A new hobby that the 20-year-old me used to think I had a permanent aversion to is cooking. Despite coming from a family very much involved in food, it wasn't until moving to France that I have taken an interest in the kitchen. In my 20s, cooking meant adding chopped onion to my scrabbled eggs or using my oven to heat up leftover Sunday pasta dinner.
Wanting an element of my upbringing here in Paris as well as a relaxing break from my weekly routine, I have been hosting Sunday pasta with meatballs for Aurélien and most recently my French in-laws. Referring to the collection of my great-grandmother's recipes that was recently passed down to me, our apartment on the weekends is now rich with the aroma of her slow-cooked homemade tomato sauce. My version of her recipes still need a little work but every week I'm progressing, learning new ways to improve, and have even been experimenting with modern ingredients like using gluten-free pasta.
Saturday mornings now consist of a heavy shopping trip to pick up the necessities for Sunday feast. Last weekend, I left the house on a gorgeous sunny Saturday with my list of groceries. On the list I had: oeufs, lait, pâtes, tomates, persil, breadcrumbs, ail. Wait, back up. Breadcrumbs? I stood on the sidewalk, stared down at my list, and realized that I in fact did not know how to say breadcrumbs in French. Until recently, why would I?
I knew that crumbs is miettes and bread is pain, so miettes de pain would make sense, right? Just to be sure, I pulled out my phone and looked it up on my handy Word Reference application. Et voilà, there it was, the first entry: miettes de pain. My French is awesome, I remember thinking with victorious pride. Feeling all French and stuff, I figured the boulangerie would sell breadcrumbs and probably damn good ones too, so before heading towards the Monoprix, I made a turn towards my local bakery. After about a ten minute wait on a long line of Parisians stocking up on their weekend bread, it was my turn!
"Bonjour, do you sell miettes de pain here?"
The woman looked almost taken back by my question before snapping, "Pas du tout!" and then dismissed me by acknowledging with her eyes the customer behind me.
"Hi, sorry, still here," I said while scooching closer to the counter, "Would you by any chance know where I could get them? Perhaps the supermarket sells them?"
"We don't sell miettes de pain here in France."
I found the "in France" bit a little dramatic, don't you? I was looking to buy breadcrumbs not meth. Geez.
"Really?" Was all I could muster, because I really wasn't prepared for this response. Like at all.
I could feel the wall of tension building behind me as the customers were getting restless, but I wasn't going anywhere. If anyone would know anything about breadcrumbs and where to get them, it would be her, the baker.
"So in France, no one cooks with miettes de pain?" I continued.
"Pas du tout."
Ignoring her curt responses, I went on to explain that I was looking for packaged breadcrumbs for chicken and meatballs, almost going into details of the recipe. With pursed lips, she just kept nodding her head, denying the existence of breadcrumbs, again, in all of France. I swear, she was taking pure evil pleasure in my mounting frustration. And I'm sorry but isn't chicken cordon bleu made with breadcrumbs?
I had no choice but to surrender and accept that breadcrumbs are not for sale, in France. I thanked her for her time but before leaving I irrationally added, "Well then why does the word exist if it's not available?"
She just stared back at me.
Yeah, I knew I wasn't going to get anywhere with that one.
Befuddled that no one cooks with breadcrumbs, well according to that boulangère, I proceeded to the market with no intention of purchasing or even thinking about them. As far as I was concerned, it was a four-letter word.
With my shopping tote brimming with my ingredients, I was trotting back home brainstorming how I was going to make homemade breadcrumbs when Aurel called. I regaled him with my bakery adventure and not even having to finish the story he knew exactly what I was looking for, not miettes de pain but rather chapelure.
Miettes de pain is literally bread crumbs, like the ones that litter the floor after a cheese and baguette attack. Breadcrumbs for cooking is chapelure, the word that was settled right under my precious miettes de pain on Word Reference that I selected to ignore. My foodie friends here must be chuckling because I'm sure chapelure to many of you is super obvious, but hey, I'm new to all of this!