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From Calcutta to Paris: The Paris Feast

24 July, 2017 07:34  Erin Erin

Mitanti I am Mitanti, was born in Calcutta, more than seven thousand kilometers away from the city of lights, arrived here in Paris in 2010 and instantly fell in love with the eternal city.

Back then, I could hardly fry an egg. May be it was the Parisian air, or may be simply the French culinary culture, but along with Paris, I was soon attracted by the magic of cooking. Over the next few years I mastered my art of cooking, almost a self-taught cook together with numerous little advices that I received from the already-established-in-the-art chefs and even complete strangers that I happened to meet across France and Europe.

After having gathered ample know-hows on French and Indian food, and miscellaneous other tips on other cuisines of the world, I thought of sharing it through my webstie, The Paris Feast.

1.    Why did you move abroad?
I will be honest; I never really planned anything, I love it when life moves on as a giant ball of surprises.

At the age of 24, my boyfriend got a scholarship to study in Paris and we did not give a second thought about getting married at 24 and then accompanying him across the continents. Now he is my husband, a scientist and we both feel in Paris just as a giant redwood sapling feels when shifted from its nursery onto the forest floor, we feel at home in Paris. It was never a decision that we had to take, rather it just happened and now I feel it was the best thing that happened to me. I feel in-sync with the French culture, the French way of life, its liberty, and more importantly its cuisine. Being a food blogger, what can be better than to develop and learn cooking skills in Paris, the gastronomical capital of the world.

2.    How do you make a living?
As they say behind every successful woman there is a man or a woman or any other living person. The same goes for me, and behind my prospective success there is my companion, my husband Mitra. For the moment he makes the living for both of us and it is going well, perfect rather. This helps me to concentrate on developing my cooking skills, on working on the blog, my social media activities which of course never get you much (in terms of earning) in the early days.

I also do not crave for these activities to make a fortune, neither do I expect. One can say it is my passion, my mission, to create and share my experiences, to let myself known irrespective of geographical and regional boundaries. The blog fulfils my mission and probably I will think of some other way to pursue my mission in the future but till I hit some silver, I am sure Mitra will help us both to make our ends meet, to finance our four vacations per year, to help me procure all the equipment I need for my cooking and my blog, and the occational luxury that we indulge in.

3.    How often do you communicate with home and how?
During my 7 years stay in Europe, I have been to India three times for about a couple of weeks each time. But this is 2017 and I am in contact with my parents on a daily basis. We have Google and we have Google Hangout to call and this I do every day. Thus I am reported on a daily basis about our pet cats and what they had (or they caught) for lunch.

4.    What's your favorite thing about being an expat in France?
It is liberty. In fact France is personified by liberty herself and this is what I feel at every step during my errands through Paris. Here I can be myself, do whatever I wish and I am sure there will be no frowning faces looking towards me. As a woman I can freely walk, run and even dance in the streets of Paris and have nothing to worry about (given the narrow alleys there is also infinitesimal change of being run over). As a woman in Paris, I am surely no different in any way than another man in Paris and this is what I admire the most. And then the average French is rather talkative (“bavard” as we call it here) and this is something I love. You can never feel lonely on a random walk and there will always be smiling faces ready with “bonjour” and then go on to narrating their own history up to minute details if you wish to continue.

5.    What’s the worst thing about being an expat in France?
I might say the weather. But of course I lived a year in the Netherlands and here in France it is not as bad, we do have more than seven sunny days a year. But the winter, though not too cold but tends to be gloomy over a period of three or so months and this sometimes can be depressing.

6.    What do you miss most?
Frankly, apart from my family, especially my mother (because my father passed away two months ago) I miss nothing in India. I could have missed the lovely delicious Bengali food. However staying in Paris, I have access to almost all the required spices, and given my skill (not boasting here but…) in making those delicious dishes, I feel truly at home here in Paris.  All the more I feel at home with the French culture, something I love and believe in, so…I feel in Paris just like a butterfly feels on a rose, at home.

7.    What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
The simple solution, speak with almost everyone you cross on the streets, talk about everything under the sun. I met quite a few interesting people this way, not only those from Paris but people from across the world. For example I met a couple from the UK over a flamenco show in Seville and now we are close friends, I met a guy in Cannes about 4 years ago (in 2013) and he foretold that someone unknown will rise to political fame just a few months before the election and become the president of France- quite correct with Macron in 2017.

In terms of food, recipes are there to be picked up at every corner of this “very foodie” country. My buckwheat crepe recipe came from a vendor of buckwheat flour of a remote village in Brittany and tricks to roast a perfect chicken came from an old lady from Annecy in the French alps. All in all, the best gift we human beings have is the gift of language and we must use it, speak with each other as much as we can.

8.    What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
I am a food blogger, and though this is quite ironical, the habit that I don’t like much in France is the amount of fat that goes into making the perfect French dish here. For example, the best desserts here are the ones with thick pastry cream (“crème pâtissière” in French and it is delicious!!!), the best crepes are made with gracious amounts of butter and then there are the famous luscious fattening cheese. But I believe our basic activity as human beings is to eat, we live to eat and France teaches one to eat well. Of course a few more work-outs and a few more steps and one can eat well and also live well in France.

9.    What is a myth about your adopted country?
There are numerous myths about France. In fact I started to believe that almost everything I heard about France before arriving here (all except the wine and the cheese) was a myth. I rather can fill up a blog post on this. But to write down a few, firstly the French do not wash their mouth with wine. In fact given the responsibilities of driving oneself back home, the drinking wine part among the French has drastically gone down over the last few decades. And the French youth are more into beer than wine.

Secondly there is a myth that the French genes never gain weight. I even came across something called the French diet which can make you lose weight. No!!! There are fat and obese French, and though the average French is not as obese as an average American (the secret is here we walk almost 8-9km per day just to get to work) but that average French is in no way anorexic.

Finally the myth that the French hate the English language is baseless apart from a 100 year war fought some 600 years ago. In fact there are more people who speak English in Paris than those speaking French in London. They are simply two different languages and the people who make an effort to learn a foreign language is the same on both sides of the Channel.

10.    Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
The cost of living is of course higher in France compared to India. In fact the last country I lived in was Netherlands and the cost of living is higher in Paris than Netherlands as well. But there are perks, for example the French social security covers almost all medical expenses and this is the same for citizens and non-citizens. Comparing with my country of origin, India, the salary here in France is also much higher and thus the ratio salary-expense trickles down to almost the same value. But of course it is much easier to afford a domestic help and one has aids for almost all possible house work in India. This I can say is almost impossible for a household even with much-above-average income. So simply, it is a matter of affording service to get work done or having the liberty to do one’s own work and for me the second is important.

11.    What advice would you give other expats?
For an expat in France, the only barrier one can face is the language. But French is not that difficult to learn and I may say is one of the sweetest languages in the world (I know its cliché). Once you pass this barrier, the rest is extremely easy to handle in France. The people here are very “sympa” that is to say very loving and caring. As a foreigner even in the early days of my stay in France, people always made the effort to help me and get things moving for me (even though we could communicate only by hand waving).

The administration here (though you would find every French complaining about it) is much easier compared to other countries I have lived in (and I have lived in quite a few, India, Netherlands and Canada). And the best part of French culture is the desire to accept, adapt and integrate. So don’t worry about France, get your wine glasses ready, put on your berets and prepare yourself to say “Bonjour” with a sweet loving smile.

Mitanti 12.    When and why did you start your blog?
I gained knowledge about food, French and other delicacies from round the world over the last seven years. Finally I felt the desire to make myself and my skill known, to let the world know that even if you do not boast of degrees in cooking, never happened to attend cooking classes, you can innovate because at the end of the dish, it is you who will mix the perfect ingredients to come up with the perfect recipe.

In fact there are millions that do so on a daily basis but few have the courage to try and shout out to the world about their skills. I wish to be one of those few. I of course have many hands pushing me up, some close to my heart, like my husband, others like close friends, or even acquaintances or even complete strangers who used to ask me for certain recipes that I happened to post on social media. So why not have a platform where I can share my know-how which I have myself gathered from the known and unknown world around me. So this blog www.theparisfeast.com, was launched professionally last December (2016). And so my recipes and some occasional travel tips from my own vacations started to appear on the website, and so was born and so I move on with The Paris Feast.

Blog LinkMitanti's blog, The Paris Feast

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