Produit du Monde 16/11/2009Posted by brendan in La Vie en Paris.
Tags: france, imports, japanese, miso, paris, produce
Produce is bought at either Les Halles de Montmartre or a smaller store on Rue du Mont Cenis, the latter winning my favor by being owned by a very nice Chinese couple. There’s nothing particularly exotic to be found unless you’re thrilled by an assortment of dried mushrooms, but the assortment of imports is cause for pause.
It had never occurred to me that I would find Sunkist oranges and grapefruits or Pink Lady apples from Chile so widely available throughout Paris. However the bananas are from Guadeloupe, Martinique, and occasionally Ghana. The clementines are grown in Spain and the Thai rice in Mali. The variety seems the same but there’s a subtle sense of displacement seeing the origins of produce differ from San Francisco.
Certain staples I take for granted have suddenly become prized commodities. A small quantity of walnuts will set you back €10-€15, cashews and pecans €6 or €7. I’ve managed to find reasonably priced packets of peanuts at the local Monoprix, although they often originate from Argentina– I would have expected shipments from Africa. I had no idea that Argentina was a peanut producer, nor did I ever expect to see them fulfill an entire city’s supply of popcorn.
Celery is expensive, due in no small part to the habit of including the inedible roughage crowning each bulb, but bok choy is cheap; this encouraged me to peer around corners and atop shelves for miso paste. When I discovered my Chinese grocers stocked various sesame and chili oils, instant noodles, and even imported drinks, I found nothing but disappointment. They asked if I was looking for something in particular and I explained my quest. Shaking their heads they told me that miso is such a specialty item only restaurant importers would carry it.
Only now have I realized what an impact living along the Pacific Rim has had on my cooking. Miso paste isn’t just a staple of the few soups I make but also every stir-fry sauce. There’s a small international section in Monoprix that carries a couple Kikkoman sauces but they’re crap. The local biologique market Naturalia has umeboshi and even miso bouillon, but not the real deal.
Half-lost one evening I turned a corner and did a double-take. A Japanese store, their modernist window displays filled with recognizable products, only blocks from my house. Despite having no money on me I walked inside and interrupted the proprietors’ television viewing. Upon questioning I explained I was searching for miso and a woman helpfully showed me various sacks of dehydrated soup. Oh no, I want paste. Paste?!? In Paris, you want miso paste? You’ll never find miso paste here.