Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lunch in Lyon

My recent lack of activity is mostly not due to laziness, and is certainly not due to a lack of food tales to tell, but is in very large part due to a week of vacation around France which fed and apéritif-ed me into a deep blog coma. It is only now, after a week of catching up on work and digestion, that I am able to crawl my way back to you.

Our trip included various villages of Provence, then Marseille, then Lyon, and a detour an hour out to the old Clément Family Farm. As we visited quite a bit of Clément's family, we were received with multi-course meals and flowing wine, and as we explored the gastronomic capital of France, we ate some serious restaurant meals. Serious in many ways. There was no messing around.

There are many meals and food moments that I could describe to you, like the one where I tried Os à Moelle (bone marrow) for the first time at the enormous Brasserie Georges in Lyon, or the Amarena Cherry Sundae at the little glacier across the street from a carousel in Marseille (whimsical, eh?). I could even rave to you about Clément's grandmother's homemade Vin de pêche (sweetened, peach-leaf infused wine). But, for (a) pure gratuitous shock value and (b) lack of photos of other food, we're gonna talk pig parts.

I'm a pretty adventurous eater. My stomach's résumé includes such things as snails, veal cheek, cow tongue, giblet salad, head cheese, foie gras, steak tartare. Some of these things I have enjoyed more than others. But in general, there's not much I don't like, and I love trying new things. And so it was that I was feeling bold as we sat down at the little wooden table, draped in a checkered tablecloth, on the terrace of our chosen bouchon lyonnais... 

The place had a classic menu as well as a changing seasonal menu. From the latter, I started with a Terrine fromagère with tomato coulis. Terrine is generally a type of forcemeat, which is to say meat emulsified with fat, similar to pâté. However, it's also a term often used for non-meat versions of such dishes, in this case one made of fresh cheese and herbs.

The starter was lovely, if not a bit rich. Clément had a Tarte à l'oignon that was too good to be true.

The crust was buttery and flaky, the onions soft and sweet. It's not hard to make this at home, but it is hard to nail it this perfectly.

For the main course, it was pig part time. A bottle of Côtes du Rhône (we were in the region, after all) was ordered to wash 'em down.

Clément ordered Andouillette, a pig intestine sausage. The first time I ever tried this traditional French fare, I nearly gagged and couldn't finish half of it. There is a range of intensity for Andouillette: at its mildest, we can say it is earthy, and at its strongest, well, it's poopy, for lack of a better word. After I got over the emotional damage of the first experience, I've since eaten Andouillette a couple of times and enjoyed it very much. But I've also never encountered an Andouillette quite as violent as the first one. I think once you understand what is delicious about the flavor, via a milder sausage, you can continue to appreciate it even when it's a bit on the strong side. You need a gateway Andouillette, so to speak. And had this one been the first one I'd ever tried, I think it would have been love at first... ingestion. This was one tasty Andouillette, no lie. It even looks rather lovely in its mustard sauce. For an intestine sausage, that is.

It even came with a magical Gratin dauphinois, rich and milky with just a touch of warm spice from the ample dose of nutmeg. Fun fact: a traditional gratin dauphinois (i.e. potatoes au gratin) does not have any cheese! The crusty, creamy top is actually very cooked milk, made richer with cream.

But then came the Breaded pigs' feet. I had thought, how weird can it be? The answer: pretty weird. 

The problem is not the taste (which, other than a vague porkiness in the greasy film of fat and bread crumbs, I could not seem to find). It doesn't taste weird. It's just that you cut into the little piggy feet, and you find... nothing much. Bones, mostly. A mysterious mushy white substance which I assumed to be fat and cartilage, plenty. Meat, two bites. I counted. So... I have to say I didn't really get it.

How can people enjoy this?

Several days later, while talking to a Frenchman familiar with Pieds de porc, who allegedly quite likes them, I was told it's not really a dish that girls like. It's a Man Food. This provides me with two theories as to why people eat fried pigs' feet by choice: it all comes down to nature or nurture.

The Nature Hypothesis: There is some sort of chemical reaction that occurs between pigs' feet and testosterone which creates a delicious flavor that can only be experienced by the males of the human species.

The Nurture Hypothesis: Men have been pretending to like pigs' feet for generations to avoid looking like a wuss.

I was unfortunately unable to test these hypotheses on my own Frenchman, who, with not so much as one look at me grimacing before my breaded pile of fatty bones, declined a sample.

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