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french lesson #2: breadcrumbs.


A new hobby that the 20-year-old me used to think I had a permanent aversion to is cooking. Despite coming from a family very much involved in food, it wasn't until moving to France that I have taken an interest in the kitchen. In my 20s, cooking meant adding chopped onion to my scrabbled eggs or using my oven to heat up leftover Sunday pasta dinner.

Wanting an element of my upbringing here in Paris as well as a relaxing break from my weekly routine, I have been hosting Sunday pasta with meatballs for Aurélien and most recently my French in-laws. Referring to the collection of my great-grandmother's recipes that was recently passed down to me, our apartment on the weekends is now rich with the aroma of her slow-cooked homemade tomato sauce. My version of her recipes still need a little work but every week I'm progressing, learning new ways to improve, and have even been experimenting with modern ingredients like using gluten-free pasta.

Saturday mornings now consist of a heavy shopping trip to pick up the necessities for Sunday feast. Last weekend, I left the house on a gorgeous sunny Saturday with my list of groceries. On the list I had: oeufs, lait, pâtes, tomates, persil, breadcrumbs, ail. Wait, back up. Breadcrumbs? I stood on the sidewalk, stared down at my list, and realized that I in fact did not know how to say breadcrumbs in French. Until recently, why would I?

I knew that crumbs is miettes and bread is pain, so miettes de pain would make sense, right? Just to be sure, I pulled out my phone and looked it up on my handy Word Reference application. Et voilà, there it was, the first entry: miettes de pain. My French is awesome, I remember thinking with victorious pride. Feeling all French and stuff, I figured the boulangerie would sell breadcrumbs and probably damn good ones too, so before heading towards the Monoprix, I made a turn towards my local bakery. After about a ten minute wait on a long line of Parisians stocking up on their weekend bread, it was my turn!

"Bonjour, do you sell miettes de pain here?"

The woman looked almost taken back by my question before snapping, "Pas du tout!" and then dismissed me by acknowledging with her eyes the customer behind me. 

"Hi, sorry, still here," I said while scooching closer to the counter, "Would you by any chance know where I could get them? Perhaps the supermarket sells them?"

"We don't sell miettes de pain here in France." 

I found the "in France" bit a little dramatic, don't you? I was looking to buy breadcrumbs not meth. Geez.

"Really?" Was all I could muster, because I really wasn't prepared for this response. Like at all.

I could feel the wall of tension building behind me as the customers were getting restless, but I wasn't going anywhere. If anyone would know anything about breadcrumbs and where to get them, it would be her, the baker.

"So in France, no one cooks with miettes de pain?" I continued.

"Pas du tout."

Ignoring her curt responses, I went on to explain that I was looking for packaged breadcrumbs for chicken and meatballs, almost going into details of the recipe. With pursed lips, she just kept nodding her head, denying the existence of breadcrumbs, again, in all of France. I swear, she was taking pure evil pleasure in my mounting frustration. And I'm sorry but isn't chicken cordon bleu made with breadcrumbs?

I had no choice but to surrender and accept that breadcrumbs are not for sale, in France. I thanked her for her time but before leaving I irrationally added, "Well then why does the word exist if it's not available?"  

She just stared back at me.

Yeah, I knew I wasn't going to get anywhere with that one.

Befuddled that no one cooks with breadcrumbs, well according to that boulangère, I proceeded to the market with no intention of purchasing or even thinking about them. As far as I was concerned, it was a four-letter word.

With my shopping tote brimming with my ingredients, I was trotting back home brainstorming how I was going to make homemade breadcrumbs when Aurel called. I regaled him with my bakery adventure and not even having to finish the story he knew exactly what I was looking for, not miettes de pain but rather chapelure.

Miettes de pain is literally bread crumbs, like the ones that litter the floor after a cheese and baguette attack. Breadcrumbs for cooking is chapelure, the word that was settled right under my precious miettes de pain on Word Reference that I selected to ignore. My foodie friends here must be chuckling because I'm sure chapelure to many of you is super obvious, but hey, I'm new to all of this.

22 comments:

  1. Oh, the adventures of ingredient-translation "here in France."

    I made chicken cutlets a few weeks ago but had no idea where to start with translating breadcrumbs so I looked it up before venturing out to the grocery store. The only box I found was a German brand. Enough said :)

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    1. What site did you use to translate it? And how did you know that chapelure was a better choice than miettes de pain? I thought I did my homework as well by looking it up but ended up going with the wrong word! Good thing miettes de pain didn't mean anything naughty!

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  2. ahh...the "in France"...so cutting...I can just imagine.

    Monoprix or Bon Marche or Franprix?

    where did you end up getting them?

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    1. The constant reminder of it not being sold "in France" was grating. Like, okay, I got it the first time. Geez!

      Aurelien just ended up picking them up at Simply Market, but since, I have seen them everywhere. Chapelure is everywhere, miettes de pain is not. : )

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  3. I make my own "chapelure" from old baguettes. Instead of throwing awaying hard baguettes that I didn't finish, I collect them, and then when I need some "chapelure" I grate my hard bread and voilà!

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    1. I don't know why "chapelure" is so hard to find in Paris, but out here in Bordeaux I always see boxes of chapelure stocked in my local supermarkets.

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    2. Good for you for making your own breadcrumbs! That was my plan B, but I didn't have any stock of old bread (in our house, it's kind of a challenge - we're carbohlolics). But that is something I will definitely try though in the future! Homemade breadcrumbs just sound better.

      Since this story, I have seen chapelure EVERYWHERE. I guess it was there all along, I just hadn't noticed. : )

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  4. At the expense of your pride - I'm loving these french lessons Ella - Another word for my (much limited) vocabulary, thank you! :) x

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    1. Girl, I have NO pride when it comes to the French language. Sometimes I think that's how you should be, otherwise how else will you learn? I put myself out there and it doesn't always work out, and that's okay.

      I'm glad you are enjoying these little lessons. My in-laws certainly get a kick out of them as well! Thanks for dropping a note!

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  5. Hey, I could have told you chapelure but not miette, guess I'm a tidy cook :)

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    1. I just thought miettes de pain made sense! I did see chapelure under miettes and was like nah, it's definitely miettes de pain. Shame on me for translating exactly!

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  6. Darn they are tough in Paree. I almost forget and my memories get kind of rosy from having lived there until I hear a story like this. Down here in the happy South they would have at least tried to meet you half way!
    And I can find chapelure even in the mini-markets so it must also be a Paree snob thing. ;)
    PS. I made your Italian Girl No-Pasta stir fry the other day, thought of you! For yums...

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    1. Aurelien was a little annoyed too that she hadn't met me in the middle. I didn't even have to finish my sentence to him (which, by the way, was also in French) before he understood what I was asking for.

      You know since this incident it's been like chapelure fest. I notice it everywhere, at markets, in friends' kitchens, at my in-laws, another box populated in my kitchen. It's breadcrumb hysteria here in Paris.

      Oooooh Italian Girl stir-fry, I think I'll have to whip up a plate this week. Ultimate comfort food! Thanks for the reminder!

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  7. I love this story. The boulangerie is not the spot I would try to ask for anything that I was not 100% sure they had. Those women scare me! But good for you for taking the plunge. Hope you got what you needed at the local Franprix or Monoprix and had a fab sunday night pasta night! xx

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    1. You're so right, it really was a risky move thinking I could go to a place that is notorious for being huffy and ask for something that is apparently "outside of the box". Live and learn, je suppose.

      The meatballs came out great thanks to Aurelien's help, picking up the missing ingredients! My in-laws actually had SECONDS. I was honored. : )

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  8. Haha! "Why does the word exist"!! In Spanish, they don't say "migas de pan" either, although they do make dishes with that. Rather it's "pan rallado", or "grated bread".

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    1. Hahaha, it was completely an irrational question to ask, but I was annoyed! That seems to happen a lot here. You guys must think I hate this place! I really don't. I just get stuck sometimes.

      It's interesting that it isn't directly translated in Spanish either, but I suppose that would make sense being another romance language.

      Thanks for commenting Kaley!

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    2. I did forget that word the other day, so I bought Harina de Pan...it's just flour..

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  9. Confession: I've been making my own miettes de pain for the last four years.
    I bet your Sunday lunches have been a great success! x

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    1. Wow! From the advice I have been getting here in the comments, it doesn't seem to be too difficult. Famous last words...

      When I finish my two boxes, I'll give it a shot. I bet it gives the food a much more artisan taste!

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  10. But of course! I do actually make my own by whizzing them in a food processor though, should you ever dare brave that boulangerie again ;o)

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    1. I have since been back but haven't seen that little witch. I'll give homemade bread crumbs a shot. It seems to be easy enough, right? I think the problem is that we never have left over bread. : ) #carbfamily

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