Strasbourgeois specialties are influenced by German cuisine- no surprise there.
The first regional dish I tried was choucroute or sauerkraut, a kind of shredded, fermented cabbage often accompanied by sausages and small potatoes. It’s delicious although the mound of cabbage is often difficult to finish.
Another German-inspired specialty is the bretzel, a large doughy version of our American pretzels served as a snack at stands and small bakeries (think Auntie Anne’s but without the grease and much less salt). According to legend, a baker threatened with execution by a king in 1477 was given a final chance: three days to create a bread through which one could “see the sun three times.” So the baker mixed water, flour, salt, and baking powder and twisted his creation into the form of a pretzel, and his life was spared. But it’s all legend and I’ve also heard versions that substitute monks for the baker… Today, varieties include “bretzel-on-a-stick,” sweet versions, sourdough versions, topped with icing, salted or unsalted, soft or crunchy. My favorite is the basic, slightly sourdough with a smattering of salt. There is nothing like the smell of a bretzel shop, especially mixed with the aromas of other freshly-baked breads in the classic French boulangeries.
One cannot visit Strasbourg without trying tarte flambée, a super-thin-crusted pizza-like bread, usually square in shape, topped with delicious white cheese, cream, small cubes of meat and onions. Other kinds include additional toppings of mushrooms or other vegetables, different varieties of cheese or meat, and a dessert version with fruits such as apples. I’ve had so many since I’ve been here (although I haven’t yet had it as a dessert) and it’s wonderful and filling; after a few slices, I’m ready to curl up for a nap. Restaurants are everywhere and some offer all-you-can-eat deals with overflowing pitchers of freshly-brewed beer for a reasonable price as long as you’re not in the touristy cathedral area.
In France in general, my preferred foods include macaron (those colorful sandwich cookies in every flavor you could imagine that melt in your mouth) and of course, the cheese. Eating French cheese makes me wonder why in the world those individually packaged orange slices that are a staple in American households are qualified to be called anything remotely related to cheese (although before I had French cheese, I guess I was fooled too). I’ve eaten more cheese here in the last month than in the last ten years of my life and although I’m no expert on the millions of varieties, my favorites so far are comté and camembert in their different forms. I plan to educate myself on cheese this year so that I’m not completely lost in the many cheese shops downtown, which can be smelled from the other end of the street.
Contrary to the stereotype, many of my French friends dislike escargot and hardly ever eat it, but a recent plate of these squishy snails mixed with mussels deepened my love for both dishes, which are more popular in the center and north of the country.
French food and Alsacien specialties are one of the main reasons I’m in heaven here and my only regret is that customs regulations won’t allow me to send platefuls of my favorites to my friends and family back home…