My Very Real Paris Experience
While pursuing my undergraduate degree at university, I spent a semester studying abroad in Paris. From mid-January to June, the end of my junior year, I resided in a kitschy quinzieme arrondisement (the 15th “municipality”) apartment and took classes at NYU’s Paris academic center, located in a courtyard behind a set of big, blue doors on Rue Passy. It was an experience that quite literally changed my life — for better and for worse.
I can thank Paris for the best times but I can’t blame it for the worst.
By the beginning of my third week abroad, I was acclimating well to the rich culture, the foreign customs, the disorienting street geography, and the din of nonnative jabber. I spent the rainy days and nights (they were mostly rainy days and night) feasting my way through the delicious city until one night, shivering uncontrollably, I sought warmth in my bed. I awoke with one of the worst gastrointestinal upsets of my life and lost three days to a 103°F fever but found a kind English-speaking doctor and experienced the unbelievable benefits of French medical care (“you mean I can just take this medicine from the pharmacy?! I don’t owe anything for it?”). Despite the kind doctor’s efforts and the pharmacy’s free medicine, I never completely recovered. Back in the States, I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, or “IBS,” otherwise known as the “your intestines aren’t healthy but we don’t really know what’s wrong with them” syndrome.
Feeling unwell while abroad often discouraged me from indulging in France’s finest delicacies: the rich pates, fine mousses, meaty terrines; the sugar and butter-laden cakes, velvety chocolate confectionaries, and cream-filled pastries; the unctuous cheeses, peppery marbled steaks, and hearty, slow-cooked stews. However, my ailments encouraged me to cook for myself. I shopped at all of the specialized markets on my street — the cheese shop, the chicken butcher, the produce market, the fish store, and of course the boulangerie — and through cooking, I learned more about French ingredients than I ever could have through eating out. I discovered the beauty of butter, super fresh produce, and artisan meats and cheeses. It probably isn’t surprising that I never went a day without ripping into a steaming, gooey, fresh-out-of-the-oven demi-baguette from my favorite neighborhood boulangerie. Those were the best of times.
I fell in love with French cuisine — I studied menus and recipes, observed artisans producing and people eating, savored the scents, and researched ingredients — without eating much of it while in France. Now on the other side of the Atlantic, I’m ready to recreate the neglected tastes that I left behind. Remember that Baba au Rhum with its glistening golden sponge bathing in a deep pool of syrup? I can eat my memory of it now in the form of Baked’s Rum Black Pepper Bundt Cake, an American-meets-French rum cake. Which rum-soaked ring dessert is better? You’ll have to tell me.