Category Archives: food

London Day 6: Thames and Borough Market

I started my sixth day in London with another walk along the Thames, this time on the South Bank. Above is the HMS Belfast, a Royal Navy cruiser that served in World War II and is now a museum. We didn’t make it inside this trip, but perhaps the next, as I do love old nautical spaces.

The shores of the Thames below the containing walls of the city are not exactly appealing, but I don’t think many people think to swim in the waters.

There were actually some kayakers that morning, and we saw them land on the beach by the Tower Of London, right by the Traitors’ Gate. Although it’s now bricked off, prisoners were once brought through the gate to the Tower, including Sir Thomas More and Anne Boleyn, after being transported by boat below London Bridge where the heads of executed prisoners were displayed on pikes.

Tower Bridge is the opposite of ominous with its cheery blue paint and spritely towers. The current color scheme dates to Queen Elizabeth II’s silver jubilee in 1977. This year is the Diamond Jubilee for her 60th anniversary as Queen.

Not sure when this old barge took residence and kind of ruined the view, if you’re not into old nautical relics, but I already covered the fact that I am, so hang around boat thing.

Our next stop was Borough Market. Traveling with Cecilia is wonderful because she always researches the good food places, whereas nourishment is always secondary to my weird cemetery visits and such. However, after being to Borough Market and other delicious places in London, I am starting to appreciate food tourism. Borough Market has existed in some form for hundreds of years, and is currently housed in buildings designed in 1851.

There was a multitude of food choices, but I went for a grilled cheese at Kappacasein. Or toasted cheese as you would say if you were at Borough Market. It was pretty delicious and I have been wanting another ever since, but now I’m all the way across the ocean, alas.

We then took a walk around the neighborhood and then back to the Thames, to walk to one of my favorite museums where I would meet up with an old friend.

Sirha

Chefs working at Sirha in Lyon.

Chefs working at Sirha in Lyon.

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).

A display case of terrines for sampling at Sirha.

A display case of terrines for sampling at Sirha.

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.

A cinco jotas. I think Sirha reinforced my vegetarian lifestyle... and I didnt even photograph the snail eggs.

A cinco jotas. I think Sirha reinforced my vegetarian lifestyle... and I didn't even photograph the snail eggs.

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.

Dobla chocolate display.

Dobla chocolate display.

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.

Chocolatier at work on a delicious edible sculpture.

Chocolatier at work on a delicious edible sculpture.

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.

Joyeux Noël

Close-up of Christmas tree in Valence.

Close-up of Christmas tree in Valence.

Bonnes Fêtes et Joyeux Noël à tous! I hope you all are enjoying the holidays, wherever you may be in the world. I wish I could have been able to celebrate with all my friends and family, but they haven’t yet invented the technology for that kind of travel. I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with my friend Sophie and her family, my second French Christmas. Although the first might not count since I was 8 months old and if you go by some philosophy, your self is only the sum of your memories. And I remember nothing, although the photos from family albums are stored in my brain. This was my first Christmas to be away from my family, and I never realized how much I could miss little things like driving through neighborhoods to look at Christmas lights and the empty Bartlesville streets on Christmas morning, or the walks we always take on Pathfinder on Christmas afternoon. I did listen to David Sedaris’ “Santaland Diaries” on my computer and watched “Christmas on Mars” (filmed in Oklahoma) on DVD to get into the spirit.

The Bastille above the cafe of the same name is decorated for Christmas. Just like it was when it was a real prison, Im sure.

The Bastille above the cafe of the same name is decorated for Christmas. Just like it was when it was a real prison, I'm sure.

Christmas Eve is the big night for the French and is when most of the celebrating happens. We got to Sophie’s parents house in the early evening and soon there were about 14 of her family members who had driven from Lyon. I get a little overwhelmed when I have to decipher French in a crowd, it’s subtle syllables get lost in waves of sound. Everyone likes to talk about Barack Obama and fat Americans, it seems, and I think people still think I am from Texas. Anyway, I tried to be as social as possible while not butchering their beautiful language too much. Often, I feel like my tongue is an axe.

The Montelimar bear returns, sporting the holiday spirit.

The Montelimar bear returns, sporting the holiday spirit.

I can’t believe how many courses comprised the Christmas Eve dinner, it was gluttonous even for France. First, there was the aperatif, where people mingled and drank kirs while eating cheese, antipasto, and olives. Then, everyone sat down and white wine was poured and salads with foie gras (duck or goose liver) were served. I’m a vegetarian, so I’ll list the meat to show the food abundance, but I didn’t eat any of it. Then there were plates full of salmon, followed by a giant bowl of oysters. Apparently, you squirt lemon juice on the oyster to make sure it moves and is alive, therefore good. Sometimes I’m glad to be a vegetarian just to have an excuse not to eat certain things. After the ocean animals were eaten, the next course was a “Trou Normand,” a little glass of pear sorbet with alcohol. This was the third type of alcohol, if you’re counting. You can add red wine after it. Anyway, the Trou Normand is served between meals as a kind of digestive and palate cleanser. After the Trou Normand, the “Volailles” were served, meaning the birds. Giant bowls of turkey and chicken were passed around. Soon after, there were two Gratins: Gratin Dauphinois with potatoes and Gruyere and Gratin de Cardons, also with Gruyere. We were unable to find cardon in the French-English dictionary while we were there, but some internet searching shows that it looks kind of like a thistle and is known as a “wild artichoke” in Spain. I guess it’s close to an artichoke and is used in some regional cooking in this part of France. I still can’t find an English translation. Anyway, there’s still more food to list! Following the Gratins, the cheeses were served. There were two choices: Fromages secs (dry) and Fromages blancs (wet). I guess you could have both if you so desired. I went for the dry cheeses, where there were three massive slices on a plate to sample from. Fromage blanc has the consistency of yogurt and most people added sugar to it. Then came the dessert: Bûche de Noël. There were two, one made from Nutella and another made from Creme de Marrons (chestnut cream). I went for oh-so-decadent Nutella. Oh, and there were macaroons and truffles as well as clementines alongside the main desserts. Finally, Champagne was uncorked and distributed. So there you have the 12 courses served for dinner. I have crazy respect for Sophie’s parents that they were able to prepare that much delicious food for so many people.

Christmas trees on the streets of Valence.

Christmas trees on the streets of Valence.

After dinner, gifts were exchanged, and I was shocked to receive some from people I just met. I got a bag of nougat, a jar of clementine jelly, a candle, and on Christmas morning I got a soft scarf and potpourri holder from Sophie. It was incredibly sweet and I was already grateful to have been invited, let alone to be given things. It’s amazing how generous people have been during my time in France. I think the gift giving ended at about 2 a.m. and I went to sleep at about 3 a.m. In the morning, the under-the-tree gifts that Père Noel left were opened and there was coffee and Christmas dinner leftovers for lunch. We paid a visit to some of Sophie’s other relatives in town before heading back to Valence and saw a movie later that night. I’ve condensed a lot of this down, but I hope this gives you an idea of how I spent my Christmas. Sophie was amazing to have invited me and it was much better than celebrating alone somewhere and let me see the French Christmas traditions. I am so thankful that I was invited.

I’ll be leaving for Paris on December 30, although I’ll try to get in some exploring before then. I miss everyone I didn’t get to see for Christmas and I wish you all the best!