MB looked down at the bowl I presented him with apprehension.
“Just try it,” I say. “If you don’t like it, no big deal; it’s a weird American thing. Trust me; I’ll finish it if you don’t want it.”
He smiles wanly, but gamely picks up his spoon and has a bite. He looks up in thought, as though considering the best way to describe it.
“It is strange (MB pronunciation: strenge),” he says.
He may be the first French person to ever bring themselves to eat Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (or at least to admit it).
The French like to pretend that they only consume high quality cuisine and that an American diet consists only of fast food, flavorless food, fried food, and fatty food. More than once I have been told “ketchup cuisine” in reference to American cooking. It seems that regardless of what chefs or restaurants we produce, the stigma stays.
When I first arrived in France, these methods of intimidation had worked; I believed that the French would never deign to eat something processed (!!) and only consumed quality, fresh, or homemade foods. Then, one dark and stormy night (okay, so on a normal Wednesday evening), MB came home with something…unexpected, frightening…something that would change my French life forever.
The thunder cracked as he threw the grocery bag down on the counter.
“I went shopping,” he said, full of innocence.
I turned from the stove to look at him. The light from the storm cast malevolent shadows across his face as he smiled.
“Oh?” I questioned, quickly returning to my sauté pan. The oil (okay, fine, it was butter alright? BUTTER) was getting hot and I jumped as an angry bubble burst and snapped at my forearm. The air was tense.
MB went to the double doors in the kitchen and threw them open; the thick, humidity entered the room like a presence. Chills ran up my spine.
“So, check it out,” he grinned, as he slowly reached into the grocery bag.
I looked up, and just as the product emerged, lightening lit up the room. I gasped and stumbled back a step. He held the hot pink metallic rectangle up in the air like some sort of ominous beacon.
“What is it?” I said, tremulously.
“Just try one…” he replied, as he pulled a red cube from its sheath.
The thunder rumbled in the distance, perhaps as a warning. Tentatively, I plucked it from his hand and began to unwrap. He watched me, anxiously, as I brought it to my mouth.
“Blech! What tha-what is this?!?”
He flipped the light on. “Quoi?”
“I don’t understand what this is. It’s like ham flavored processed cheese.”
“No, it’s delicious!” He popped one in his mouth and began unwrapping a second. “There’s ham, tomato, goat cheese-”
“Goat cheese,” I interrupted. “Goat cheese flavored cheese? Why not just get actual goat cheese?”
“Ouais,” MB said nonchalantly, as though that somehow answered the question.
I had just been introduced to Apericubes (here is just one example, there is a wide variety: http://bernartze.unblog.fr/files/2010/09/apericubetourdumonde.jpg ) , processed cheese cubes flavored to taste like vegetables, meats, other cheeses; life would never be the same.
After that fateful, evening I started noticing things that had theretofore gone unseen. Suddenly, processed cheese was everywhere and there seemed to be an unusual amount of fast food places. I noticed 6 brands of crabsticks (you know the fish shaped to look like crab legs) in the grocery store and a plethora of frozen, yet fully constructed (bun and all), cheeseburgers in the frozen food section. The cereal aisle was full of sugary cereals; muesli filled to the brim with chunks of chocolate. Even the French eat junk food! (!!!!!!!!)
Once at a neighborhood wine store, the clerk asked me where I was from and I told him I was American. “Ah well, nobody’s perfect,” he responded with a laugh.
Clearly, the French have one of the best cuisines in the entire world, one that they should be (and are) justifiably proud of; no one is arguing that. But to all those “ketchup cuisine” snobs who look disdainfully at American cuisine, I would like to offer an Apericube and remind them that “oui, nobody’s perfect.”