I spent my senior year of high school as an exchange student in the Alsasce region of France. How my parents managed to pull that off in the middle of a divorce on a church salary and as a full time student I have no idea, but I am eternally grateful. I took full advantage of the opportunity they gave me and studied (the boys. Sorry, Dad.) at a French high school, traveled through France, Germany, Switzerland and even a wee bit of Italy, drank up the culture, admired the architecture, consumed my weight in pastry, read their literature, attended sporting events, hiked the countryside, walked the city streets (only the safe ones, ish. Sorry, Mom.), made lifelong friends, and -in retrospect- did everything I could have wanted to do.
Except for one thing.
You see, the year I spent in France was smack dab down the middle of my seven year stint as a vegetarian. Sigh. That’s right. I spent a school year in the sausage capital of the world. As in the region of France that is best known for its charcuterie and specialty hams and oh man. (That sound is me smacking my head on the desk repeatedly.) I want a do-over on the meat portion of the trip.
To be fair, I must assert I did not do without good food, lack of ham notwithstanding. France is a food mecca no matter how you eat. I had cheese and pastry and vegetable tartines and more cheese and more cheese and yet more cheese. I put a great deal of French cheese under my belt. Given that I was not partaking in the local meats (weep, gnash, moan), the hospitable folks of the area pushed many cheeses my way. And if you think I ran out of cheeses to try whilst in La Belle France, you’re sorely mistaken.
With all the multitudinous fromages I munched, you might think think it’s a cinch that cheese was my favourite food in France. That distinction, however, belongs to a food that will always reign supreme in my heart as the ultimate in French food. It’s not a high-falutin’, fancy-pants, five-days-prep food either. It’s that good, solid, favourite-of-the-citizens selection: Pissaladière.
Pissaladière is not technically an Alsatian dish (Whimper, see lack of ham tirade above.) but it is at its heart a seminal French dish. It is, in a nutshell, French pizza. The crust is a little breadier than Italian pizza, it’s covered with a thick layer of caramelized onions, and topped with salty, oil cured olives and anchovy fillets. This is a dish that encapsulates why -among other reasons- I love France so much. They don’t shy away from stinky food when it tastes great.
Some day, I’ll get back to France. I’ll tour the places where I spent some of the most defining time of my youth. I’ll once again eat my weight in cheese and pastry, tour the countryside and admire the architecture. But this time, I’ll take my own cute guy with me, and I’ll try that ham and sausage, dangit.
…and I will most certainly have a pissaladière. Or three.
This post was sponsored by Frigidaire. When you share your own do-over moment at Facebook.com/Frigidaire, Frigidaire will donate $1 to Save the Children’s U.S. programs. Plus, Frigidaire will help cover the costs for one lucky visitor to win the ultimate do-over.