Gypsy Grub

A fine food enthusiast travels the world, and her own backyard in search of the best eats.

Gypsy Grub Turns One

I had a passion for food when I started this blog that I thought may eventually die out. I am proud to say that after food writing my heart out, Gypsy Grub has turned one years old, and my passion is still as strong as ever! I would like to thank my readers for giving us over 1000 views, I appreciate every pair of eyes that has ever even just skimmed through the pictures… *cough* Dad *cough*

Thank you ever so much for reading, and I promise some good material soon. I am currently exploring the likes of Florence, Italy a city full of good food!

Happy Birthday to me,

And with love to you,

Gypsy Grub

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Museu de la Xocolata

 

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When I read about the Chocolate Museum of Barcelona in a book I really had no idea what to expect. A museum of chocolate could be anything really; chocolate taste testing, how to make chocolate, demonstrations of chocolate artists, chocolate taste testing or what I was really hoping for – chocolate taste testing.

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I was enchanted by the ticket to get into the expo, it was a sweet little treat to nibble on while you walked through the museum.

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The museum is a mix of wonderful chocolate art, and the history of chocolate throughout the years. Here is a representation from the adventures of Don Quixote de la Mancha which I found to be expressive, but also very playful because of the use of chocolate. It seemed to fit the story well seeing as Don Quixote himself may have enjoyed the chocolate scene.

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This was my favorite sculpture of the museum. Unlike many of the others it was truly a great piece of art, so much so that you forgot it was chocolate. You can feel what the characters are feeling in the work, and then you remember it is a piece in chocolate and it allows you to appreciate it even more.

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If you have a little extra cash, and want a break from museums that make you think too hard pop by this museum for a bit of childish amusement.

Find them online at;

http://www.museuxocolata.cat/

Or visit at;

Carrer Comerç, 36, 08003 Barcelona, Espagne

Téléphone :+34 932 68 78 78

Visiting Bakeries with the Best Reputations

I once had a dream, a wish, a goal of finding the absolute most perfect bread in all of France. If you are a loyal reader you will know that bread of all things is the only carbohydrate, only “guilty” food item in the world that to me is heaven. There is nothing better than a perfectly crafted warm loaf. After living here for almost three months I have finally realized that that task is an impossible one. Not only is it absolutely impossible to visit all the bakeries in Paris in all of your life, but there are endless different varieties du pain, et aussi one would forget how the bread tasted from the bakery you ate a week ago and could therefore not compare all of them accurately.

So after hours of research and a lot of wandering around the streets of Paris completely lost, I have compiled a list of the supposed “best” most well respected bakeries in Paris. In a sense researching in this way is completely going against my philosophies of food. From experience I know the best foods are found not in well known and rated Michelin restaurants, but in small restaurants that no one knows about, not even the locals. This idea follows the philosophy that the greatest eateries can not be talked about, but only wandered upon coincidentally.

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Never whilst living here have I ever felt in danger or even a little uncomfortable in a place. However for the first time while searching for this bakery it was necessary to wander a neighborhood I would not be in at night. Thankfully I had my companions at my side and a strong drive to find 34 Rue Yves Toudic, also known as Du Pain et des Idées.

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After waiting in a line out the door, I selected a collection of Mini Paves (recommended by Anthony Bourdain).My favorite was the olive, but the others included chunks of ham, bacon and cheese. The bread was very good, and they make a perfect “on the go” meal.

The “on the go” meal however is very un-French. Snacking, or eating in a hurried fashion is something that is frowned upon in France, and slowly I have become accustomed to only eat when I have a minimum of half an hour to enjoy the food.

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I also selected the Mouna; a sweeter bread perfumed with orange flower water. It was my favorite of the day and reminded me of the perfect cheese Danish in bread form. Orange flower is a a very popular flavor in French cuisine and fragrance at the moment.

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Du Pain et des Idees does not offer a variety of tables to enjoy your selections at, so my recommendation would be to pick lunch up here and then go have a picnic in the park or along the Seine. However if you do wish to stay close to the boulangerie there is a small table that seats about six people right outside the door.

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The bakery’s specialty bread is one qui s’appelle ‘Pain des Amis’ translated as the bread of friends. At first I found the bread to be tasteless. But as I really started to search and examine the flavor I found it to be a complex yet subtle flavor combination with hints of chestnut and barley. The exterior is very hard and almost burnt tasting, this is due to its very long and tedious (but precise!) cooking process which has been mastered after many years.

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There was a time when I questioned whether it was even possible to make a bad pain au chocolat. Now, I know that if you go to a chain boulangerie or the super market and buy one from the cheapest brand you can find such a pastry that is not worth eating. But if you walk into almost any artisan boulangerie they have to be idiots to get it wrong. Honestly its layers of butter dough wrapped around a piece of chocolate. This specific pain au chocolat avec banane has a very good reputation, and is made with Valrhona chocolate. It was a good sweet treat but I was not blown away; if something is easy to make well, I don’t give it much praise.

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Next stop the famous Poilâne. Everyone in Paris is familiar with the name and dreams of the wonders this old bakery holds. Most known for their Punitions cookies and original Poilâne sourdough adorned with a cursive ‘P’ I went in quivering with excitement.

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Each time I visit (which is every time I happen to be in the 6th arrondissement) there is a line out the door and smells waft down the street like vendors alluring the passerby’s.

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Poilâne bread has the distinct rustic flavor of a good sourdough. The bakery has been passed down the generations since it was opened in 1932 by Pierre Poilâne. Like every loved bread in France it has a thick hard crust that counters the fluffy soft interior. 

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Poilâne Bakery also offers a tour of their kitchens and history which I recommend. I had a chance to try some Punitions which have a huge following around the world. They are small sugar cookies that are barely sweet and have a hint of cinnamon. “The story goes that Pierre’s grandmother in Normandy would call the children, seemingly to punish them, but instead pull from her apron a handful of butter cookies” (from Markets of Paris by Dixon Long and Marjorie R. Williams). The tale made me rêve of a different time, and brought a cozy feeling to my mouth. When I tried a Punitions I was unfortunately unimpressed, but the memories of such tales are good enough for me.

For more information visit their websites, or go to the boulangerie’s themselves!

Du Pain et des Idees

http://dupainetdesidees.com/

34 Rue Yves Toudic, 75010 Paris

01 42 40 44 52

Poilâne

http://www.poilane.com/index.php?

8 rue du Cherche-Midi, 75006 Paris

01 45 48 42 59

Barcelona: The Land of Tapas

In America I was never enthralled with the tapas craze. Truth be told, I was never quite sure what tapas were, but I knew people I didn’t like (pretentious Orange County-ers) who talked about them as if they were a fad. Because of this I grew to dislike them, yes its wrong I judged them before I knew what power they held.

In Barcelona, I had the pleasure of encountering my first Catalonian tapas. Once the time arrived to try them, I was eager although I still was not quite sure what they were, I looked for around an hour for the tapas spot Taverna Basca Irati. One thing I liked about this eatery is that the majority of it was stand up which I think is a new and upcoming food trend in Europe at least.

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There were a variety of tapas to try from, all lined up with toothpicks stuck in them to hold them together. For payment they went with the honesty system; simply counting how many toothpicks were on your plate when you were done, and charging you for them.

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Here is a plate with my favorite tapas of the night (the one furthest from the camera). It was simple, a “tortilla” (omelet) with potatoes, and a lovely sauce on top! The other was also a favorite; a fish cake hugged by a thin layer of zucchini.

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There was a lot of variety with the tapas; beautiful presentations and lots of color. Another one of my favorites was the fish with a tangy yellow sauce drizzle, it was visually appealing and oh so delicious.

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There were two dessert tapas I had the pleasure of tasting. This was a custard tapas with blackberry glaze. The custard was one of the best I have had, and it was piled high on the crust of bread. The blackberry glaze was perfectly tart like eating a fresh blackberry. It was garnished with some spicy ginger crumble.

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The other dessert tapas was the most surprising thing I have ever eaten. I have eaten many strange things, but this one took me completely by surprise. It repulsed and then delighted me. It looked like a tapas topped with praline crème, but when I smelled it, it smelled fishy so my brain and senses told me it was a savory tapas. After I put it in my mouth I knew immediately I was wrong, it was wrong, the world was upside down… but oddly not. The more the fish-dessert was in my mouth the more I liked, it even enjoyed it. I understand a person cannot believe such a dessert could ever be enjoyable, but that’s

even more reason to visit Taverna Basca Irati and see for yourself.

Visit them (if you dare) at

Carrer Cardenal Casañas, 17 08002 Barcelona, Espagne
+34 902 52 05 22

or online at

http://www.iratitavernabasca.com/fr/

Famous Macarons and Mexican Food…finally

Think back to a time when you were young and spry and craved independence. It was the prime of your life, and you knew your future was bright. Then, you cut all your ties at home and threw yourself into this hungry world of ours, certain that the power of the earth would catch you. But, then after you jumped into the hopeful abyss you realized you really missed the comforts of stability.

This, my readers is the story of my current life. I have now recovered from the shock of living in a foreign country surrounded by foreign people, and have established myself in my own community. Then, my parents decided it would be a fun time for a visit and a bit of traveling. This was a great idea, but to be honest it rocked the individuality boat a bit. When remnants of your old comfortable life comes into your new independent life a person can easily get confused.

Nevertheless it was a wonderful time to see the ones who have made me who I am, and a good reminder of where I have come from. We traveled together and were able to reminisce on all the times of the past good and bad, and talk about the future as bright as it now seems.

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First stop when your showing a newbie around Paris… the Eiffel Tower. Mind you, this was not my idea and sorry to say I believe the Eiffel Tower to be something worth skipping, and a waste of time compared to all the other wonders of Paris. However no one agreed with me, and so the first stop was to the Eiffel Tower to stare at it… and nothing more.

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The Champs-Elysees is also a staple of Paris high living. I insisted on a stop in the world renown Laduree for a first time taste of their famous macarons.

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Here is the selection I picked, they have staple flavors, and then seasonal flavors that come and go. From top left we have; Orange Blossom, Marie Antoinette, Rose Petal, Lemon, Vanilla, Caramel Salted with Butter, Pure Brazilian Chocolate, and Licorice.

For the price that was paid for the pretty little pack I expected all of them to be sensational. They were all good, but not all of them were necessarily worth the price. There were a select few I know were perfect and could never be duplicated by another society.

The Orange Blossom was my favorite and left a flavor in my mouth I had never experienced before, Usually I find that I hate floral flavors because they leave a sick perfume-like flavor in your mouth. But Orange Blossom was perfect and beautiful like a sweet dream. Marie Antoinette was actually revolting and whoever invented it must have absolutely burned off their taste buds. Rose Petal was also quite good. The lemon was nothing especially worth eating, as well as the vanilla or caramel although the clerk told me Caramel with Salted Butter was their most popular flavor. The Brazilian chocolate had a nice cocoa bite and was not too sweet.

I am a huge black licorice fan, and was therefore expecting a macaron that would blow my head back with anis shock. What I got was far from that, a very subtle licorice hint, but I found it to be refreshing. I also bought a Canele in order to compare it to the one I got at the Christmas Market. I found that Laudree’s Canele had more layers of dark flakiness which was nice, however the Christmas Market one was warm and therefore unbeatable.

If I ever returned to Laudree the flavor I would get again would be the Orange Blossom, all the others are good, but nothing to rave about.

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I pity all people that do not have Mexican fathers or mothers. I didn’t even truly appreciate my Mexican father until I moved to France. Here I am surrounded by superb French food, all sorts of creamy sauces perfectly roasted meats, and blissful breads but there is something about Mexican food that fills your life in a way nothing else can. And I honestly don’t believe its just a sentimental feeling I have got because it reminds me of childhood. The flavor spectrum of Mexican food (minus chocolate mole) is absolutely perfect – when done right. And I can honestly say my father has no flaws in that category. Yes, when you ask him what a good NON MEXICAN flavor combination for a dish is he does say “pasta with edamame” and cannot tell a fifty cent chocolate from a high caliber Swiss one, but he is the king of all traditional Mexican food.

After months of creamy monotone French cuisine I wanted something in my mouth that would make me sweat, and would burn my throat till it melted away in fear. And so Daddy, with Mother’s help, got in the kitchen and made me and some of my French people some of his Mexican cuisine. Because of the abundance of French at the dinner table, and their inability to handle even the heat of garlic the meal was not as spicy as I had hoped it to be. It was wonderful nevertheless.

The Last 2 Weeks

These last two weeks have been full of traveling and eating regional specialties, new and daring experiences, and tighter pants. I flew to Barcelona, then drove from the very “sud” of France through the center of foie gras country through the Loire Valley and all the way back up to Paris. I am full of stories and beautiful food. Currently my thoughts on the whole adventure are marinating just how every good thing should. I will share them with you very soon, prepare yourself for a feast.

Amorino

Yes we have all heard of “hot chocolate so thick and rich it is like a melted chocolate bar”. I have heard hot chocolate described in this delicious way many times, and yet it always disappoints. Hot chocolate can be thick and creamy and lovely, but if it can easily strain through a sieve, it is not literally as if it were a melted chocolate bar.

Because of this loosely used description, my hopes for Amorino weren’t too high. I had been recommended by a fellow American in Paris who was generally over enthusiastic about everything. Then one blustery snowy night I found myself completely lost in the Latin Quarter with my hands feeling as if they would soon crack off my arms all together and fall icy onto the snow beneath me (despite the fact I had two sets of gloves on). If you have had the pleasure of visiting the Latin Quarter you will know that at night there are not many stores you can simply “duck into” to catch your breath or quickly warm yourself. As I passed countless numbers of Kebab stands and Italian restaurants I began to wonder if my life had took a turn for the worst, and if I was now living the tale of the Little Matchbox Girl. Although I was without matches and all of my grandparents are still alive, I began to slip into a daze that is only brought on by an absence of feeling in your whole body despite how many warm layers you possess. And so I was in this state when all of a sudden I was awakened by the sight of a warmly lit cafe in which smiling faces were accompanied by a thick chocolate mustache.

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Next thing I knew I was at the register ordering in perfect French, and sitting down with a large cup of something warm. I knew as soon as my lips hit the chocolate that I was alive. The hot chocolate, as thick in fact as a melted chocolate bar coated my mouth and lips with a sensation that can only be brought on by the most sinful of God’s creations. I had chosen the dark chocolate, which was perfect for my taste and just a tiny bit sweet. The milk chocolate is a bit sweeter and less dense in its cocoa flavor. They also have some other flavors like hazelnut and nutella. After possessing a mustache in the likes of Emiliano Zapata I decided to attack the bliss with another tactic – the spoon. It was the slow dripping off the edge of the spoon that reminded me that this beverage (though indeed just hot chocolate) had comforted me and wrapped itself around me, maternal in nature as all good sustenance can.

 

Visit any of Amorino’s locations in Paris at;

47 Rue Saint-Louis en l’Île
Paris
01 44 07 48 08

17 Rue Daguerre
Paris
01 43 20 15 78

6 Rue Guisarde
Paris
01 43 54 11 80

To find other locations in different countries, and explore their products you can visit,

http://www.amorino.com/en/our-products/hot-drinks

An Organic Crepe to Remember

In California there are blue skies and agreeable weather gracing the populace most of the time. I did not know how much I would yearn for those perks when I moved to France. That’s what made today perfect – the first sunny day in France since I arrived. Because of this I can say that there is nothing better than wandering the streets of Paris, totally lost and in complete bliss.

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I had the pleasure of meeting up with fellow food blogger Stacey at a tiny family run cafe near the Latin Quarter called Little Breizh. They specialize in crepes, and are well known as the  place to get good crepes and friendly service. They also use as many locally sourced Bio (organic) ingredients as possible.Paris with Stacey 022

I cautiously must admit that my palate has grown a bit tired of the “French food” flavor profile so I picked the most unusual and complex thing on the menu the “Say Cheese”. Most savory crepes are plain buckwheat, but this crepe was a pleasant surprise. The organic flour used is milled specially by the owners – brother and sister Pierre and Claire Goasdoue. It had complex nutty undertones and bits of seeds in the batter which were perfectly unique. The inside was filled with goat cheese and apples, and it was topped artfully with drizzled honey and  chestnut powder.Paris with Stacey 023

I was very pleased with this crepe, and would love to return to Little Breizh for another wonderful experience, and perhaps next time a complex dessert crepe.

 

Visit Stacey’s blog at http://staceylaparisienne.wordpress.com/

 

You can visit Little Breizh at;

11 Rue Grégoire de Tours 75006 Paris
01 43 54 60 74

Or visit their website (in french)

http://www.littlebreizh.fr/

Eating in a French Home

Part 2

Living with a French family is as good as it gets. Yes, exploring France as a tourist exposes you to the ways of the French, but being a part of the complex entanglements of a family lets you experience not only the personal, but the inside scoop on all things French.

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The eating habits of the French have baffled me more than I expected. I was most shocked by their lack of nutritional knowledge and their poor eating habits. Regularly  I am a nuts and berries – juice cleanse type of person. I was brought up on nori, brewers yeast and prunes and therefore was unaccustomed to the traditional assumption that Americans eat Wonder Bread, burgers, and Twinkies. The fridge and pantry of the average American and average French family looks fairly similar. I will go into more detail – on the various courses of food the French consume as opposed to the one course meal American families tend to eat – another time.

Also, contrary to many books I read before coming to France, not all French women know how to cook well. They are just like everyone else, and use recipes as references (then add cups of Crème Fraiche). Yes, Crème Fraiche is a constant food staple in the French diet along with the baguette. I have found that most cultures have certain flavors that define their preference, and don’t steer away  from those familiar tastes.

So lets talk fire. I have been cooking rather regularly for this French family in order to give thanks to them for allowing me to experience their way of life for a while. Since this change of events, they seem to have been inspired by me, and have began cooking often themselves (and then waiting for my approval). They seem to be enchanted by the suspense (the time between when I am served a dish, and when I have consumed it) and like to hear what I think. Of course I do not critique as if I were at a restaurant because truly, who wants to spoil relationships over food.

I was fortunate enough to be present this night when a recipe was conjured up from imagination and put into practice with a show included. Here we have flamed duck (with cognac) and black pepper sauce.

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Shamefully I must admit, I had never had duck before. I had heard and read many things about the infamous meat, and was unsure who I trusted to cook it for me. Because ducks are birds of the water, they have a thick layer of fat between their skin and meat in order to keep their heat insulated. This layer fat is well known and often disputed about in the culinary world. Most chefs see it as a beautiful thing, but often times customers are more unwilling to consume it.

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In the French household there is always and I mean always a baguette on the table. If for some bizarre reason there was a freak accident and a baguette shortage I do believe that every French native would give up on life, and refuse to eat until the baguette returned. If there was not enough time to head to the boulangerie in the morning, they do so in the evening, if the boulangerie is closed, they walk to a distant one all to get a long crusty piece of bread. Ok, I am not giving the “long crusty piece of bread enough credit here.” Yes, I admit a good baguette is a simple delight in life. But contrary to popular (foreigner) belief, a good baguette is hard to find, and most bakeries use pre-made dough which makes for a bland and dry baguette. Thankfully the baguette next to my home is the best I have had and makes their dough from scratch each morning.

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An average French dinner looks like this. There is always a vegetable (of sorts) on the table, usually as an entree (appetizer) and always a baguette. The most frequent vegetable served is lettuce in a salad. Their salads are far more simple than any ones I have tried throughout my life, and are only lettuce and vinaigrette. Once I asked if I could add anything else to the salad and they seemed to be very confused, so I dropped the subject. Endives also play a big role in France, they are cut up and made into their own salad, never mixed in with lettuce and also only accompanied with vinaigrette. More often than not there is a small variety of wines to choose from depending on what you are trying to pair it with. Then for the main, there is usually a starch or meat, and sometimes both.

 

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As I have been told many many times by French men; the wine is the most important part of the meal. Next, comes the baguette and then everything else. The duck sauce was finished with spoonful after spoonful of crème fraiche which made me cringe after seeing such a huge amount of fat on the meat. There were also mashed potatoes which they call “potato puree” and two other pureed vegetables. I have found that they are very keen on pureed carrot, and pureed spinach which personally I find less visually appealing than looking at a bathroom floor. Nevertheless the meal turned out to be marvelous and the duck was especially perfect. It was cooked just right, flavored well and creamy enough to make me crave it for the next year.

First Times

Part 1

En France I knew I would have a lot of first experiences, and this entry only covers the first of the first. Of course some important firsts are not noted here because a camera was not accessible, or it would have been impolite to take a photograph . I respect the ways of the French, and whole heartedly am attempting to become one.

On my first visit into the city of Paris I was lucky enough to see the Christmas market on the Champs- Elysees. Beautiful twinkle lights glow in the dark around the market, and warm aromatic booths line the streets and promise to comfort you in the chilly weather. It was at one of these booths I tried my first ever Canelle which both delighted and confused me. The outside was firm and caramelized like the texture of the outside of a doughnut. The inside was the texture of a doughy flan, and together it made the perfect sweet bite. The Canelle is a specialty of Bordeaux and is made from five simple ingredients; vanilla, sugar, milk, egg, and rum flavored flour. It is a complex pastry to make, but can be found in many bakeries throughout Paris. The Canelle (or Cannele) can be eaten as a sweet treat alone, but is traditionally eaten with a drink; cocktails or syrupy wines. Usually in France a food item is pared with a special wine so the two can play off of each other’s complex flavors. However, this is not so with the Canelle, the flavor and type of drink does not matter seeing as it goes with both tea and red wine equally as well.

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A week after the first visit, I had the opportunity to venture into Paris once again where I had the first French crepe of my current stay. It was at a small cafe, and I was looking only for a meal to satisfy my belly’s moans, and not to satisfy my gourmand cravings. It was a savory buckwheat crepe with cheese, mushrooms and an egg inside. I did not find it to be at the high French-food standard, but nonetheless it filled me.

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One of the best charms of France are the street side markets. There is something in the air that makes them feel different from the farmers markets at home. The produce at this time is not at its best because of the weather, but the appeal is still all there. French produce promises a world of color and elegance that while false in its taste, is ever present in the culture.

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In order to immerse yourself in the culture of France it is vital to visit a boulangerie frequently. Yes, this comes with the common question “how do the French eat so much bread and stay so trim?” but that question is very complex and will be addressed in depth in another segment. Believe the cosmos when I tell you it is essential to eat frequently at the bakery not only because they are delicious and freshly made, but also because they are an inexpensive way to eat a filling breakfast. I recently was told it is not considered acceptable to buy a pastry at a bakery and then bring it into a cafe to eat it unless you are the only one in the cafe.

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