May 12, 2023
Dear Frenchly Readers,
Paris is a world city. And a French city. It has some of the most interesting and amazing things to eat and see and experience from French history and culture, both then and now, but also some of the most nuanced and interesting ways to experience other cultures that have adopted or fused with French or Parisian culture. Take, for instance, food: in the last twenty years Paris has experienced a boom in fusion restaurants. Back in 1994, the New York Times began reporting on the trend and how it was an uncomfortable transition for the French. A few years ago Cat Rickman wrote a piece for Frenchly about who gets to decide what is French food anyway? All food, after all, is some kind of fusion. (One unintended result in Paris is many fewer traditional cafés and brasseries). Since 1994, things have progressed: Michelin now has an entire page in their guide devoted to fusion restaurants which have made the mark all over France. Fusion is the new French.
So, when my husband and I decided to take our two sons to Paris last month, we couldn’t resist another restaurant on the New York Times’ list of “The 25 Essential Dishes to Eat in Paris,” published earlier this year: Le Négus. This Ethiopian-by-way-of-Paris restaurant is located in the 11th arrondissement, a five-minute walk from Place de la Bastille. The dish we wanted to have was the shiro wat, a traditional chickpea molten lava dip/stew thing that is served in a small clay pot. And even though it is so hot it burns your tongue, reader, I will tell you that you will not wait, you will indeed burn your tongue. It is that good. The shiro powder for this particular dish, at this particular restaurant, has 90 spices in it, according to the owner, Sisay Mehabie, and the mix for the shiro is collected every several weeks at Charles de Gaulle airport, where it arrives in a suitcase sent by his mother-in-law. In the kitchen, his wife, Sitina, then transforms the ground and sun-dried chickpea, chili, turmeric, and God-knows-what-else mixture into a large-tasting feast in a tiny pot. Her only tools for alchemy, apparently, are clarified butter and water. The magic, though, is a secret. And it should be.
Get back to the fusion, you say. Ok, so we couldn’t eat the injera flat bread, as it was made with wheat, and we are all gluten-free in our family. But we had just come from the Chambelland Bakery, not far away. Boulangerie Chambelland is a gluten-free bakery that serves (speaking of chickpeas), a hummus and pickled onion sandwich on focaccia that is one of the best things I’ve ever tasted in my life. At Le Nègus that night, we had a bag of their gluten-free focaccia with us. Sisay suggested we pull it out and eat our meal with it. First, he brought us three dishes of a fermented lentil and green onion dip, which we enjoyed with an herbed focaccia, Bordeaux wine, and a tea made with a spice mix he dared us to decipher (we could not). Sisay actually came and joined us, eating the same bread as we did, enjoying it and talking about how to incorporate Chambelland’s focaccia, which he loved, into his menu.
We followed the lentils with the mind-blowing and magical shiro and then a tasting platter of many Ethiopian flavors, some vegetarian, and some with chicken or beef. And despite the fact that we were beyond full at that point, we ordered one more pot of shiro wat. And ate it once again like we were starving, burning our tongues, my kids’ faces rosy with heat and spices and new-found French Ethiopian loves.
À cuisiner, regarder et lire çe weekend:
Mother’s Day is this weekend in the U.S. In my house, I stay in bed on Mother’s Day with my coffee and read, which is a luxury. Then I like to get out to the garden. Despite how unmotherly this is of me, I don’t love to garden with my children. I mean, I like their help getting me water buckets and picking up my weed piles; I love the idea of children patting their little hands around seeds and whispering sweet nothings to help the plants grow. I love the entire Secret Garden vibe of the enterprise. But I don’t like to talk to them. Gardening, like writing, is something I need to feel out in silence, with my hands and brain. I can’t do it and chat or listen to music. I need to be centered as I pull up weeds (or just whatever I planted last year which, this year, I’ve forgotten about and now looks like a weed to me). This is mostly because I’m not that confident with gardening. I say lots of “I don’t knows” to my sons. And, “Let’s try its.” And then we do. Quietly. Or, actually, I am quiet, and they talk a lot. But we are together, hoping for the best.
Also, I don’t cook on Mother’s Day. Someone, anyone else, can do that. This year I asked the indomitable Kate Christensen to create a Mother’s Day menu for me. She made it first, as a test, for her mother-in-law, Kat. I love leeks vinaigrette and I love Kate’s socca recipe, which I make regularly. And I love the two together. So I am very excited about this menu, which has a yogurt cake for dessert. There is something about the smoky socca she infuses with cumin and fresh bites of leeks vinaigrette—with a rosé–that, to me, is the taste of a good Mother’s Day. (A tid-bit: In France they call leeks vinaigrette asperge du pauvre, or poor person’s asparagus.)
In France, there will be no Mother’s Day this weekend, as they celebrate theirs on June 4th this year (often it’s the last Sunday of May, or first of June). La fête des mères in France is not as much about mothers getting peace in the garden as it is a family holiday, with a long Sunday lunch, and small gifts for mothers and grandmothers. Believe it or not, it was Napoleon Bonaparte’s idea back in the 1800s to celebrate mothers as a way of encouraging motherhood in a country with low birth rates and a declining population. Then, after World War I, France decided it needed to honor the mothers who had kept house, home, and family together as their husbands were away fighting. In 1920, the French Government made it official, even bestowing medals to mothers who had raised many children alone during war time.
Though I might not get any medals this weekend, I would like a little bit of time to binge-watch Drops of God, which Cat Rickman reviewed last week for us. She was right: It is fabulous. I won’t complain if someone makes me Kate’s yogurt cake to eat as I watch (hint hint).
But don’t just read me this weekend: We’ve got the OFFICIAL best baguettes in Paris; we’ve got a funky, amazing Paris apartment to ogle in the NY Times; and we have an Interseasonal Blueberry Cobbler, an easy dessert landed upon by the author after outdoing herself trying to make a croquembouche. (Yes, you will figure out what that is in the piece, if you don’t already know.)
I hope you all have wonderful weekends with or without children and find a moment to celebrate good food, mother figures who mail suitcases of 90-spice chickpea mixtures across continents, spring weeds, and great baguette. See you next week.
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Caitlin Shetterly is the Editor-in-Chief of Frenchly. She is also the author of 4 books: Fault Lines, Made for You and Me, Modified and the upcoming novel, Pete and Alice in Maine, which will be published on July 4th, 2023 by Harper Books. She is a native daughter and she lives with her two sons and husband in an old house on the coast of Maine.