petit sac pour emporter les restes
One of the first cultural differences I encountered after moving to the land of bistros was this: they don't do doggy bags in la France!
In 1990, in Aix-en-Provence, a plate of egg rolls separated me from my future husband. Egg rolls in France are different from those in the States. In France, Asian restaurants serve the fried rouleaux with sprigs of mint and leaves of lettuce in which to roll them. Les Nems, as they are called, are Jean-Marc's and my favorite entrée, and we usually order so many that by the time the main course arrives we are too full to finish it.
At the end of that first shared meal in the restaurant chinois, we had our first leftovers. I explained to Jean-Marc that les restes in America go into doggy bags. Jean-Marc was amused by the funny term and his practical side was quickly won over by the concept. But when he tried out the idea on the waitress, asking her to wrap up the remaining food on our plates, she showed neither amusement nor practicality. In fact, she looked a bit put out by the request.
After Jean-Marc persisted, the waitress returned with an empty plastic tub which, judging from the label, had formerly held pistachio ice cream. She pried open the container and slid the contents of both plates inside. I watched doubtfully as the sweet-and-sour shrimp was poured right over the canard laqué, and the riz cantonais was heaped directly on top.
"Ça ira?" As the waitress scraped off the last grain of rice from the plates, her exaggerated gesture embarrassed me, cheapening an otherwise romantic evening.
Walking down Aix's narrow and winding cobblestone streets after the meal, I suggested to Jean-Marc that maybe it was not a good idea, after all, to ask restaurants to wrap up food. It was too awkward for everyone involved when the servers had to go scavenging for odd containers in order to be accommodating.
Jean-Marc disagreed. It was a very good idea, he assured me—no more wasted food. The French would do well to adopt the practice of asking for a doggy bag!
"But they are not doggy-bag equipped here, so there's no use trying to save the food!" As I argued my point, I walked right into a street beggar. Suddenly, three sets of eyes bounced off each other.
"Bonsoir, monsieur," Jean-Marc spoke first.
I watched my date, who smiled as he crouched to the ground, offering the homeless man the "useless" invention. Le doggy bag.
The homeless man nodded his appreciation. A long pause ended, and Jean-Marc and I walked on. I pulled my boyfriend's arm close. This one was a keeper.
Your edits appreciated. Does the story read clearly? Should it be included in the book? See the comments box at the end of this edition to leave an edit or feedback.
a kind of fried egg roll
starter, hors d'oeuvre
le restaurant chinois
les restes (mpl)
le canard laqué
le riz cantonais
will that do?
Good evening, sir
A Message from Kristi: For twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.
Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.
Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety