A Paris chalkboard menu – appearances can be deceiving! (Daxis)
Years into my love affair with Paris, I’m still making ridiculous rookie mistakes. I suppose it’s time to accept that France will always have the upper hand, but it still stings.
My most recent humiliation is horse-related. Or at least, I thought it was.
Please note that I was a horse-obsessed child, so equine-related topics are particularly touchy for me. As a child, I would sometimes dress in riding garb for no reason at all. And while I was waiting for my parents to break down and buy me a real horse (never happened), I would drag garbage cans into the backyard and ride them, periodically switching from one member of the “herd” to the next. On any given afternoon, people in the house could gaze out and see me whipping a particularly stubborn garbage can with my riding crop.
Steak à Cheval (L. Richarz)
So when I first moved to Paris and started noticing “steak à cheval” on menus around town, I was wary. I knew there was a historical precedent of eating horse meat in France, but it seemed quite inhumane in this day and age. Nonetheless, I assumed it was some kind of trendy gastronomic revival, and who was I to question the local gourmands? So I kept my mouth shut and simply avoided the dreaded horse steak when confronted with it.
Recently, I was visiting my boyfriend’s family in Brazil. One night, we sat down to dinner and I was presented with a traditional dish called bife a cavalo (in Portuguese), which translates to “horse-riding steak” or “steak à la horse.”
“Horse?” I asked, panic rapidly setting in.
“No, it’s like steak à cheval in France,” G explained.
“Sooo….. horse?” I wondered again.
It was at this point that I realized I’d been operating under a serious misapprehension, and it took the collision of three cultures for the truth to surface.
No wonder the French had seemed so lax about all that presumed “horse-eating”—they weren’t eating horse at all. It turns out that steak à cheval (or bife a cavalo) is merely a cut of beef with a fried egg on top. It turns out the French aren’t as barbaric as I thought! And it turns out I’m kind of an idiot.
I shudder to think what other misconceptions I’ve been carrying around all this time, but I have a feeling the truth will win out. Paris will see to that.
- Mark Bittman has his ideas about the best steaks in Paris
- Looking for non-steak options in Paris? Check out David Lebovitz’s handy guide (and the useful links below!)