“Dieting,” or, in other words, forgoing foods typically meant for enjoyment out of concern for one’s weight, is one of the strict taboos for Parisians, along with wearing workout clothes in public and saying no to a glass of wine.
Despite the aversion to restrictive eating (and nationwide cuisine famous for its use of butter, cheese, and fatty meats), obesity and obesity-related diseases or health complications are extremely rare in France. This French Diet paradox has left scientists baffled for years. Maybe it’s simply their je-ne-sais-quoi mindset, or maybe we should take a closer look at what they’re actually eating.
The key to French cooking lies in the simplicity of the ingredients. Parisians rarely stray from cooking with their basics, and the inside of their fridges always look the same. Meals are flavorful because of their full-fat dairy and fresh-out-the-oven bread, and consist of effortlessly small proportions that are filling because of the wholeness of their ingredients.
Instead of heating up a low-cal frozen dinner from the grocery store, a busy Parisian puts together a simple meal using a few ingredients that are from the boulangerie down the street or the marché that’s on her way home from work. Parisians seem to possess the secrets to all our weight loss dreams; their foods are whole and their waists are slim.
To start your own French Diet, here are the ten crucial items that Parisians always have in their kitchen, certainement.
1. Egg cartons are always full (and should be placed on the countertop or window sill).
It is important to never clutter the small, Parisian refrigerator with eggs (that precious space is for more important things like cheese and open wine bottles). In contrast to American brunches made up of Benedicts and omelettes, you’d rarely find a Parisian eating eggs for breakfast. Instead, it is the basis for lunch and dinner, whether it’s hardboiled and sliced with cheese and mayonnaise in a sandwich, or fried and eaten with veggies for a quick dinner.
2. At least one baguette is always out on the table.
If you’re a real Parisian, you’ll know to ask for tradition baguette at the boulangerie, which, for some reason, is always crisper and fresher than the regular baguettes. It goes without saying that the only bread a Parisian would ever eat was made the day she buys it. To Parisians, it is a ridiculous idea to think that bread would ever be bought processed or sliced.
3. Dijon Mustard is the simplest secret to all the Parisian’s taste cravings.
It is easily spread on a slice of baguette for a zesty snack or mixed with olive oil for a salad dressing that even makes lettuce taste delicious.
4. Which brings us to olive oil, which is of course used for cooking and baking but is also dabbed on skin for a glowing look.
Olive oil happens to be loaded with heart-healthy fats, but what Parisians care about most is that it tastes great in all their food and can be used to fix many cooking woes.
5. Fromage needs little introduction when discussing a Parisian diet.
Walking down any street in Paris will make you understand how seriously they take their cheese. Fromageries are all over Paris, and each have a serious selection of the best cheeses you probably will ever eat. Different cheeses are eaten for different meals and Parisians know what cheeses to pair with what food and what wine. Learning how to eat and pair cheese is as important as learning your ABCs.
6. Butter is important to the French Diet, because it is in basically everything: sauces, meats, croissants, desserts.
Even if you don’t think you could taste the little smear of butter on a loaded sandwich, somehow it just tastes better when there’s butter in it than when there’s not. Of course, it is always full-fat and used in small (but crucial) proportions.
7. Wine is always on hand.
Parisians know it is the key to a successful dinner party or as the ingredient that makes a simple Coq au Vin recipe taste gourmet. In France, wine is an important tool, used to enjoy and enrich life. Use wine to enhance flavors in your cooking, and have a glass or two while you cook too.
8. Yogurt is kept in small, glass containers lining the fridge, and is rarely processed or flavored beyond vanilla.
You can taste the difference between French and American yogurt because French yogurt is always full-fat and creamy. It makes a quick breakfast or a delicious dessert.
9. Tea is a Parisian favorite at home.
At restaurants, they typically opt for an espresso or cappuccino, but tea is always stocked in their kitchen for first thing in the morning or to warm up after getting home from work when the weather is froid. They drink tea from a bowl rather than what Americans think of as mugs. Mugs in France resemble bowls with small handles that only your pinky finger could fit in when cupping the mug. Tea can be taken plain or with sugar, but rarely ever with milk. The preferred way to drink tea is dipping in a piece of toast with apricot jam.
10. Dessert is always stocked in a Parisian kitchen, and never comes with guilt.
Since meals are not just means of survival, but for enjoyment and the most important social time of the day, a palette cleanser after dinner is just as important as the dinner itself. Restaurants and dinner parties will offer a cheese plate course before a soufflé chocolat or crème brûlée, but for quiet dinners at home, a simple homemade tart or yogurt with sugar does the trick.
Parisians take their cooking and kitchens very seriously. They choose easy, simple, whole, and delicious meals that are so good they make them over and over again, and dedicate each bite to the simple act of enjoying it. Maybe this is the quoi in their je-ne-sais-quoi.