Bone marrow, not on Tory’s list but, maybe it should be? (Roboppy)
I consider myself an adventurous eater, and from an early age, I had a French-leaning palate. As soon as I learned to chew solid foods, I began inhaling Roquefort, paté, and on occasion, entire sticks of butter. But despite my penchant for richness, there are certain French foods that still scare the living daylights out of me. In some cases, it’s the result of a past trauma, and in others, it’s just an instinct that whispers in my ear, “Run far and fast away from this food.” These are the items on my Do-Not-Eat list:
Boudin noir and mashed potatoes (Roboppy)
1. Boudin noir (a.k.a. blood sausage) is just that: a disturbingly purple sausage full of pork and pig’s blood. The name alone is enough to make any rational person run for the hills, but then of course, there’s the taste. Have you ever been on a car trip and passed through rural territory, only to have your air supply adulterated by the putrid smell of cow and pig manure? That’s pretty much what blood sausage tastes like, only more potent, because this time you’re not just smelling it, you’re eating it.
How do I know? I used to work for a French man who cooked lunch for our team every day. In general, these lunches provided me with the opportunity to happily eat like a real Parisian. On some days, we’d have tomato tartelettes followed by roast chicken and fiery mustard, salad, yogurt and fruit, chocolate, and to punctuate it all, a strong espresso.
But on one occasion, I sat down and was promptly served blood sausage. Still a newbie, I was excited to try a regional specialty, especially one that was served with yummy cooked apples. But after one excruciatingly nasty bite, boudin noir went on my list of foods not to be repeated. I haven’t felt the same about poor, innocent apples ever since.
Boudin noir and caramelized apples (Sifu Renka)
2. It comes as no surprise that andouillette (a corse-grained sausage made with pork intestines and other mysterious chunks) is a polarizing food. One portion of the population loves to complain about its nastiness, and the other portion licks its lips at the very mention of it. When I first heard the complaints of the former group, I used to think, “How bad could it really be?” Surely these weaklings were exaggerating. But recently, I had my first (and last) run-in with the dreaded thing.
I had taken off for a lovely weekend in Normandy, determined to eat “locally”: Calvados, caramel, apples, cider, Camembert… how can you go wrong? Well, here’s how. We were almost done with an incredible meal at Le P’tit Resto in Bayeux (which I highly recommend) when I opted for the cheese course: Pont-l’Évêque wrapped around a delicate slice of andouillette. After one bite, it was clear this was not going to happen. Trying to keep my gag reflex in check, I stealthily hid the remains of the offensive thing under the few salad leafs on my plate. I thought I had done a fairly convincing job, but when the waitress returned, she immediately recognized my trick and made a frowny face. I began to make excuses, and then suddenly realized, “Wait a minute. You just fed me intestinal chunks. Shame on you.” Then again, I just voluntarily ate them in the name of haute cuisine. Shame on me.
Left: steak tartare (NwongPR); Right: a Parisian butcher truck (Austinevan)
3. It’s time for a breather: steak tartare. This one isn’t so bad. When mixed with the right proportions of onions, raw egg, capers, mustard and Worcestershire sauce, it basically tastes like a raw hamburger. It’s just that I prefer my hamburgers cooked—go figure. I will eat occasional bites of tartare, but a whole plate? No thank you. It’s an issue of volume, I suppose. Everything in moderation, especially ground-up cow.
Fromage de Tete (Roboppy)
4. And then there’s fromage de tête, or head cheese. Call me unsophisticated, but this name just does not appeal. It generally comes in a terrine and consists of “parts of a cow’s head” set in gelatin. The parts can vary, of course, and sometimes they’ll even throw in some tongue, feet, or heart. Bonus! I have yet to eat this delicacy, and I must admit, I’m in no hurry.
5. Oursin. Sea urchin. I realize a lot of people like these guys, but to me, they taste and feel like a salt-saturated sponge in my mouth. You’re more likely to encounter them in the south of France, where people sometimes spread them on grilled bread and munch away. Just thinking about it makes me want to rinse my mouth out with soap, which would be an improvement on the briny explosion oursin imposes on the palette. I’ll stick with the good old cheese-and-baguette formula, thanks very much.
So there’s my list. What about you, readers? Any French food traumas to report?
- And that’s not it! Check this list out for more freaky French foods
- It had to happen: Haribo Fraise Tagada flavored macarons
- Dorie Greenspan has the low-down on steak tartare