Frogs and Snails
My sister Ebony didn’t particularly want to go to France. 16-years-old, having just finished Year 10, she dreamed of visiting New York or Hawaii. She never liked studying French at school; so why would she want to go to France? But Ebony didn’t have much of a choice. I was studying in Paris, and Mum had decided to come visit me for Christmas. Like it or not, Ebony was coming too.
She wasn’t looking forward to the visit, but there was one thing she was excited about: sampling French food. Ebony studies at William Angliss, and dreams of either running an inn or becoming a pastry chef. So, she arrived in France with a strict agenda: to sample proper French cuisine. And by ‘proper French cuisine’, I mean escargots and grenouille.
Our holiday began in Paris. Once I’d finished my studies, I joined Mum and Ebony in an apartment in the 11e arrondissement. Three days a week there was a fresh produce market at the end of our street (where an over-friendly potato salesman asked my mother for permission to take my hand in marriage). We ate fresh bread and fruit and pastries. Ebony had her first macaron in the restaurant at Printemps.
Staying in an apartment, we didn’t eat out too much in Paris. Mum sampled moules et frîtes at the brasserie opposite Père Lachaise, and Ebony tried soupe à l’oignon.
Next stop: Nantes. Being in Bretagne, it was only natural that we dined at a few crêperies. In need of a little variation, we also had some Italian and Chinese food. Nantes is also home to the old LU biscuit factory, which led to the purchase of several packets of Petits Ecoliers.
From Nantes we took the train to Tours, a university town near many fascinating châteaux. There, Ebony was able to cross one of her two main goals off her list: escargots. She also experienced her first taste of French McDo (which I maintain is far superior to that here in Australia). Still, however, we were yet to find a restaurant or a brasserie that served grenouille.
We spent Christmas in Lyon, and had lunch in a beautiful hotel in Vieux Lyon. Once again, we were in an apartment, so we didn’t dine out much. I introduced Ebony to 24-hour convenience stores (i.e.: giant vending machines), and split level supermarkets (the amazing Carrefour at Part Dieu). While she found both these things interesting, neither of them were helping her achieve her goal of eating grenouille. And as we were leaving France the next day, Ebony couldn’t help but feel disappointed.
In Belgium, we only ate at restaurants named after places. At first, this began as a coincidence, but it then became a game. In Antwerp we had tacos and pizza, and sampled a banquet at a lovely Indonesian restaurant called ‘Indonesia’. Our first lunch in Bruges was at a place called ‘Venice’, where the food wasn’t remotely Italian, but the vegetable burgers were to die for.
One night, when finding restaurants to fit the brief was becoming a little difficult (and the novelty was wearing off), we found ourselves wandering around Bruges with no idea of what we wanted. As it was holiday season, not everything was open, and the restrictions of my vegetarian diet didn’t always co-operate with European menus.
Eventually, we came across a restaurant called ‘Shanghai’. Named after a place? Check. Vegetarian food options? Check. So we went in. It was then, when seated at the table and reading the menu, that Ebony finally found what she had been looking for this whole time: grenouille. In a Chinese restaurant in Belgium. Go figure.