I sincerely hope you aren’t coming to this week’s Chewing the Fat with an empty stomach because today we’re talking to the awesome young woman who helms the popular blog Ashley Abroad! Ashley is a 23-year old American writer and wannabe expat who has spent the last year living in Paris. She has been traveling abroad on her own since she was 15 and so far has lived in Chicago, Buenos Aires and Paris. Most recently, her travels have brought her to Asia for the first time where she is currently backpacking and eating her way across Hong Kong, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.
Although I am sure some of our readers doubt that Tony & I will ever escape the thrall of Asia, I have spent countless hours lost in Ashley’s posts detailing culinary roadtrips through the French countryside the set me dreaming about all the high-calorie courses I hope to someday consume. Her passion for travel and food comes across loud and clear in every post and her tales of living la belle vie in Paris are truly intoxicating. If you’re planning a trip to France any time soon, Ashley’s site should be considered required reading material!
So, with that glowing recommendation, join me as I talk to Ashley about why offal ain’t that awful, on what dining front Americans have the French beat, how to put together the ultimate cheese plate, and so much more!
We’re a big fan of “foodcations”—on more than one occasion we’ve taken trips motivated solely by the desire to eat our way through our destination. Of all the places you have visited in your travels, if you were limited to only eating the food from one country, which place would you choose and why?
I’d have to say Mexico. The spice, the braised meats, the warm corn tortillas, the guacamole… I honestly never get sick of it. I also adore the cuisines of many countries I’ve never been to, like China, Korea and Japan, which I will hopefully get to know better during my jaunt around Asia!
And the flipside: of all the places you’ve visited, which country had your least favorite food? Why was that and were you surprised?
Though I enjoyed the steak and choripán in Argentina, after five months I got really sick of the national cuisine—if I ever see an empanada or a milanesa again it will be too soon. Overall I found the food a bit lackluster: it had no spice, offered little variety and completely lacked vegetables. And that did surprise me because many Argentineans are of Spanish or Italian descent, both of which cuisines I love.
What’s the most exotic/adventurous edible you’ve sampled and what did you think about it?
I actually really like offal, less appetizingly known as organ-meat. From funky French sausages like boudin noir (black pudding) and andouillette (intestine sausage), to grilled lamb hearts in Istanbul, I adore all kinds of offal. Well except for kidneys, bleh.
Many travelers mention succumbing to McDonald’s or other fastfood cravings while on the road… what is the guilty pleasure food that you indulge in when traveling?
When I can find it, I love a big, salty bucket of popcorn at the movies… but in so many countries I find that the movie theatre popcorn is sweet. What’s up with that?
Sometimes you don’t know a good thing until it’s gone! If there were one food from back home that you could eat RIGHT NOW, what would it be?
Now that I’ve left, I’ll pick something from France, my home-away-from-home. What I miss the most are the simple but scrumptious meals we had out in the garden: a baguette laid on the table, a fresh butter lettuce with a shallot vinaigrette, a crazy-delicious roast chicken with ail (garlic) confit. I especially miss the after-dinner cheese course with lots of oozing, raw-milk cheeses… le sigh.
If you knew we were coming to visit you in your hometown, what would be the one food you would make sure we tried?
If you visited my hometown in the U.S. I would take you to a Lebanese restaurant—after all, metro Detroit is home to the largest population of Arab-Americans in the country! My favorite meal in town is the kafta kabob at the delightful hole-in-the-wall restaurant, Falafel King. Their kafta kabob is a charbroiled beef pita topped with tomatoes, pickles, garlic sauce and tahini sauce… yum.
If you came to visit me in Paris, I’d take you to Le Marais for lunch: first to L’As Du Fallafel for a spicy falafel street snack, then to Pozzetto for pistachio gelato and Breizh Café for salted butter caramel crêpes.
After a year in Asia, one of the foods we miss so very much is cheese! Surely no country does cheese better than France, and we expect you’re something of an expert. In your opinion, what separates a great cheese plate from a merely good one, and if you were putting together a plate of your own featuring 3-5 cheeses, which one would you choose & why?
A great cheese plate is balanced—it should feature a mixture of goat’s, cow’s and sheep’s cheese and a variety of textures from hard to runny. I usually serve a cheese plate with between three and five cheeses. A common plate I put together is with a hard, cow’s milk cheese like a Salers or Comté, a creamy blue cheese like a Bleu de Gex, an aged log of chèvre with a piece of straw inside and a runny Saint-Félicien stuffed with black truffles.
Here are a few more pointers, because yes, I’m really that crazy about cheese. The cheese course should be served after the main course and before dessert. Always taste the blandest cheese first and work your way through until the strongest cheese- if you do it the other way you’ll blow out your palate and be unable to taste the subtler flavors. And always, always serve cheese room-temperature! There’s nothing more disappointing than a chilled cheese course, at least for a fromage-ophile like myself.
Back in the U.S., it’s pretty easy to pick up decent wines on the cheap, but we know that in France a bottle can be picked up at the grocery store for less than 5 euros! What are some of your favorite wines that won’t break the budget and are there any other French spirits travelers should know about?
I have to admit I actually don’t know the names of the wines I pick out in France as I tend to guess based on price-point and which varietals I generally enjoy (read- I’m broke). My favorite red is a Côtes du Rhône and my favorite whites are Riesling and white burgundy.
I love many French spirits but am particularly fond of pastis, an anise-flavored liquer from the south of France. I also love to flambé with armagnac, an aged brandy that is particularly good with seafood dishes.
Back in 2005, I backpacked through Europe & the UK for 7 weeks with a close friend. We made sure to have a “proper” sit down meal in every country so we could fully experience its cuisine… with the exception of France! We self-catered the entire time, in part because it was so pricey, but also because we were perfectly happy to simply stuff ourselves on picnics of bread, cheese, radishes and rillettes. Do you have any tips on ways to dine out frugally in Paris, and if someone is going to break their budget on just one meal, on what (or where) would you recommend they spend the cash?
When I lived in Paris I would picnic on at least a bi-weekly basis—it’s simply the best way to bask in the beauty of the city, save euros and best enjoy the highlights of French cuisine: cheese, bread, wine and charcuterie. If you’re looking to dine out frugally in Paris, I would suggest heading to a real Brittany crêperie: Breizh Café, West Country Girl and Little Breizh are all good choices.
For a splurge meal I would recommend the trendy Oberkampf restaurant, Pierre Sang. Sang is a Korean-French chef who whips up some incredible creations. His menu changes daily and features local, seasonal ingredients, but the one thing that always stays the same is the amazing salted Brittany butter and country bread served with each meal.
Finally, to end on something sweet: on your blog, you have made the bold statement that the United States makes the best desserts in all the world. What in particular do you think makes American desserts stand above all the rest and what do you consider to be the ultimate dish to sate a sweet tooth?
I love the contrast of salty and sweet in American desserts as well as the combination of hot and cold- you don’t see so much of that in other countries’ sweets. Maybe it’s due to childhood attachments, but I’d take a warm brownie with ice cream over a macaron any day.
As far as the ultimate American dessert? There’s nothing like a still-warm chocolate chip cookie. Preferably enjoyed with a glass of cold milk.
Website: Ashley Abroad
Facebook: Ashley Abroad
Merci beaucoup to Ashley for taking the time to answer our questions and giving us the goods on her favorite grub. Following her food tips there’s absolutely no way we’ll make it through France without packing on the pounds, but I have a feeling that getting fat will never have been more fun! Also, the next time we find ourselves passing through Detroit, we’ll definitely be hitting up Falafel King in the hopes of recreating KoftaGate 2011…
Like what you read here and want to be featured in a future installment of Chewing the Fat? Great! We’re always looking for new people to dish about dining with! You don’t have to be a long-term traveler, or even have your own blog to participate; all you need is a healthy appetite and an appreciation for food. Contact Us letting us know that you’re interested in taking part in this series, and we’ll get back to you with all the information you need to get started.