Exploring the Connection Between Food and Place

Julia Himmelberger
October 25, 2021

Like many people, quarantine unlocked the inner chef in me. With more time on my hands, I spent many evenings in the kitchen learning cooking techniques from my mom and then experimenting on my own. I learned how to cook my favorite foods from all sorts of cuisines. In doing so, I developed a deeper appreciation for good food and a curiosity for foods that different countries and regions are known for. During the semester before coming to Paris, I worked as a cashier at a grocery store in my town. I knew where all the foods were shelved and loved seeing what each customer selected for their groceries. I’ve always loved grocery shopping, but working at a grocery store brought my fascination to a whole new level. 

Now that I’m in France, I’ve had so much fun shopping for groceries, cooking for myself, and seeking out good eats in Paris and the places to which I travel.

One of the first things I learned was that the French do not grocery shop in big quantities. You don’t find many big grocery stores where people fill carts to the brim with bulk items. Grocery shopping is on a smaller scale: people shop for a few days or a week at a time, bringing their own reusable bags to do so (you have to pay for bags if you don’t bring your own). This was a pleasant surprise for me, as it is much more manageable to purchase only a few items at a time (and leads to less food waste! France wastes 200 pounds less food per capita than the United States!)

[A sidenote: I’ve discovered a new app called “Too Good to Go” that works to fight food waste. Restaurants, grocery stores, cafés, florists, etc. can post when they have extra of their product at the end of the day and customers can purchase surprise bags for a fraction of the price. You can get flower bouquets, sushi, pastries and bread, fruits and veggies, sandwiches, and meat for just a few euros. The app also has locations in the United States in big cities such as New York City, Boston, Washington D.C., and Portland. I think it's such an innovative way to prevent food waste!]

I’ve had a lot of fun meandering through the grocery stores near me to find the foods I’m looking for. It’s cool to see how the grocery stores are laid out and where foods are shelved. I like comparing prices between products here and in the U.S. (ice cream and peanut butter are more expensive here, but bread and pastries are less expensive). I’ve also enjoyed going to different stores for different products. I purchase my boxed and pre-made foods at the grocery store (yogurt, pasta, hummus, granola, canned foods), my cheese at the fromagerie, my fruit from the man who sells produce at my metro station, my vegetables from the open markets that are down the street from my classes at the IES Abroad Paris center, my bread at the boulangerie, and my tofu and other international products at the international and Asian markets. When there are so many places to go to, it’s like a puzzle making sure you get everything you need!

I also have loved cooking for myself. I share a kitchen with other IES Abroad students, and every day around dinner time, we hang out in the kitchen, do homework, and cook. I’ve made tacos, gnocchi, pad thai, and veggie stir fry with simple ingredients from the markets. When I was craving pancakes, I went searching for pancake mix all over Paris (I was feeling lazy). I finally found some at the international market, but it was super overpriced, so I bought the individual ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, etc.) and made them myself. Flipping the pancakes in my apartment kitchen brought me back to Sunday mornings at home in the U.S., flipping pancakes with my mom and sister for family brunch. It was a great way to feel connected to home. 

My craving for pancakes got me thinking about how food can connect you to specific places. As I’ve traveled around Paris, France, and other countries around Europe, I’ve tried to seek out the local foods to see what makes the locals feel connected to their city or region. In Rennes, I tried the Kouign-Amann pastry and apple cider that the Bretagne region is known for. In Provins, I tasted honey infused with rose petals and homemade Chantilly cream. In Mont-St-Michel, we had galettes (local to Normandy). And in Paris, I’ve tried local pastries, cheeses, and wines. I’ve enjoyed learning about the places I’ve visited through the “nourriture” that nourishes the locals’ stomachs and making my own comfort foods when I want to be reminded of home.

[I've included a photo gallery of some of the foods I've enjoyed so far. They're not in any particular order. Enjoy!]

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Julia Himmelberger

<p>Hi! My name is Julia (she/her) and I'm from Wellesley, MA. I study French and Political Science at St. Olaf College. I love to read, play ultimate frisbee, and swim!</p>

2021 Fall
Home University:
St. Olaf College
Wellesley, MA
French Language
Political Science
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