Bonne année! A new year, a new decade – though the same strikes, if you’re a Paris-dweller.
Appropriately (and for the first time), I brought in 2020 in the most fantastically FRENCH manner possible, between NYE and New Year’s Day – both of which I spent in French homes, speaking predominantly in French, and enjoying an abundance of French food (and French alcohol). The dream.
The only hitch was the bloody strikes, which turned two half-hour journeys into a pair of two-and-a-half-hour sagas featuring buses too full to even stop, a very-near violent brawl, and a woman pushing her way to the bus doors through a packed crowd of passengers, screaming “MERRRRRDE-UHH” at the top of her lungs.
But otherwise, it really was great.
I celebrated New Year’s Eve with two of my best friends, at a small party at one of their friend’s apartments. It was a lovely place, very typically Parisian, and the host and her other guests were really friendly. Naturally, we started with apéro – including a “platter” of tiny sandwiches, whereby said “platter” was actually a long, thin piece (?) of brioche-y bread, shaped/decorated to say “2020” – including a clock face for one of the “0”s. The bread was halved lengthways, so the little sandwiches sat on the bottom half, and then the more decorated half made a sort of lid. The end result was basically a sandwich sandwich. Nope, not a typo. I’d be very surprised if you could imagine the thing accurately after that convoluted description, so here’s a poor-quality photo. You can just see the little filling-sandwiches peeking out.
A couple of drinks and numerous tiny sandwiches later, we sat down to dinner: raclette! Delicious, sociable and fun, it’s easy to see why this glorious savoyarde* invention is a winter favourite in France. Come to think of it, raclette might well be my personal favourite French meal, too. Maybe even one of my all-time favourite meals full stop. That’s how good it is.
For those of you who’ve not yet experienced the joy of raclette first-hand (poor souls), it’s basically vast amounts of mountain cheese, with potatoes, meat and (probably) vegetables. Sounds kind of unremarkable, but the fun part is in the preparation of your food; it’s as much an activity as a meal. There are a few ways to do raclette, depending on the equipment at your disposal, but the most common “at-home” method uses an electric grill-type apparatus comprised of a metal hot-plate on top, and a number of spaces/wells underneath where you put what I can only describe as mini frying pans. Each participant has their own a mini pan.
As far as the food itself goes, you can buy your cheese (also called raclette) in packs of mini-frying-pan-sized slices, already cut for your cheese-consuming convenience. There are also different “flavours” available – I’m a particular fan of the smoked variety, and I tried a stronger morbier one at the party, which was absolutely delicious.
Only the potatoes are cooked in advance – everything else is done at the table, by placing it either on the metal plate on top of the apparatus (usually the vegetables and meat, though it’s also common to have cured meat such as serrano ham without cooking it), or underneath in your mini frying pan. This (in the pan) is where the cheese goes, along with anything else you want it to melt directly over (for example, I put sliced mushrooms and red onion under my cheese last week). Once the cheese has melted (and perhaps started to go a little golden and crispy on top… mmm…), you remove it from under the grill and pour it over the potatoes and anything else you have on your plate. And bon appétit!**
I cannot recommend it enough.
*From the region Savoie
** Not making the mistake, of course, of forgetting to get your next panful under the grill before you get started – a rookie error.