July 31, 2008

rotisserie obsession

Posted in paris tagged , , , , at 7:00 am by Malia Yoshioka

ahh the irony:

the irony...

haha. i was so obsessed with rotisserie chicken here that i even used it for my portfolio story for class! here’s one of the things i worked on over the past few weeks:

The Feast

“Any other questions?” asked my French teacher hopefully.

I had eaten breakfast just before I’d left the hotel, yet all of a sudden I was famished and my stomach was making embarrassingly loud gurgling noises. The thought of the stale baguette in my bag made stomach rumble even louder in protest. Please, anything but another chewy-in-the-middle-rock-hard-on-the-outside baguette. My jaw hurt just thinking about gnawing my way through the tough outer crust.

I raised my hand. “How do you say, ‘I’d like a half chicken and potatoes, please?’ in French?”

“Ah, I see you’ve found the Port Royal Market? C’est tres tres bon,” my teacher said, laughing in approval.

I’d stumbled upon the Port Royal Market one morning on my way to school. Still shrugging off the last traces of sleep, I walked straight into the middle of the action, passing between stalls teeming on either side with all kinds of fresh seasonal produce, butcher’s counters with endless choices of raw meats, fresh baked breads, many varieties of local cheeses, along with takeaway meals and salads.

As I walked, I was pulled this way and that by the scent of fresh nectarines, then the vibrant green of a pile of zucchini, then the chill of the seafood stall where tiny red shrimps waited patiently on ice to be the next selection. The man at the cheese counter called out to me a cheery “Bonjour Mademoiselle!” and then proceeded to draw out a long string of French that went by way too quickly for me to understand, reminding me that I was late for my French lessons. I simply smiled and continued walking in the direction of my school.

A slight breeze brushed by, carrying with it the scent of a memory. I was suddenly back home in my grandmother’s kitchen on Thanksgiving morning, turkey roasting in the oven, filling the house with the smell of garlic, rosemary, and those rich pan drippings that would be used later for the gravy.

I snapped out of my reverie and checked my surroundings. No, this definitely isn’t grandma’s kitchen. What could possibly be creating such a wonderful smell?

Following the mystery past a few more stalls, I finally found the source. A large rotisserie cabinet stood before me, enticing me to draw nearer. I don’t know if it was the heat radiating off the cabinet or the spotlight illuminating the rows of chickens as they turned slowly around, but I was hypnotized. I watched as the golden skins covered with herbs dripped their juices slowly into the pan below which contained rows and rows of bite-sized potatoes. The man tending the stall lifted a scoop of the buttery liquid and let it cascade down the rows of poultry as I stood transfixed, mouth agape.

A hunched, white-haired old woman dragged a two-wheeled cart in front of me, brimming with her purchases, nearly running over my foot. The spell was broken, and I rushed off to French class, mentally reviewing my options for lunch. I’d hastily stuffed a baguette into my bag from the hotel’s morning breakfast buffet in order to avoid going over my meager budget for the day, but somehow that seemed wrong now that I was aware of the tempting options available right down the street.

Returning an hour later, I stood confidently in front of the counter and uttered the sentence I’d crafted so carefully in class.

“Je voudrais un demi petit poulet et les pommes de terres, s’il vous plait.”

The young vendor smiled and started assembling my order. I watched as he scooped up a generous helping of the golden potatoes and poured some of the pan drippings over them, sliding them into my package beside the herbed half chicken.

I rushed back to the hotel to share the bounty with my roommate, Jenn, as it was too much for me to eat alone. We marveled over the flavor and the price, while picking apart the tender meat with our fingers so as not to waste a bite. The chicken was moist and each bite oozed with fragrant garlic and herb sauce. The warm potatoes were perfect and golden, just slightly charred around the edges, and bits of caramelized onion intensified the flavor.

“Where did you find this market again?” Jenn asked in between bites.

“Right on the way to school,” I answered, stabbing the last potato with my fork. “It’s the one that’s there Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Can you believe we didn’t even know it was there?”

The following Tuesday, Jenn and I left the hotel early to get to the market before class. We had foregone our usual baguette and cheese sandwiches from the breakfast buffet, knowing we’d soon have a far superior option for lunch. We chatted happily as we walked, stopping at each of the market stalls along the way, smiling at the Chinese man who always had the best deal on tomatoes. He never failed to greet us with a “bonjour!” and laughed when we took pictures of his stall.

As we approached the end of the market, I turned around, confused. “I don’t think it was this far down,” I said, and we turned to look back at the blue-canopied stalls on either side. It had started to drizzle and the market suddenly looked a lot smaller. I had been too busy talking to notice, but there were many fewer stalls this time. Jenn and I headed to class empty-handed and ended up with Chinese takeout for lunch instead. The fried rice tasted awful and the “hot and sour” soup, once my favorite, was cold and bland. As I gnawed on a soggy eggroll, I realized that we were slowly becoming obsessed with the search for this chicken. It was our Holy Grail – so elusive that it became all-consuming!

On Sunday, with renewed faith, we decided to head to one of Paris’s best open markets at Bastille. Rows and rows of stalls sold everything from kitchen knick knacks to bargain-priced wines. There were cheese counters, seafood and butcher stalls, fresh produce, fruit, and breads. There were artisanal pastas, prepared Lebanese and Spanish dishes, and even a stall devoted entirely to honey.

Amidst all of this variety, the one thing that we’d come to find still eluded us. The stalls of the market were organized in three rows and we patiently wound our way through each one, keeping an eye out for the perfect roast chicken. After passing through from one end to the other, I began to feel discouraged.

“If we can’t find the chicken, did you want to just grab a sandwich here to take home?” I asked Jenn.

“I don’t want to settle for something that I’m not craving,” she said, casting one last hopeful glance back towards the stalls. And she was right. We both knew that nothing else would satisfy us, we may as well resign ourselves to cheese sandwich monotony. I got a mental image of the hard, curling edges of the cheese when it had been left out too long and shuddered.

We were turning to leave when I felt a tug on my sleeve. Jenn’s face brightened as she pointed to a busy corner stall with two huge rotisserie cabinets and a variety of chickens sitting in the front on display. The cabinet was open and the smell of the roasting poultry wafted out, hitting me full-force and reminding me of that first Saturday morning when I’d come across the Port Royal market. I could feel the heat from the chickens as they turned and sizzled, hot golden oil dripping onto the pans of potatoes below, soaking up all the juice. There were so many choices, but the one that caught my eye was a deep golden brown chicken with lemon slices laid neatly on top.

“Bonjour mademoiselles!” the woman behind the counter chirped, “What can I get for you today? Un petit poulet? A small chicken?” Her voice was a high-pitched sing song, almost cartoonish, and Jenn and I giggled as we pointed to our selection. The chicken lady nodded and went about scooping up potatoes for us, whistling, and singing “cut, cut, cut!” as she expertly snipped the chicken in half.

Happily, we headed to the large airy courtyard of the Places des Voges to enjoy our meal. In between juicy bites of our citrus chicken, we wondered at our good luck in finding what we’d been searching for all along. Just when we’d almost given up, we’d found it – or perhaps, it had found us. I let the lemony butter sauce drizzle over my dark meat and potatoes and I looked around happily at the scene around us. Couples sat close on benches underneath the manicured hedges of the trees above, and families played near the four fountains on the grass. My stomach and my heart were full, and suddenly I realized, life is too short to settle for stale cheese sandwiches. It’s time to enjoy the feast.

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4 Comments »

  1. Haifa said,

    Thumbs down. Don’t quit your day job. Oh, wait…

    😀 Just kidding! You came a long way, and worked so hard on this – so proud of you!

  2. Brianne said,

    I love how there’s a pigeon in your photo of the chicken.

  3. Kim said,

    You are a brilliant writer…you had me glued to the screen to find out if you ever completed the mission of the roasted bird. =)

  4. Grant said,

    I now have new meaning life! I am going to switch from making sushi to making…chicken! Well, maybe not, but my partners would probably think its a great idea. Hmm, on second thought…Costco and Sam’s Club look out!!

    Great writing Malia!


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