese.

At least when based on a few days of sampling lower-end food places in central Paris. I'm willing to believe that high-end cuisine is quite different, but we don't generally move in the rarefied air of Michelin-guide level culinary experiences so I have little to say about that. Perhaps our expectations were too high, but the cheap-and-cheerful eating in Paris was somewhat underwhelming.

Between us we've had Chinese, Japanese, French-style lunches, sandwiches, kebabs, Indian, hamburgers, and Lebanese. Overall, the food was OK but nothing special. The Chinese lunch was quite good, the dinner was so-so. The Indian dinner was not bad but quite bland; not at the level of Indian food in Kobe. Hamburgers, kebabs and sandwiches are all the same the world over I guess.

Indian

Indian dinner. OK, though not spectacular.


The French-style food - lunches and a simple dinner - was a bit disappointing. Meat or fish with potatoes and sauce is never bad food, but I guess I expected it to be just a little better than elsewhere, it being Paris and all. Instead it was all so inoffensive and unremarkable that I'm hard pressed coming up with anything definite to write about it. Meat tasted like meat, fries tasted like fries, and if you'd said the hollandaise had been made from instant sauce powder I would not have argued with you.

Takoyaki

"Yokohama" takoyaki restaurant. Why "Yokohama", I have no idea; takoyaki is from Kansai, along the Osaka-Kobe-Akashi coast and has only recently started to become popular up north in Kanto. I guess the name doesn't actually have any deeper meaning but is only meant to sound Japanese, much the same way as Restaurant Stockholm in Tokyo or endless Indian food places named "Delhi" all over the world.


There's lots and lots of Japanese restaurants in Paris. Every other street corner seems to have a generic Japanese restaurant that serves everything from sushi to yakitori to udon to okonomiyaki. To the west of the Paris Opera there's an area with a good number of more specialized restaurants that focuses on just one kind of food. It feels a little odd at first to see Japanese places all over an old European city, but it's no different from all the Italian or French-style restaurants in Osaka, or the huge number of pizza and kebab places in Sweden.

Paris Ramenya

Taishoken ramen joint. No idea if it's part of the Japanese ramen chain or if they just borrowed the name.


We had a yakitori and sushi set at a generic restaurant one evening. The yakitori - bits of chicken on small skewers - was pretty good, though they didn't seem to use the same thick, sweet sauce you get in Japan. The sushi was heavy on salmon, tuna and shrimp (there was not a piece of octopus or squid in sight) and the rice was not very well made. Heavy and dense, and still a little undercooked. Makes you appreciate the training of a real sushi cook I guess.

We had to wait a long time for the food due to a misunderstanding. They served us our miso soup (with a spoon!) and a small coleslaw salad. We was there waiting for the rest of our food to come before starting; meanwhile the waitress was waiting for us to finish our soup before she could bring us our main dish. Soup is a side dish in Japan, but is a starter in Paris.

Paris Ramen

I had a miso ramen and gyouza set for lunch one day. The gyouza was spot on in both flavour and texture. The miso ramen was noticeably sweet - maybe they'd used sweet miso - which is not really something you expect in a bowl of ramen. The noodles were just a little overcooked for my taste and for some reason they were light grey rather than the more normal yellow. Not bad, exactly, though I would probably rather try another place next time.

Also, by way of information, a former colleague that came to this conference from Japan ate ramen at a place called "Opera Ramen" right near the Paris Opera. It was apparently not good at all - "mazui" was the word he used. Might want to go somewhere else for a ramen fix.


The Lebanese food, on the other hand, was excellent. One night we went to La Taverne du Nil (cheesy, messy flash website), which was a hit. We ordered a menu of "mezze", various small dishes you eat with flatbread. We got a table-full of food between us, every plate better than the next. Hummus, olives, vinegared vegetables, you name it. After stuffing ourselves silly we were just about ready to call it a night, when the second round of dishes, with chicken, meat pies, falafel and lots of other things. Big mistake on our part; we should have paced ourselves better. Next time - and if we get to Paris again there will be a next time - we'll do a better job of it.

We also had Lebanese food at the departure lounge at Charles de Gaulle. Cheap cafeteria-style mass-produced stuff but again, really, really good. And it wasn't the cafeteria - we had a slice of pizza too and that had exactly the rubbery texture you expect from food at this kind of place. But come to Paris and it seems you can't go wrong with Lebanese.

In fact, now I've started looking for a Lebanese restaurant around Osaka (there's a few places in Osaka city that does Lebanese dishes, but no specific Lebanese place), and perhaps get a cookbook to try to make a few of those small dishes myself. It was that good.

4 comments:

Thomas said...

Japanese food seems to be more and more fashionable in Paris and luckily it's not just sushi/sashimi/yakitori anymore. Unfortunately, it being fashionable means lots of people who know nothing about the real stuff open so-called Japanese restaurants. I'm not surprised when I hear the staff speaking Chinese in those places...

As for French gastronomy, I have to agree with you that the cheap places (such as typical Parisian brasseries) tend to be very bland. And while you don't need to sell an organ to get good French food in Paris, it's certainly too expensive for daily meals. But next time you come to Paris, I'll show you some good places. And not just for French food.

Janne Morén said...

I guess it's the same everywhere. I bet Italians would be pretty horrified by Swedish-style pizzas with kebab-meat and garlic sauce, or chicken and curry-flavoured mayonnaise (I miss that one, believe it or not). And I have no illusions that French-style restaurants in Osaka is anything like the real thing in Paris - or that anybody in the kitchen has even travelled to France.

The fun thing is that every country soon makes their own interpretation of whatever foreign foods that become popular. I may not have cared for the sushi or the ramen, but given time, both will evolve to something typically and uniquely French in style, enriching the world in turn.

Ramen itself was originally a Chinese dish imported to Japan. By now it's completely and utterly different from its origins; it's becoming popular as a distinct Japanese dish in parts of China.

I'll be happy to take you up on the offer. Of course, with my current schedule I don't know when I'll be able to travel for fun next time...

Andrea Chai said...

Hi Janne, I'm new to this blogger thingy and came across your page. Interesting views you have especially on Osaka (and the Greater Kansai area) which I can definitely relate being recently relocated to Osaka myself too. I love love love Lebanese cuisine but never have any luck spotting one around here. If you know of any, mind to share?

Jan Moren said...

Andrea, unfortunately we haven't found any place with Lebanese food around here. There's apparently an Israeli restaurant in Kyoto; that's really much the same kind of food, but we haven't been there yet so no idea if it's any good.