PARIS — One of the best mottos in life is “keep it simple.” And, as I recently found out while travelling through France, simple often means great tasting food that’s easy on your stomach and your wallet.
Food is often one of the most expensive parts of travelling. And while I recommend (and highly encourage) that a person indulges in as much regional cuisine as they can, it’s not always realistic to eat at two- and three-Michelin star restaurants for every meal.
This is where my favourite French lunch comes in. Found in nearly every bakery, deli or restaurant: The jambon-beurre is a traditional ham sandwich on a crunchy baguette and slathered with creamy butter (often with camembert cheese).
And although this is something you think you could easily make at home, there is no comparison to the fresh, and regionally-specific, ingredients used. You have to understand that this is not just slices of deli ham folded onto a baguette with some butter. The ham is not deli-style ham, but Jambon de Paris (Parisian Ham). It is slow-cooked to perfection, retaining much of it’s moisture before being sliced thick. The baguette is cooked to have a crisp and golden exterior — to add that flakey crunch — while maintaining a soft centre, and the butter is divine, creamy with a hint of sourness, and spread heavily over the bread. Make no mistake, this cannot be made at home.
Every day in France more than two million jambon-beurre sandwiches are sold — more than any other sandwich (including McDonalds’ hamburgers). I don’t deny that fact, because everywhere we went - from Bayeux, to Paris, to Lyon, to Nice — everybody was eating one, and so were we. Often we would grab a sandwich to eat on the go, or to take in our backpacks until we found a place to sit and eat. It makes a great lunch for long train rides, or as something quick to eat on the pit stop of a tour.
One of the best we had was on the lunch break of our Normandy Sightseeing Tour. Our guide was from Caen and recommended a little spot in Saint Aubin Sur Mer. The sandwiches at this shop were kept slightly cool in the display case, which kept the meat chilled while the butter remained just as creamy. Every bite was a satisfying crunch. My partner strayed from tradition and opted for the pizza sandwich, pepperoni, sauce and cheese on a large round bun. Before this trip, I may have said his was the better option — but I can say with confidence, nothing beats a simple butter and ham.
These sandwiches very in price from 2.50 euros ($4.75 Cdn) to 5 euros, depending on quality and location. However, some of the best sandwiches we had were priced at 3 euros.
Like many people, my default for a quick and affordable lunch
in past visits to Europe has been fast food.
But this most recent trip has opened my eyes, and my stomach, to what the locals eat. And from now on, ham and
butter sandwiches will hold a special place in my heart.
Brussels deli is well worth the detour
Most bakeries across Europe will have different variations of the French sandwich, adding some ingredients, including different cheeses — but the tour de force can be found at a tiny shoppe in Brussels. If the words cheese and bread excite you, it is now your mission to visit Tonton Garby.
The owner, Garby, is as wonderful as the delicious creations he makes. Immediately upon entering the shop we were greeted with enthusiasm. Garby has a menu of some of his favourites, but encourages his guests to choose their own creations (or to let him choose for you depending on your preferences). I recommend you let him choose, because the results are surprising and incomparable.
My baguette was topped with spicy chevre, plump tomatoes and honey and my partner’s had a creamy chevre with olive tapenade.
We were in complete silence eating them because they were the best sandwiches we had in our lives.
I promise you that visiting Garby will leave your with a smile on your face, a full stomach and a new appreciation for a man who truly loves and knows cheese.