I will admit, I bought this book after a friend recommended it solely based off the title. I had a vague idea of what it was about, a woman eating dishes known for their French roots, I like food and I dream of international travel so I was sold. But what I was not prepared for was her honest look at being married to someone in public service, and the emotional hurdles that come with it. Some might find it similar to that of a military spouse… Hm… It may or may not have struck a nerve.
The author, Ann Mah, is married to a diplomat, who gets the dream station assignment of Paris. It was a life they had wanted, Paris together for a few years to explore and find their neighborhood spots to eat and drink and be merry. Unfortunately, soon after the move her husband was sent to Baghdad where he was needed (the book takes place during the early 2000s to give refernce). This left Ann alone in Paris for a whole year by herself, with her shaky French and few acquaintances. With a background in writing, a love of food and some encouragement to follow her curiosity, Ann delved into the history of classic French dishes.
She explored the origins of Steak Frites in Paris, Andouillete in Troyes, Crepes in Brittany, Salade Lyonnaise in Lyon (duh), Soup au Pistou in Provence, Cassoulet in Toulouse/Castelnaudaey/Carcassone, Choucroute in Alsace, Fondue in Savoie/Haute-Savoie, Boeuf Bourguignon in Burgundy, and Aligot in Aveyron. Before I read this book, I had heard of and/or was vaguely familiar with 5 of the above dishes, French cuisine is somewhat uncharted territory for someone who hails from the land of Tex-Mex. In each region, Mah speaks to local experts on the dish about where it came from, who ate it, why these ingredients to give a well rounded story of the region and the food, before trying them all herself.
While I enjoyed learning about the French food and history of the regions, it was really Mah’s honesty about her emotional experiences during this time of separation and exploration that made me enjoy the book the most. While spending a year in Paris traveling to the different regions to eat may sound like a dream come true, I thought Mah’s expression of her nervousness for traveling alone, self-consciousness about her speaking ability, and struggle to enjoy balanced with the worry over a spouse in a conflict zone made it an honest account. It did not read as a privileged person bragging about their travels and name-dropping. Instead we find Mah in humble settings with locals. Much more relatable. I haven’t read that much about Julia Child (shame on me) but Mah referenced her often, and