I’ll admit that I was a picky kid. Between three typed pages of food allergies and the mistaken assumption that I was somehow a culinary monarch who had been forced to abdicate her throne instead of justly giving commands in the kitchen about menus, I had a pretty bland palate. But after six years in Southeast Asia, I’ve come a long way. I’ve probably eaten things that you don’t even want to know about. So when I made plans to visit France, I went in with an open mind and an open mouth to devour everything in sight.
We spent a lot of time in cafes because they were easy and because we wanted the experience of lingering over a meal instead of cramming in food and bolting for the door, as is the American way. We ate the staples of cafe food, which brings me to the question: what is it with the French and ham and cheese? You’ve got to work hard for a Southerner to be surprised by an abundance of pork, so after ham and cheese croissants in the morning from the bakery, ham and cheese omelets for lunch, and ham and cheese crepes for dinner, I had to say, enough already! At this pace there’s bound to be a pig shortage. So for our final night in France, we decided to experience hard-core French food.
The seating in the restaurant reminded me of close encounters of the French kind. If you wanted to sample something from your neighbor’s plate, all you had to do was wiggle your fork about four inches to the left and you were bound to spear something. Of course, illiteracy in the local language makes it difficult to eavesdrop, so our ignorance gave the other guests an uncharacteristic privacy that they don’t often enjoy. In order to compensate for this complimentary perk, I evened the score by bringing a lovely cough to the vicinity. I was nursing a French cold that was furious at being trapped in an American host. I could just picture it floating around my bloodstream, sneering at my English-speaking antibodies and demanding red wine.
Lauren and I each decided to order a set menu for three courses, so all that remained was to choose our options from a menu that had no translations. Lauren pressed our waiter for any English info that she could squeeze out of him, but I wanted to live life on the edge. So after willfully choosing the snails, one of the few words I knew, I simply stabbed at an item under the list of entrees that looked pretty in writing. After scribbling down Lauren’s order of goose liver and fish, he pointed to me and said in English, “You order, uh, … kidneys. You want kidneys?”
Now that he mentioned it, not really, but I decided to let adventure trump skittishness, so I said, “Sure.”
He walked away, and Lauren laughed. “I can’t believe you ordered that! What if you hate it?”
“I’ve eaten plenty of meals that I hated, and I’m not obligated to finish this one.”
Soon, the food started rolling out of the kitchen, and Lauren and I had goose liver and snails before us. We sampled each dish, and while the liver wasn’t bad, I didn’t care for the snails. Sure, the flavor was nice, but when you started chewing and got right down to it, you were still grinding up garden inhabitants between your teeth. While I’ve never been opposed to a carnivorous lifestyle, I did feel the urge to run out and buy a Save the Snails t-shirt.
The kidneys were served over a bed of fettuccine, and given that I ate almost all of them, this reinforces my theory that anything is better with pasta. I’m pretty sure they could have brought me tree bark over bow ties, and I could have made a decent showing. I said this to Lauren who started laughing, which, in turn, made me laugh; and then I started coughing like someone with the bubonic plague.
“Stop making me laugh, Lauren. I’m about to hack up a lung, and the last thing we need is another organ on the table.”
The waiter poked his head around the corner and brought our desserts. Mine was a chocolate cake covered in a sauce that could right many of the wrongs in the world. At the very least, it healed the wounds inflicted by garden refugees.
© 2013 – Traci Carver