Saturday, January 30, 2016

High Cuisine, Middle Cuisine, Low Cuisine

A Traiteur now on Rue du Commerce, Paris, 15th arrondissement.
The word traiteur can mean a seller of ready-made food or a caterer.
During two long stays in Paris, I cooked in tiny apartment kitchens, and enjoyed every trip to the many markets and shopping streets in my area. Before digital cameras, I took very few photos, so I've googled a bit to find the above photo of a current traiteur on Rue du Commerce, which was just around the corner from the earlier of our two apartments, and just a few blocks from a later apartment. Here's what I would do when I was living there: I'd look in the windows of the traiteur's shops and get ideas for things I could make myself.

For example, I was startled at the popularity of corn salad, made, I believe, from canned corn with peppers and raisins. Or, contemplating the salads in the traiteur's window, I realized how easy it is to open a can of palm hearts, add some sliced tomatoes and chopped parsley: some traiteurs shocked me by using dried parsley! Of course there are high-end traiteurs (most famously, Fauchon's in Place de la Madeleine) and middle-class traiteurs like the ones on our middle-class shopping street, and even lower-end offerings at supermarkets and the like. Also, open-air markets throughout Paris, such as one quite near Rue du Commerce, have quite a few stalls with the same types of food.

Traiteur Jeusselin on Rue Cler.
A current photo from the street where our friends Chris and Liz lived for many years.
I was thinking about traiteurs in Paris while reading the current Consumer Reports article listed on the cover as "Supermarket Prepared Food Shocker," and titled inside "Under the Plastic Wrap: What's really in supermarket prepared meals?" about ready-made meals at American supermarkets. (March, 2016, pages 38-47)

The prepared food article
does not seem to be available
online at this point, only in paper.
Their review includes such things as rotisserie chicken, salads, mashed potatoes, and many side dishes. It's funny to realize how similar traiteur's foods are to these seemingly innovative supermarket offerings (though rotisserie chickens, ubiquitous in Paris, are not sold by traiteurs, but by poultry butchers). And when I go to Whole Foods, I still do exactly the same thing: looking in the elegant prepared food cases to get ideas for what to buy and assemble in the produce and canned-goods departments!

The Consumer Reports article includes analysis of ready-made foods from a health standpoint -- especially in a section titled "Pass the Salt, Again and Again and Again." They note that not all ingredients are necessarily fresh nor made on the premises; in fact some use canned or bottled products that (obviously) you could buy and use for your own preparations. They also compare prices: typically, as I always suspected, you could make the same dish for half or less than half the price -- or as they say: "The Cost of Convenience is Steep." They have several useful tables, especially one comparing popular prepared meals from Wegman's, Costco, Whole Foods, and a couple of other chains, and a classic Consumer Reports "ratings" section from Wegman's (the top satisfaction rating) to six at the bottom including Target, Walmart, and Aldi.

Frequently seen in traiteur's windows: individual aspics.
This would be harder as a do-it-yourself project!
A salad bar from the website of Traiteur Jeusselin.


Jackie Mc Guinness said...

Excellent article!! I don't typically buy prepared foods, I would rather assemble my own. We are conscious of the amount of salt used.
We are wintering in Mexico and rotisserie chicken from the grocery store is gross but I would buy it from the butchers would specialize in it.

Jeanie said...

Interesting and not surprising when you think about it. I love the mental image of you standing in front of the window, watching and memorizing the most interesting combinations and rushing home to your apartment (after a quick trip to the market!) to make it yourself! I've done that at the deli counter, too. The book sounds interesting and yes -- there is a high price for convenience, which sometimes I'm willing to pay and quite often not! I do like our market's chicken salad -- but I often find that I bring it home and if serving it up for someone else add some grapes and nuts!