Au Supermarché [Secret Life of an Expat]

You can learn a lot about a place from its supermarket, and when I first got to France I was overwhelmed by the sprawling, two story store that sold not just a narrow selection of food, but televisions, computers, appliances, clothing, DVDs, car tires, and toys. The selection of food, in my opinion, is rather limited. This is for several reasons, I believe. First, the produce section mainly concerns itself with products that are in season. Most of our citrus comes from Spain, for two weeks in September we were overrun with grapes, and right now litchis are the hot item, coming in by the boatload from Madagascar.

But for the most part, the products are pretty run of the mill. For France. I was surprised when I noticed that a package of a dozen QUAIL EGGS were a regular item.
These are about half the size of medium chicken eggs. For now, just enjoy how pretty they are, and look for a future installment where I figure out what to do with Quail Eggs.

It seems so undignified to sell prepared French dishes in a can, but they do. Especially Cassoulet, which is a slow cooked casserole from the south of France that’s made with white beans, some form of meat (goose confit in the photo) and pig skin. Confit means that the, most likely, legs of the goose have been cooked in goosefat, and then left to cool and preserved in the same fat.

There are more cans of marinated mackerel filets than tuna in the canned fish aisle, and an equivalent number of sardine products.  Do you put it on salad?

My grandmother served me tripe once in my life and I will never, ever get over it. Walking by packages of “slow cooked tripe in the Provençal tradition” still makes me shudder, hell this photo makes me shudder, even more than the skinned rabbits cut in half and wrapped in cellophane and the pig snouts found further down the meat aisle.

France loves ham and we have half an aisle devoted to just sliced ham, in a whole bunch of different variations that all look exactly the same on the packaging. Then you have your lardons and alumettes, sliced bacon, and one or two packs of sliced chicken or turkey. The rest of the aisle is pork sausages. There is a supermarket deli, but there you get your paté and wedges of cheese. No roast beef or fresh sliced turkey, but they do have more ham, the cured kind like jambon de parma or rosettes. Over by the dairy, there is a small Halal section where they sell a few more non-ham-based coldcuts. Like, two.
Personally, I’m partial to chicken and I miss it terribly. Chicken costs a fortune here. Two small organic chicken breasts could run you 6 euros or more, and around 4 euros for the scary looking brand. They sell turkey cutlets too, and we often go with those because they’re cheaper.

I considered cooking a chapon for Christmas this year, which a castrated cock (apparently it makes them taste better) with blue feet that will run you from 25 euros for what Americans would consider a normal sized roaster at the supermarket to 60 euros at the butcher. I don’t know if it’s true, but I imagine a 50 euro bird might have lived a better life than a cheap hen from a huge industrial chicken plant… I doubt the 60 euro chapon had ever frolicked on a farm, but still… something’s got to justify the price.

Who needs rats in the kitchen when there’s canned ratatouille!

I grew up thinking of yogurt as something you mixed with granola for breakfast, or maybe something you filled out your bag lunch with when you were watching what you ate. In France, yogurt is dessert. At my French supermarket, there are one and a half aisles of yogurt and yogurt-like products. Fromage blanc, faisselle, and yogurt based desserts served in individual containers, strawberry and chocolate flavored yogurts for the kids, with crunchy sprinkles you can dump into them… In our household, a plain yogurt or fromage blanc with a spoonful of sugar or honey is an everyday dessert, and the kids can’t leave the table until eating theirs.

And if you want to make your own yogurt, you can just pick up the cultures in the flour and sugar aisle. A few years ago I got the idea in my head to make my own yogurt at the house. I searched supermarkets and Whole Foods in Los Angeles, interrogating the people in the dairy section on where to get the cultures. They all gave me a variation of: “You should be able to buy it, but not here…” Well, all you need to make your own yogurt is a spoonful of plain yogurt. Except in America, I couldn’t find a small amount of plain yogurt, it was only sold in a quart size, and anything smaller was made from something weird like goat’s milk. Now I understand what I had been looking for.

And I’ll finish with a non-food item. French houses and apartments don’t have screens in the windows and every summer I get so angry at how backwards this country is. No screens?! So, to fight mosquitos, you can do a few things. You can put geraniums in your windows, supposedly. You can keep your windows closed and suffocate. If you’re sitting outside you can light a mosquito coil, which is like a spiral shaped piece of hard incense that makes anti-mosquito smoke. And you can plug in one of these things (see photo) that heats up and releases poison into the air to keeps the moustiques at bay.

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