Much earlier in my life, I was fortunate to live in Paris, benefiting from its cultural richness and the experience of living in a storied world capital. During my five years there, I gained so much, especially in culinary matters.
When I moved to the City of Light from Israel, my husband and I lived in a small 7th floor apartment – no elevator – above a magnificent food market next to Les Halles. Discovering the fabled Marché de Montorgueil and having it part of my daily life was an important part of my Parisian initiation. It was a great introduction to the famous French art de vivre and their well-honed relationship with food.
I learned so much from the Parisians. Thanks to plentiful markets in every neighborhood, residents typically purchase just enough fresh vegetables, fruits, cheese, herbs and other staples to last for 24 hours. The logic is simple: your food will taste better and be healthier when you use fresh ingredients. It also means you don’t have to schlep large loads of groceries like many people do in North America.
Going to the market, you mix and match from what the vendors have to offer that day. You use your imagination in buying the necessary ingredients to prepare your next lunch or dinner.
During my first month after arriving in Paris, I became friendly with a special woman: Tura Milo. Her personal and professional narrative could fill a book. She is smart, creative, a respected family doctor, a devoted mother and an amazing friend… with a passion for Israeli food.
How lucky I felt, decades later, when during a (pre-pandemic) visit to Paris that Tura asked me to prepare an entire home-cooked dinner for 12 of her friends. The criteria for the menu: a gluten-free meal, featuring Israeli food at its best.
They say the process is often more rewarding than the results. How true that can be. To prepare for the dinner, Tura and I went to the market on Rue du Buci where we filled our straw baskets with the best raw ingredients and walked back to her nearby beautiful apartment on the Bd. Saint-Germain on the Left Bank.
When Tura asked that no bread be served at the dinner, I first asked myself, how can you eat tahini without bread, especially when you live so close to so many enticing boulangeries?
Well, Tura was right. She insisted bread takes away from the food and that the stars of any meal are your dishes.
I didn’t argue. As for me, I was glad to share my passion for Israeli food with Tura’s friends, many of whom weren’t familiar with it. I will always cherish the memory of the smiles and sense of discovery on their faces when we served the vast display of dishes on her large, beautiful plates, including green tahini, smoky eggplants, roasted tricolor peppers, roasted cauliflower, gluten-free tabbouleh.
For the main course, we served cod fish with fresh local herbs, which melted in the mouth as it was dense with flaky texture. For desert, we served halva from my home town of Jerusalem.
As I sat at the long table throughout the dinner, observing the warm atmosphere and joy of Tura’s friends in English and French as they savored what we had prepared, I thought to myself how the evening was a vivid reflection of what I always say: Food can bring people together, like nothing else. Which always gives me so much satisfaction and makes all the work in the kitchen worth the effort.