Just as quickly as the sun breezed through, bathing us with its warm rays and cheer, it appears as though it will be abandoning Paris soon, along with the mass exodus of Frenchies heading to anywhere but here for their month-long respite. July was filled with nothing but chatter about where everyone is going to vacation and when their long awaited departure would be. When asked when I would be taking off, everyone balked when I said that we’re not planning on taking our vacation until la rentrée, which is when everyone has returned to work and students start school again. The idea of not going away during the summer months is a completely foreign idea to the French. Frankly, I’ve never witnessed such a phenomenon back home in the states where everyone takes off for at least three weeks sans blackberries and laptops. Although I’m a big fan of lengthy vacations and I’ve easily adopted this cultural practice, I prefer to travel when it’s not so hot and the airports and train stations aren’t teeming with people.
Being in Paris during this time of year is actually rather pleasant. The usually overcrowded city becomes a ghost town, and the only people in sight are the tourists who flock here. Unfortunately for them though, many businesses close their doors during August. And, unfortunately for me, I have to endure a long 3 weeks without baguettes and pastries from my neighborhood boulangerie, where I don’t even have to tell them what I want to order. After about a year of straining to understand my order through my heavy American accent, the young lady who works there already knows what I want as soon as I waltz in every evening after work, une demi-baguette.
This past Sunday was the last day our boulangerie was open this summer and they were having a 4 pastries for 3 deal that day. We were hosting a small family feast that afternoon, so we took full advantage of the deal. Our boulangerie doesn’t have a ton of variety in terms of pastries, but what they do make, they make with seamless perfection. My favorites are their tarte bourdaloue (composed of poached pears), éclairs au café and tarte aux pêches et pistaches (peach tart with a pistachio-based paste), which is my absolute favorite and I haven’t seen at any other boulangeries. Though éclairs are a dime a dozen in France, not all are created equal. Our boulangerie, however, has perfected the éclair au café, with a crème pâtissière filling that is not too sweet and a glaze that retains its shininess. Unfortunately, I have no photos to share of these delectables, since we inhaled them rather quickly and I forgot to take photos because I was so fixated on just getting those tasty goodies into my mouth.
Before the dessert, we feasted on several dishes, including bún riêu, which is a crab noodle soup. Apparently, the mister had been raving about my version of this dish, and his cousin, TaTa Mouton, had been eager to taste it. I’m always nervous about cooking for her and ma belle-mère because they are both amazing cooks and make almost everything from scratch. As much as I like to cook, I still don’t always produce consistent results, but I hate turning out something lackluster that disappoints. I must admit though, that my current rendition of bún riêu is rather tasty and is a hundred times better than the version I used to make while living in Texas. You can judge for yourself whether it’s good or not though.
Sorry, but this is the only picture of this dish from that day that is even remotely presentable. I know, it doesn’t look that appetizing, but it really was tasty!
Soupe à la Mousse de Crabes
1 medium onion, cut into thin wedges
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
6-7 tomatoes, cut into large wedges
2 tablespoons tamarind paste
200g crab paste
100g fried tofu
bún (rice noodles)
2 liters of hot water
tía tô (Vietnamese perilla)
mắm tôm (shrimp paste)
chili garlic sauce
limes, cut into wedges
1. In a large pot, heat some oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté until they are fragrant. Then, add the garlic and stir, being careful not to let them brown.
2. Add the tomatoes and let them to cook for a few minutes, stirring gently occasionally. Once they have softened a bit, add about 2 liters of hot water and the tamarind paste. Simmer for about 10 minutes to allow the tartness of the tamarind to flavor the broth. Note: Before adding the tamarind paste to your pot, you should put it in a small bowl with some hot water and then strain it after allowing it to soak for a few minutes. That way, you’ll avoid having seeds in your broth. I, however, just add the paste directly to the pot without straining. If you do the same as me, be sure to discard the tamarind pieces before serving.
3. While the broth is simmering, beat the eggs with the crab paste. Increase the heat to high and add the eggs and crab paste mixture once the broth comes to a boil. You don’t need to stir the broth, as the chunks of egg/crab paste will start to rise to the surface as they become cooked. Season with salt and sugar, if necessary. I find that the broth is usually adequately seasoned by the saltiness of the crab paste.
4. Add the fried tofu to the broth and cook for a couple more minutes. Once the broth has returned to a gentle boil, it is ready to serve. Place some rice noodles, which have been cooked according to package instructions, in a large bowl and pour the broth over it. Garnish with a few leaves of perilla, a squeeze of lime juice and a little chili sauce for some heat. For those who are more adventurous, add a tiny amount of shrimp paste. Be forewarned though, it has a very strong smell (that’s putting it mildly) and most people will not be able to get past its pungent smell. Don’t fret though, as the soup can be enjoyed equally without the shrimp paste. Although the mister grew up in Vietnam, he never ate this stuff growing up, so he doesn’t like it and has never gotten accustomed to the smell or taste. I, on the other hand, grew up in a household where this condiment was as commonplace as ketchup and mayo. So to me, this dish is not bún riêu without mắm tôm.