Jan 3, 2015

A Hop Across the Channel: Welsch


Just hopped back to this side of the Channel from a New Year's week jaunt to England. Yes, there's culture and history, but one of the things we enjoy most in London after living in Paris is.....get ready for it......the food. No, I'm not being sarcastic. Yes, really. And no, we are not crazy. Not only is Paris not home to the best food on the planet (for instance, in most -- though not all -- ways, we prefer San Francisco's food), we don't even think it's the best food on one end of the Chunnel Eurostar.

Besides the fact that you generally get vegetables with your regular meals, there is also the not-so-small fact that you can easily find a wide variety of ethnically influenced, creative, and healthy quick or take-out meals. This comes in very handy for a dinner picnic on the train home, when Anthony and I have some kale-goji berry-apple-beet salad along with another bowl of chick pea-lentil-coconut-carrot salad. And they were only a few pounds each (cost, not weight, that is). Shops selling things like this are all over London Streets, even more ubiquitous than Starbucks. Whereas they are almost nowhere in Paris. Boo, France. Get with the times!

We also have dim sum. Believe me, don't even bother with dim sum in Paris. And the best Indian curry we've had in ages. As you can see from Pippa's expression, it's actually spicy! Hallelujah and bring on the heat!

Nearly as ubiquitous as the health-food eateries and the Starbucks are Mexican restaurants, many of them chains. We laugh about how trendy Mexican food is here, but of course we have some, at a place called Wahaca (bad spelling of Oaxaca) because we are also Mexican-food-deprived. It's not as good as California's (or Mexico's) Mexican food, but it's waaaaay better than Paris'. We joke about how Mexican food will take over London, right until we see this place, which seems like a sign of the apocalypse, frankly.

There are the usual British goodies -- the scones, the tea, the little meat pies. But we know that, historically, English food was the laughing-stock of the world. The French have the reputation for culinary greatness. But while you weren't looking, the French have stayed either exactly where they were or -- sometimes -- gone downhill with pre-frozen ingredients and meals. Meanwhile, the English were busy absorbing word cultures, flavors, and talent.


In fact, we notice that out of about 10 servers each day (restaurants, museums, stores, drivers, etc), probably no more than 3 actually speak English with an English accent. We are served by every nationality imaginable -- American, Russian, French, Pakistani, Chinese, and others whose accents we cannot identify. The city is noticeably more international than Paris. And, frankly, seems more like a big city to us. It's got the modern architecture mixed in with the old, in contrast to Paris' museum-like architecture. Many people complain about this, but I'm on the fence: On the one hand, it's less vibrant. On the other hand, people like museums for a reason: They preserve history.

One thing's for sure, when we come back home to Paris from London, we feel like we live in a little village. It just seems so much smaller and quieter. This may not just be our imagination. Besides the size of the buildings, the population of Paris itself is about 1/4 to 1/3 of the population of London.


Welsch, the cheese, is not to be confused with Welsch, the cheese dish made of cheddar and beer with bread dipped in, a Welsch (also Welsh) Rarebit, much like a British fondue. Neither of these are to be confused with Welsh, the nationality and also the language, both from Wales. This Welsch is a raw cows' milk cheese, with an orange mold that brings with it the hint of a long-distance runner's socks.

My notes to myself on this cheese read: "Whoa. Stinky." And that's understating it. It's not even a lovely oozy cheese, remaining a bit firmer and rubbier than I would like, though still soft, to be fair.

The fromage, like the cheesy dish, is a specialty of Northern France -- specifically, Nord-Pas-de-Calais. But 99% of the time, if you ask for a Welsch cheese, you'll get the Welsh Rarebit, which is frequently on local menus (perhaps because it's the closest part in France across the Channel to England). The cheese Welsch is a small-production farmers' cheese, rarely found even up north. But if you do come across it, you'll smell it before you see it.


If we had left the London area on our trip (which we did not), we might have gone into Welsh territory, which is not the same thing as Welsch, but it sounds awfully close -- just as we are awfully close to London, yet we are worlds apart at the same time. I have to guess that the cuisine suffers when you leave London out in the British countryside, and that Wales would not be a culinary  mecca, whereas the food tends to improve greatly when you leave the Paris area and go to the countryside.


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