Creperies (or Crèperies) and Pizzerias
As you wander through the streets of any town in France, you continually run across tiny eating establishments of creperies and pizzerias tucked in amongst the shops in the city centers. Most of these are dedicated to eating two of France's favorite foods: Crèpes and pizza.
Both of these staple foods are actually inherited from different cultures. Of course you already know that pizza comes from Italy. Whereas Crèpes are actually from Bretagne.
Confused? You should be!
France's tumultuous history has left the far western region with a different culture and language. La Bretagne is a region or province of France which has stubbornly retained its Gaelic based language, music, traditional dress, and customs. Yet, since they're geographically attached to the rest of the country they've been forced to learn French and adhere to the French laws and government. However, you only have to attend one Celtic festival to understand that there's definitely something different going on there. I've heard people from this region say “No, je suis Breton.” in response to the “Are you French?” question. That explains it all to me.
As for the creperies, in order to own and operate one, you must go to creperie school and obtain a diploma! No, not just anyone can own creperies! A cooking diploma with a specialty in crèpes and galettes is a must. So when you decide to go to any of the many creperies and have crèpes for lunch or dinner, you're assured that the cook knows what he's doing and has the diploma to prove it. I find that rather reassuring, since we all know the level of talent required to make a burger.
So, now that you're in the door, seated at a table, you'll notice that the restaurant quite often has a rustic, red and white checked décor with lots of dark wood and copper utensils, typical of Brittany or La Bretagne as I referred to it earlier. You're ready to eat and you need to know what to expect.
Your menu will have several categories. Some pages are headlined: “Galettes” and others “Crèpes”. The difference between the two is the type of wheat used for the batter. Galettes are made of a darker wheat flour and are used for the dinner crepes, or ones with a savory filling as opposed to the white wheat crepes used for desserts.
There will be a list of named galettes, like “la Normande” or “la Marinière” or “la super-complète”.
These will each be followed by a list of ingredients such as: jambon, champignons, tomates, oignons, fromage, oeuf, etc. I won't translate each of these ingredients, you'll have a pocket dictionary for that.
But a basic one for someone who's a crèpe-eating novice is the complète. It will have ham, Emmenthal cheese (the French version of Swiss cheese), and possibly mushrooms or tomato, sometimes with a fried egg. The crèpe itself will have all of these things piled in the middle, and then the edges are folded over into a sort of envelope shape. Easy to eat, you cut pieces off with a knife and fork and enjoy. Delicious.
You can also choose to make up your own combo of ingredients; this possibility is much like pizza composition in the USA. You can choose 2, 3, 4 or more fillings from a list.
Accompany it with bolée de cidre brut!
You might want to accompany this with a bolée de cidre brut. This is dry, hard cider. The alcohol content is akin to that of a light beer.
It will taste nothing like apple cider from the USA. This drink is indigenous to Normandy and Brittany, largely due to the abundance of apple trees in these regions.
It comes either doux or brut, a bit like champagne. I prefer brut because I find the doux too sweet and strangely bitter, with an aftertaste a bit like what's left on your tongue if you were to eat only the apple peelings and not the fruit.
You can order cider either by the 75ml bottle, like wine, or by the bolée, which is an individual pottery bowl which serves as a glass. These can be a bit tricky to hold onto though, especially by the 10th bolée.
Dessert at any of the creperies will also be a crèpe with a name. I like the belle hélène, fashioned after the ice cream sundae of the same name. It has pears and chocolate sauce with whipped cream. Or the fôret noire which is made with chocolate sauce and cherries.
There will be a selection of flaming crèpes at the creperies as well. These are spectacular. The waiter places your plate in front of you, before dousing it with flaming alcohol from a tiny copper saucepan. If you blow out your fire too soon, the taste of alcohol will be stronger than if you let it burn off a bit and go out by itself. They're great fun, invariably provoking lots of “oohs” and “aahs” from the clientele.
If you choose a pizzeria, you find a menu with much the same sort of divisions on it as at the creperies. The pizzas all carry a name depending on which combinations of ingredients are on it. There might be surprising ones like pizzas with tuna, or potatoes. The French have let their imaginations run a bit wild with exotic combos. If you've feeling adventurous, have a go at something you wouldn't normally get in the States. That's what you're on vacation for!
Do not expect to buy a pizza and share it. Pizzas in France are individual affairs. Each person orders one for himself. It is quite possible to eat the entire thing oneself, since the crusts on pizzas in France are very thin. And I do mean very thin. A pizza for one is a bit larger than a regular dinner plate in diameter. The ingredients are kind of sparse. There aren't tons of thick stringy cheese and piles of meat. If you're hungry you can do it with no problem at all. If you do ask to share you'll be scowled at by the waiter.
NO Doggie Bags!
The same goes for “doggie bags”, which we all know never make it to the dog.
If you don't finish your meal anywhere, and that goes for creperies, brasseries and restaurants, and everywhere else except McDonald's or other street foods, you should not ask to take the rest home. This simply is not done. You'll be met with the same look you would receive if you asked to go have a rummage around the restaurant's garbage containers out back for your lunch the next day.
It's just not in France's habits to order food and then partially eat it, asking for a container to bring the rest back home.
I don't know why, since they are the country with the most dogs per capita in the world, but their doggies do not get bags of restaurant food.
After your pizza you could possibly have room for dessert, maybe not, but if you like ice cream, go for a sundae. France has fabulous ice cream, and their sundae combinations are wonderful.
The ice cream is made with real cream, from cows. You can taste the difference with one tiny spoonful. The texture is much creamier than American ice cream too. They also have really great sorbets which are light and fruity.
Regarding desserts, it isn't rare to see someone, quite often women by the way, not finish their pizza and then go ahead and order dessert. Different parental sermonizing must be at the root of this. But it is also quite possibly why the French are not noticeably obese. They eat dessert.
Is this a cool country or what?
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