Comfort Food in France: Couscous
Prepare to be shocked. I think it’s safe to say that we may be the only couple – EVER in the history of gourmet dining in Paris – to cancel a reservation (made six months in advance) at the Tour d’Argent, one of Paris’s most well-known Michelin-star restaurants, – to opt for a couscous restaurant.
The reason I’m telling you this (which is a secret that I wouldn’t share with anyone except you, dear Parislogue reader) is because this is reality. Things happen. For example, yes, you CAN get food poisoning in Geneva, Switzerland.
And yes, the food poisoning can wreck your whole trip, including the necessity to cancel dinner reservations and the only thing you can possibly think of eating under such circumstances might be a bowl of couscous.
What is so comforting about this dish introduced to France by its north-African immigrants – particularly from Morocco and Tunisia?
Couscous is a grain called semolina – when it’s steamed, the grain expands and becomes fluffy like rice. A vegetable broth of root vegetables such as carrots and turnips and garbanzo beans accompanies the semolina. The meat portion of the couscous might include skewered lamb, beef or chicken. (In seaside towns, fish may replace the meat, however in Paris you’re most likely to find meat-based couscous. Depending on the restaurant, the vegetable broth may be spicey or you can add hot pepper sauce according to taste.
Some couscous restaurants will offer a vegetarian-based couscous including raisins, nuts, and maybe even coconut.
Couscous is not only soothing for sore stomachs but it’s also soothing on the wallet. You’ll note that some of the FREE FOOD listings under Free Paris (such as the Tribal Cafe offer free couscous to guests on certain nights).
Normally you can find couscous in the student neighborhoods such as the Latin Quarter where you should expect to pay not more than 15 Euros for a fixed menu. Make this your major meal of the day. It’s filling.
If you remember in my recent film review of La Graine et Le Mulet, I’ll remind you that one of the most sensous scenes in this film involved eating couscous (of course that’s a subjective statement). You can judge for yourself – but first try a plate of couscous and see if you don’t agree that there’s nothing quite as satisfying whether you’re really hungry or really hurting.
Finding a couscous restaurant in Paris. Restoaparis has reviewed a number of couscous restaurants. No need to go to the most expensive places in town. Sometimes you’ll find a neighborhood restaurant to be the most delightful.
Pascal at Restoaparis has recommended Oasis – although I haven’t tried out this restaurant located in the 15th arrondissement, if Pascal says it’s good – it’s good.
The 15th arrondissement unfortunately is a little off the beaten track if you only plan on being in Paris for a short stay, but not to worry, you should have no trouble finding a cous-cous restaurant in the Latin Quarter or Rue Mouffetarde.