food

The Cat at Chez Bebert

Or Le chat chez Chez Bebert

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A stray animal at a restaurant in the US is…let me backtrack.
You never see a stray animal in the US.
Keeping a pet inside a restaurant? Nope. I mean, unless you want your permits and stuff revoked- then it’s cool (why did you open a restaurant in the first place?).
Abroad, though, things are a little…different.

You can, um, “be one with nature” during a culinary experience.
I once ate a grec outside of Notre Dame, sitting on the floor, as rats skittered by in the moonlight.
Rats.
As big as my thigh.
I think it was the fact I had never really seen one in person before that prevented me from going through any shock.
One…two…ooh, there’s a big one!
As long as these things would not come near my food, it was cool.

These are little daily treats of Parisian life. It’s a city- you deal with all sorts of things! This is not clean, Winnie-the-Pooh-land gated communities. There is grit in the streets and there are germs in your hands, so don’t rub your eyes.

Furthermore, some respectable dining establishments are not free from animals. Oh, no.
There was a restaurant down the street from my Château that had some bomb-ass couscous, and payday had just rolled around. My friends and I decided it was the perfect time to go get some delicious grub.

We settled in, placed our order, and a few minutes later, out came our heaping plates of couscous, steamed vegetables, and meats. Mouths watering, we dug in like those two kids in Jurassic Park (Except more savagely, of course. We were starving grad students. Those two were just bitches hiding from some whatever dinosaur. We were against T-hesisaurus Rex. Pshh.)

Littlebitch

Anyway, in the middle of the smorgasbord, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. This was significant, since I was really into that lamb.
Something was staring at me, intently. I peeled my eyes off my plate and onto the edge of the seat- a cat.
I took another bite.
WAIT! What the effffff? A cat!?
I looked at it again. It did that licking thing cats do, and it sunk in that this creature was going to quite possibly pounce and take away all my delicious couscous, and vegetables, and lamb!
Nooo!
I pointed it out to my friends. There were two types of reaction: amusement, and utter disgust.

Had I not previously seen stray cats inside a supermarket as a child growing up in Venezuela, this would have probably made me panic. But it was cool- as long as this little feline did not play games with my food.

Scoffing and gagging (or was he just gagging?), one of my friends had to stop eating. Why the hell was there a cat in this restaurant?

I flagged down the waiter.

“Sir, there is a cat”, I said.

“Yes. Yes, there is”, he replied. AND HE PET THE CAT.

It sunk in: as all things cats…THIS CAT OWNED THE RESTAURANT.

I sat there, confused but beginning to get one of those really good chuckles.

At this point my gagging friend was in sheer agony, clenching his fists at the ceiling and imploring “Where am I? What am I?”

Next to me, my other friend was starting to get friendly with the cat. I warmed up to the idea, until it jumped up on our table and panic set in. I don’t know how it happened, or who did it, but less than a fraction of a second later, that cat was on my lap, purring (I guess it’s a cat thing) and I just sat there, like a fool with a fork.

Our waiter came around again, on his way to another table. He cooed at the cat while my friens and I smiled like (american) lunatics.

This cat was here to show is he was boss. He had an agenda.
He burrowed and stretched and tossed and did cat things until my friend and I made a place for him, between us. And then he napped.
He disn’t say bye, though.
Catshole.

And this is my Paris cat story.
I lost the pictures and I hate myself a little bit for it right now. But I do hope you enjoyed it.
I’m going to go pet my dog now.

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España, corazón!

Where to begin to describe my love affair with Spain?
I am sometimes hesitant to say that I would love to live here, because vacationing, or staying for short amounts of time, is not the same as having the day-to-day grind somewhere.
I thought I loved Paris, and I thought living there would make me love it even more- that I would never, ever, in a million years, go back to the States. And yet, here I sit, the night before I am to go back to France, feeling nothing but dread and that really annoying knot in my throat.

I have had the incredibly good fortune of always falling into place here in Spain. I have heard it’s a very tight-knit society- closed, even. Perhaps because I already have a “connection” every time I visit that I am welcomed, with open arms and a cold drink waiting for me.
Even when I am back home in the States, I find myself going to flamenco festivals, drinking homemade tinto de verano with friends, day dreaming about past visits. In Paris, when the going gets rough the only thing that can comfort me is a good sevillana.
So how am I not supposed to adore a place where it just so happens that every time I set foot in, people are always eager to share with me what makes up their culture: the food, the drink, the dances. I find it hard to believe that it’s just good luck that, in the five times I have been here, that I always learn copious amounts of new things, make new friends, and always- always- leave wanting more.

If Paris taught me anything, is that I am a creature of tact, of social interaction. I cannot be holed up, isolated from the world. In Paris, this happens to be my life and, to put it simply, it makes me sad.

In Spain I am always carried away by the crowd, by the smiles and the openness of its people. It is here that I learned that it is the simple things that really make life enjoyable: a drink, some simple snacks like ham or olives, and friends. The rest of the world (and the economy!) can wait. Life is happening.

In Andalusia, I got caught up in the preparations for the feria. Everyone in town talked about it, schools let out for a whole week, every bar would host an impromptu song-and-dance moment, people would clap to the rhythm of the music in their own head as they walk down the street. Even the laundromats were chockfull of feria attire- the beautiful, colorful dresses that are finally seeing the light of day after a whole year. As a cherry on top, there is a smell of honeysuckle and oranges that accompanies the light breeze that follows you as you make your way into the center of the city, at least in Jerez.

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona (Catalunya)

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona (Catalunya)

In Catalunya (sorry guys, I’m using political borders!), I saw another side of Europe I had not yet seen- the colorful, whimsical world of Gaudi and Mirò. My tastebuds had a party when I tried romesco for the first time, and I felt like I was on the happiest of acid trips when I visited Parc Güell. I danced the night away with welcoming strangers, heard the code switching between Spanish and Catalan (which, by the way, is a mindfuck).
In Madrid, I got to experience the holiday of San Isidro. We ate and drank to our heart’s content. “More! More! You must drink more! And try this!” was the phrase that was most used that day. I ate pig ear, pickled vegetables, patatas bravas, shrimp..the list is endless. There’s also a vague memory I have of myself wearing a motorcycle helmet but walking around the city. I was adopted by everyone for a night, a day, a week.
I got a taste of the convivencia in Toledo: Muslims, Christians and Jews living together in harmony a few centuries ago and how enriching it was for the city.
In Segovia, I got lost in an ancient restaurant while going to the bathroom and ended up in the wine cellars. And when I say cellars, picture something like a prison from Pirates of the Caribbean.
In the Basque Country (again, political borders!), I played kinito, I ate pintxos, drank kalimotxo and txakoli. I experienced hospitality first hand when the girl behind the bar (who treated me to the kalimotxo) came out to give me a kiss god-bye on the cheek. I got to experience, in the flesh, the beauty of the Bay of Biscay. I got to finally hear Basque flowing freely in conversation. I saw Real Madrid play against Athletic Bilbao, in the legendary San Mamés Stadium. I saw people of all ages, shapes, and sizes party side to side.

Barrika, near Bilbao (Basque Country).

Barrika, near Bilbao (Basque Country).

That, and so much, much more that I cannot begin to describe or relate because the simple joys in life cannot be explained in words- they need to be lived. And all of these wonderful opportunities came to me because I was a visitor from out of town and because people here always want to share. Because they know how to live and they want to make you a part of it.

Every time I leave, I find myself thinking I want to stay here forever. I want to have this lifestyle, but then again, it could potentially become routine and I could stop seeing the joy in it. Perhaps Spain will only ever get to be my respit, my escape- that secret place where I go to remember how to live.

So, until next time, Spain! I look forward to the day I come back and smile a little broader and laugh a little louder.

La bouffe!

What does one turn to when one is sad? Food, of course!

Food brings comfort.
I, for one, have a tendency of eating my feelings (see: Carbicide)

Paris is one of the culinary capitals of the world, I would insist my house is when my dad cooks, but alas, the world is not yet ready. Anyway, escargot, baguettes, crêpes, profiteroles, millefeuilles, the french trifecta of steak-frite-salade…om nom nom.

Obviously, I eat that every day in France! At a bistro! Wearing a beret, with a super sexy French model feeding me.
What are you? Five?
The student diet does not vary from place to place.
Mind you, Maruchan is a little harder to come by here, and a little more expensive, but hey! Pasta is pasta and couscous is couscous and they are both super easy to cook and easy to nosh on while “doing homework”.  Peanuts, too.

 Everyday food is not glamurous- it’s still what you would whip up at home on a busy day, or on a day that you’re just tired as you come home from school or work. Who has time to dice stuff, simmer and all that stuff?
“Not I!”, said I.
(Delivery is quite expensive here, by the way. I would go off on my pizza delivery adventure from back in October but…it’s just such a long story).
Some days it’s couscous with some chopped shallots and red pepper. I add chicken sometimes if I’m feeling fancy. Other days is “pasta con atun”- one part pasta, one part canned tuna and parmesan cheese and a whole lot of delicious!
On the days I’m nearing a coma, I boil the water on my water boiler thingie (for tea- gotta multi-task!), transfer it to a hot pot, cook pasta, add olive oil, parmesan and cracked black pepper and bam! I have a meal before I can feel guilty about what I just put in my mouth.

We have university dining halls here, too, by the way. The CROUS people got it all figured out: you get 6 points for 3 euros and 10 cents. Not too shabby! What are 6 points? An entrée, a dessert and a glass of water. Like all things European, there’s always bread. And this bread is free! And rock hard. But sometimes, the bread is the best part of the meal.

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Exhibit A

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy going to my Sorbonne Nouvelle CROUS dining hall- mostly for the company and because I get a kick out of living “the student life”, which in Miami was faaaaaar different. We were brats! We had choices! What will it be today? Well, Bustelo’s for sure in the morning to get my café con leche and my pastelito de queso before class. Then…hmm…Burger King? Einsteins Bros? Moe’s? Salad Creations? Chili’s?
Yeah. Bratzzzzz.

Another charming thing about these halls is that it’s not only open to students. There’s faculty and staff, as well as your local struggling recent layoff. If you look around, you will see them. And it put things back into perspective.

All of a sudden, Exhibit A starts tasting a lot better.

But DO let me tell you about the fantastic discoveries I have made- the little things, if you will, that make my sejour in Paris bearable at times.

-Speculoos: Ohmysweetlordbabyjesusinfootiepijamas. These “spice cookies” are addictive, to put it lightly. They are made with sweet stuff like molasses, cloves, cinnamon and some unexpected ingredients like white pepper. They’re similar to ginger snaps but, of course, far better. I can eat a whole 250g bag in, oh, one sitting.
They’re the typical pairing whenever you order coffee at a café.
And in Mount Olympus, surely.

-Millefeuille: More specifically, that of La Grande épicerie. I mean…if this thing took on human form and it was a woman, I would totally reconsider my orientation and surely go through a deep, deep crisis.

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I MEAN LOOK AT IT! IT’S PERFECT!

-Panini “poulet tomate”: The mafia that runs crêperie Genia know what’s up (right next to the McDonald’s on Cluny, across from the Musée du Moyen Âge for those who care to know. Especially my girl Zoila…not pictured because I have not been able to, um, capture her. No pun intended. At any rate, it’s just a baguette, some chicken, mayo and tomato on a press. Boy, let me tell you about the love you taste in each bite, though! As a recent arrival, I would go there at least twice a week. I needed the pannini fix, and it didn’t hurt that my then-roommat was totes down for it too.

-Crêpe “nutella-banane”: Again, Zoila. They just slather on that Nutella, no shame whatsoever. And by “banane” they mean a whole banana on your crêpe. They just peel it, lay it there and with ninja-style slicing motions, bam! It’s fanned out all over your hazelnutty goodness. You may now start drooling.

-Grec (from my local Anthony Bourdain look-alike): This non-descript place is among one of the endless hole-in-the-wall restaurants that serve your classic street fare of gyros, shwarmas, crêpes, etc. However, this guy has got the best fries. What’s so special about them, besides the fact that he just shoves them onto your gyro or “grec”, as they’re known here? This man adds lime to his salt. LIME. THE GREEN ONE. And it is a religious experience that needs to be tasted by all. I stumbled upon this place by chance, back in 2009 when I was visiting Paris for the second time with my cousin. We were starving and decided to eat there. I remember I would lean against the wall of a church in a tiny, tiny street in the Quartier Latin. As I live here, I know the church to be that of St. Severin, and the street happens to be aptly named after it. In 2012, I made my way back there by memory and ordered me my delicious grec, with the fries, and went to heaven.

So there you have it, a glimpse into real people food here. Not what you thought it would be like, huh? 

PS: I do enjoy a good onion soup now and then. Nomnomnom.