How About a Date?

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It’s no secret that a date in your past can mean a new family in your future.  In the south of France it’s a double date, involving  our geographical proximity to North Africa and France’s colonial past.  Because we’re just a quick kiss across the Mediterranean from Tunisia and Algeria I can buy fresh dates still on the branch, more delicious than any I’ve ever tasted, and I find harissa, and ras el hanout in just about any shop.  We hear Arabic on the streets, see women in traditional dress, and couscous is on the menu more often than coq au vin

It’s not exactly what I expected before coming here.  On the one hand, I’m fascinated by the diversity, and take full advantage of the culinary implications of having Tunisian, Moroccan, and Algerian food and ingredients tossed into the melting pot.  But as an American, even one who’d been here several times before, my idea of France was really all about Paris.  Parisian chic, a Parisian accent, and its big city sophistication were spread throughout France, in my imagination.  And then there was Provence, full of lavender and sunshine.  The rest was hazy.

Here in the non-imaginary south, outside the idyll of A Year in Provence, my world is expanding.  A couple of days ago we went to an old small town, where people have been living since the Neolithic.  It’s deep in la France profonde, an out of the way spot you can get to on one lane roads without ever meeting another car.  We arrived at lunch time on Monday, only to find that almost every place to eat was closed.  The two choices that were available: a brasserie featuring couscous and a Moroccan soup as the plat du jour, and the kebab place.  Since we love kebab

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it was an easy choice for us.  But still, it made me wonder.  Was there even any “French” food to be had in this town?  Or are couscous and kebab really French food too?  It’s a familiar question to an American, since we’re always struggling with the question of what is “real American food.”  Our immigrant past guarantees a richly diverse menu, and I’m coming to see that the same forces are at work here in this corner of France.  There’s culture clash, as there’s bound to be, but it all comes together on the plate.

Although it has to be admitted that the influence of Paris extends all the way down to even the remotest of towns, and outside the realm of food.  Because even here, in a little kebab spot in a town you can barely find on the map, filled with raucous laughter and enticing, spicy fragrances, it’s quite possible to see a guy

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dark eyed and olive-skinned, dressed like a rapper from his studded pants to his stocking cap, carrying a purse.  It’s so French.

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6 Comments on “How About a Date?”

  1. Mark Says:

    It’s funny how your kebab joints look exactly like our kebab joints, except that there are bottles of wine above the cooler in your kebab joints (is this really the best spot for them though). Wine is not a common accompaniment to the kebab here in the Low Countries.

  2. Mark Says:

    And did you come to any conclusions about whether or not couscous and kebab are really French food, or was that rhetorical?

  3. Abra Says:

    Well, it was partly rhetorical, but I think couscous has in fact become French. Kebab, like pizza, might be more of a “universal” food. I’ll have to ask some French friends what they think.

  4. Dave Colby Says:

    Very interesting. (by the way, I’ve enjoyed reading your posts each morning).
    This brings back memories of cheap Paris meals and the French absorption of Thai and Vietnamese culture. The foods of SE Asia in Paris seem more fashioned after that of Colonial France; not so similar to what you or I might get in Seattle today from the cooks that came here of the ’70s and ’80s.
    As you know, it’s entirely possible for a Thai chef from Lyon to bake a tray of French pastries, then turn around and cook up a pretty good interpertation of Thai food with a French flare.
    Perhaps that same homogenization is taking place with North African food in France.

    Regardless, write on about all such delicious things,

    Dave

  5. Nancy Says:

    What was the sauce on the kebabs, Abra?

  6. Abra Says:

    The sauce that we had bore the wonderful name of “sauce samuraït” or samurai sauce. It was made with the usual “sauce blanche” that goes on kebab, which is yogurt-based and has a bit of garlic and possibly a little parsley or mint, and that was mixed with harissa and some chopped red pepper. It was excellent.


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