Tuesday, December 21, 2010

French cuisine (chapter one)

As you know I'm in France. I like the various similarities and uncertainties that go with being on unfamiliar terrain. Without wanting to get too Pulp Fiction about it, it really is the little differences that get you. One of the things I've been hankering after for a while was a chance to sample the French version of our English national dish - the kebab. I finally got my chance and was not disappointed.

The shop itself was bathed in frenetic disco lights and pop music even though it was still early afternoon. It was also packed with French/Turkish people, which would be unusual in England. The menus were in both French and pigeon English, confirming my opinion that the English abroad are creatures of habit, and I'm one of their kind - although I'm pretty certain they didn't really sell 'frozen bread' at 25 cents.

So, to select a kebab. Almost every alternative came with the option of additional cheese. That threw me a bit, but it turned out I needn't have worried as this was a huge slab of fried cheese that was to be slapped straight on top of whatever you'd ordered. A vital component of your daily salt and fat requirements no doubt.

I also saw with interest that a chips in pitta, or chip butty to you and me, was simply called a 'Belgian'. Combined with their delightful buns this must make Belgium a nation of admirably simple tastes.

The menu all seemed very familiar, despite a little light renaming going on, and I plumped for a 'kefte' - large spicy balls of lamb. After some haggling I managed to negotiate garlic sauce, which is apparently known as blanc.

The first thing of note was that the salad was tucked into the bottom of the bread with meat on-top. So while UK kebabs are designed so they can be mainly eaten out of the pitta their French counterparts are designed to be less messy eaten sandwich-style out of a fluffier, more delicate pitta.

My companion had the civilised version, ie vegetarian and with a plate, while I had paper, tray and very moist, tasty spiced meat. It was interesting to see that the salad came with a very French style dressing, even with its blob of blanc on the side.

Despite being denied the pleasure of picking apart the kebab with my bare hands I have to say my kefte was absolutely delicious and extremely filling. I could have done without the disco lighting but the kebabistas were fun and the whole experience well worth while. If you're ever near Dijon station make sure you stop by for, at the very least, a Belgian.


Sarah Cope said...

Now, I've never had a kebab, and maybe you, as a connoisseur, could clear up some confusion. That meat on the vertical spit - is it an elephant's leg or an elephant's trunk?

I would be ever so grateful if you could clarify this, as whenever I have gone into one of these establishments and asked that question, I have usually been chased out by a man brandishing a sharp kitchen implement.

P.S. I am not sure that you future is in food photography.

Jim Jepps said...

Sadly I only had my camera phone with me.

The happy news is that in fact it's both trunk *and* leg - plus all the other parts of assorted animals that come to hand.

One of the joys of kebab eating is that you're never quite sure what or who has contributed the meat.

Sarah Cope said...

Wow, that sounds so bloody appetising, it's all that I can to stop myself tearing down to Archway and buying a kebab right now. You know that the UK's best kebab can be purchased in Archway, don't you? It says so on the shop sign, and of course Trading Standards would be down on them like a ton of bricks if it wasn't true.

Sarah Cope said...

Actually, I think you need to read this:


weggis said...

As it just so happens I was, in my early life, a Shopman/Cutter in a Butchers in Archway where the very same Kebab House now trades.

I can tell you that the "meat" on the vertical spit does not resemble any joint/cut I am familiar with....

Needless to say I have never eaten a kebab...