I don’t know if any other country eats the way France does. All of the teachers I have lunch with create three course meals out of several tupperware containers and in restaurants the waiters ask if you didn’t like your food if you leave even a little on the plate. But it’s not just the quantity, most everything is also delicious. I could walk into any bakery in Valence and get a pain au chocolat that would beat any pastry back home. However, as a poor language assistant, I don’t often get to sample anything outside of E. Leclerc or Auchan. But this past Monday I was invited by my friend Helen to go with her boyfriend Julien and her mom to Sirha, short for Le Salon international de la restauration, de l’hôtellerie et de l’ alimentation (International Hotel, Catering and Food Trade Exhibition).
Sirha in Lyon is the second largest expo of this kind in France, with the biggest being in Paris. There were about 2,000 exhibitors at Sirha providing just about everything you would need for your restaurant, hotel, catering service, pasty shop, bakery, or whatever area of food in which you are a “professional.” I put journalist as my profession on my invitation. I’m writing about it now, aren’t I? Where’s my free stuff? Anyway, I’d never really thought about all the different elements that go into restaurants and all the different suppliers you would need. You might have to get your cheese from France, your chocolate from Belgium, and your staff’s shoes from Ireland. It was overwhelming.
Since I had no real professional reason to be interested in these products, I mostly snatched up free things and sampled from the vegetarian-friendly exhibitors. This didn’t really cut down on sampling, since there was an incredible amount of chocolate. Helen’s mom has a cake shop back in England, so we visited many of the chocolatiers and in addition to the sweets we also got glasses of champagne from one of them. Other sampling highlights included cheese from Auvergne (my old friend Cantal), baguettes, carrot cake and salt and vinegar chips from Wales, antipasti, olives, cheese pastry, and even some sparkling water from the Ardèche. It was kind of a weird mix and needless to say that night I had a light dinner that was chocolate-free.
There didn’t seem to be any strict rules for how the place was arranged besides loose umbrellas like “Produits (Products)” or “Planète Viande (Meat Planet).” We did stumble upon a few country-specific areas like Holland, Sweden, and Wales, whose exhibitor stand even had very American pecan pie. I saw on the map that the United States was there, but I didn’t find it. Maybe they were serving fried twinkies and were shut down for indecency. Sorry, I think I’m slightly brainwashed by France. But I would have loved to see what was on display and maybe hear some regional accents. I’ve become a lot more aware of my own accent since spending time in France. Although there are other Americans, they are mostly from the Northwest or Northeast and I don’t know anyone else from the Oklahoma/Texas/Kansas/Arkansas area of vague cowboy twang. I realize my accent is pretty standard American, but it’s just one of those random things I find myself missing.
I’m heading to Paris tomorrow morning to see Of Montreal and indulge in free Sunday museums. I have more pictures from Sirha on flickr if you’re interested.