“I learned, with the tiredest feet of my life, that feeding people in a town like Dijon meant walking endless cobbled miles from one little shop to another … butter here, sausage there, and rice and sugar and coffee still in another place. It was the longest, most discouraging, most exciting, and most satisfying week I can remember.”
Yesterday I walked in the footsteps of MFK who found herself living in Dijon – then one of the undisputed world capitals of gastronomy – with little knowledge of France or food.
I went first to the rooms MFK shared with her new husband Al when they first moved to the City at 14 Rue Petit Potet and then to their first apartment, where MFK had her first kitchen, at 26 Rue Monge. She describes this apartment as so far out of the city center that friends would not travel to have an aperitif; I found it across the street from the sushi place where we went into the city to dine.
Then I went to the market. I would be cooking for the first time in Dijon. Apparently, when you live with Frenchmen there is not a culinary void to fill, but a place to claim.
I said I would make tacos; why try to cook French for the French? I wandered round and round the ancient glass market. To all all the many vergers, and poisonnier. The bucherie and boulangerie. Fromagerie and Cremerie. I compared prices and textures and colors and who else was buying from this stand and how they were different from who was buying at the other stand. It took forever and was exhausting and exhilarating and terrifying and inspiring. I wasn’t at all sure how the tacos would turn out.
The most exciting bit about tacos, of course, is not actually eating them or making them but assembling them. It’s an arts and crafts project for dinner and ultimately served as the night’s entertainment, even if all of the flavorings were not exactly as I would have hoped.
And why is any of this important? Why should I or anyone care what I ate, who I fed, and how and why? I think MFK Fisher says it best, again in The Gastronomical Me:
“People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don’t you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way others do? The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry. But there is more than that. It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. . . There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk.”
Bon Appetite and Amen!