The King and the Frog

I've been living in Paris for over two months now, and with only four weeks left to go in France, I figured I should update. Some of my many adventurous endeavors in France have involved food. Up until a few years ago, I used to be quite picky when it came to my meals. But now I'm open to trying more things. In Finland this past April, I gave reindeer heart a chance.

And two weeks ago, I caved and ordered...frog legs.

It all happened when my lovely friend and colleague from Columbia J-School, Yvonne, passed through Paris on her European vacation. As she had never been to Paris (let alone France) before, I wanted to take her to some of my favorite spots and show her some of the best of French cuisine. This ranged from savory and sweet crêpes near Saint-Germain-des-Prés to Moroccan food in the Latin Quarter to fine hot chocolate at Angelina on Rue du Rivoli, which once attracted the likes of Coco Chanel and Audrey Hepburn.

Yvonne mentioned that she had never tried fondue before. Obviously, this is a Swiss national dish rather than French. But considering how close Paris is in proximity to Switzerland and how many Swiss nationals there are in France, delicious fondue is easy to come by around these parts.

At a small Swiss restaurant in the 6th arrondissement, we found well-priced prix fixe menu that included an appetizer, main dish and dessert. While my eyes (and my stomach) were immediately drawn to the onion soup first (it was a bit of a rainy day), I noticed something else: les cuisses de grenouille. Translation: Frog legs. I don't actually see this on menus as often as one might expect. Escargots (snails) are far more common on a typical French fare menu.

I've tried many new things in France, some dishes that I've liked and some not so much. Rabbit is actually quite tender, and I've really grown to love mussels with fries. (This coming from someone who hates seafood.) Paté reminds me of what the inside of a hot dog tastes like, and while I can't stand how it is made, foie gras isn't terrible. (But, seriously? How does someone come up with an idea of making a "delicacy" like that?)

Thinking I might not have many more opportunities to give this one a chance (and that I needed a witness to prove I did this), I proudly told the waiter that I would try the frog legs. When they arrived, the legs were much smaller than I imagined, and there was hardly any meat on the bone. The meat itself tasted a bit like chicken. Unfortunately, it was smothered in a less-than-appetizing cream sauce, which was actually the worst part of the taste. I would have preferred it dry. While the experience wasn't horrible and didn't send me running to the bathroom, the frog legs might have been the worst thing I've ever eaten - or at least second to the time that my brother tricked me into eating eel at a Japanese restaurant in San Francisco.

Above two photo credits belong to Yvonne (pictured below with me at Place Vendôme). Merci beaucoup!

Lille’s Top 12

As this is my second to last night in Nord-Pas de Calais, I'm sharing a bit about my favorite places that I've visited in Lille in the last few months. They're not in any particular order, and I've probably forgotten quite a bit. But here's my top 12, at least according to Four Square (so please pardon the informal punctuation and formatting. I've included photos where I've remembered to take them.

1. @ Hotel Le Moulin d'Or: Favorite hotel in Lille. Very affordable for singles/doubles with bath. In Centre-Ville and right next to the train stations (which is actually a safe area). Also includes free Wi-Fi and cable TV!

2. @ L'Empire: Cheap lunch menu and nice outdoor seating during the summer months. They also have a sign that says "Here We Speak English."

3. @ Gare Lille Europe: Eurostar/TGV station...basically the connection to the rest of Europe. Do not confuse this with Gare Lille Flandres.

4. @ La Piscine, Roubaix: One of my five fave museums in the world. The art-deco building itself is prob even more stunning than the collections. Formerly a bath house in the 1930s, now a modern art museum.

5. @ Palais des Beaux Arts de Lille: Beautiful on the outside, and the interior itself is nice as well. The collection isn't bad, but a bit on the gory side. See if you can go on a free admission day.

6. Palais de la Bière: Excellent Welsh Complet and Carbonnade Flamande (both Ch'ti favorites). Service is a bit slow, but ambiance is nice. Plus they serve food ALL DAY, which is rare in Lille.

7. @ Aux Moules: Best restaurant to bring visitors. They also have a large variety of mussels. (See the name...)

8. @ O'Scotland/L'Irlandais: Two of the most lively bars on Rue Solferino. Just don't get on the bouncer's bad side...

9. @ Le Furet du Nord: Best major bookstore in Lille. Huge selection of BDs, cookbooks, paper products and much larger English-language section than FNAC.

10. @ McDonalds Grand Place: Free Wi-Fi and plenty of electrical sockets. Enough said.

11. @ Kokoa: The milkshakes are amazing. There are over two dozen flavors that can be served as either ice cream or milkshakes. Plenty of other yummy desserts at this modern ice cream parlor as well.

12. @ La Citadelle: Beautiful parks and lovely settings for a picnic or kicking around a football on Sundays.

Vending Machine Food

I found this at Nakau, a tiny restaurant/diner near my hotel, on my first night in Tokyo. I ordered it through a vending machine with pictures of menu options on buttons, handed the receipt to the waiter, and it was prepared for me within minutes. It was one of the most delicious dishes I've ever eaten, but I have no idea what it's called because the menu was all in Japanese! It's basically strips of beef on top of rice with some really, really good secret sauce. Does anyone know what it is so I can order it again in America? Everyday? For the rest of my life... japanese-vending-machine-food

Front of the World

Tokyo in one word: Incredible. After arriving to Tokyo Narita Airport, we had to sit around for about an hour and a half until the next shuttle arrived, but honestly it did us some good as I think both my mom and I just needed time to sit down and decompress from all the flying and driving we've been doing. Thanks to the recommendation of my friend and former fellow intern, Anne, I booked a room at the Grand Palace Hotel, which turned out to be much better and fancier than I expected. Plus, they're all decorated for Christmas, even though as I understand it that X-Mas isn't really a big holiday here. But it looks like the target demographic here is made up of business travelers, so it probably caters to them well. 

My mom, however, wasn't entirely happy with the room since there was no air-conditioning. Since it's already autumn here and beginning to get cold (which I am so thankful for since I'm SO over hot temperatures for this year), the hotel doesn't have air conditioning available anymore in order to conserve energy. I understand this, but my mom kept pushing me to call the front desk about it. "I'm hormonally-challenged," she said, which I just began to laugh, literally rolling around on the floor at. So she called. While on the phone with the front desk, I could hear the Japanese attendant telling her that there was no air-conditioning when it is below 20 degrees Celsius (68 F), to which she just kept responding, "Why?" (which I also laughed at). Finally, someone brought up a fan, which calmed the room down.

Naturally, I was quite hungry after unpacking, so we decided to head out of the hotel in search for some ramen (and Japanese candy!). One of the Concierge desk attendants gave me a map of restaurants in the area, specifiying two ramen houses. One of them, she said, was more famous but she told me not to go there as it is "kinda smelly in a bad way." So we walked towards the other one. However, every restaurant we walked by smelled delicious. They also all had pictures of menu selections in the windows. Finally, I couldn't keep passing this up, and I saw a delectable-looking beef and rice bowl (I'm not sure what it was called since it was in Japanese...) along with ramen in a window, so we went in. The restaurant was immaculately clean, and it was very small, with a bar of 5 or 6 seats on one side near the entrance and two or three bar seats around the corner, and then two tables of two on the left side next to the windows. A machine with pictures of all the menu options on buttons, like a vending machine, was near the door. My mom and I stared at it a little, not sure what to do, and then we looked to the waiter for help. He stared back at us for a minute too, as if no one in the room knew how to speak ANY language at all. Then he came over and helped us order. It was definitely the most delicious meal I've had on this trip...and probably the best Japanese food I've had ever. And it cost us a total of about $5 USD. I have to go back before I leave.

Afterwards, we walked around the neighborhood to see what else was nearby. We stopped in a drugstore, where I bought a ton of Japanese chocolate and strawberry candies. I also stopped at one of the many vending machines along the sidewalks to try out how one works and also to get the cutest can of Fanta grape soda ever.

japanese-candy

As we were walking, my mom didn't stop commenting on how nicely everyone was dressed and how clean the city is. She has been to Tokyo many, many times, but it seems that Tokyo doesn't stop impressing people. As my Time Out: Tokyo guidebook says, there aren't many trash cans throughout the city, but most citizens bring their rubbish home. Incredible.

Now, as it is past dawn in the place where the sun rises first in the world each day, I'm going out to explore.