A Taste of France in Beirut

I have always adored grocery shopping. More like worshiped it. Scouring the aisles for new products, poring over the nutrition facts, curiously examining delicacies from abroad...the epicurean adventures are limitless!

Now that I work in the financial district in downtown Beirut, I am just a few steps away from Beirut Souks and the TSC Signature gourmet supermarket. It's my go-to at least 2-3 times a day when I'm looking for a break from the office or a simple alimentary pleasure.

Several months ago, I discovered fine French yogurt and dessert products in the refrigerated aisle. Their packaging caught my attention: some came in colored ramequins, others in glass cups and bowls, still others in reusable jars with plastic lids. Their reusability and novelty intrigued me, but the diversity of the yogurt flavors really did me over: prune, chestnut, café, caramel, lemon. And how about the mixed flavors like raspberry-lychee, apple-kiwi, mango-passion fruit, and strawberry-lime? There are even more refined concoctions from Marseille's La Fermiere like fig-honey, rhum with raisin, and spicy chocolate.

The French really have mastered the art of yogurt-making to the extent that yogurt is often enjoyed as a dessert after a meal. Even with the yogurt brands that are considered quotidien, or standard stuff, French yogurt is leaps and bounds better than its American counterpart. The "Fruit on the Bottom" or "Les Yaourts aux Fruits", for example, crafted by Activia consists of an ethereally silky, plain yogurt resting on a bed of lightly sweetened fruit (be it prunes, berries, pears, etc.). Even Panier de Yoplait's 0%, which comes 54 kcal to the cup, is heavenly and contains substantial fruit bits. Having lived most of my life in the US, I honestly don't understand why American food manufacturers skimp on quality and taste for the American palate and just end up piping sugar, preservatives, and alien ingredients (and hence, more calories) into everything.

One of my absolute favorites is the gelified cafe dessert from Normandy's Ferme des Peupliers, whose texture mimics custard with the aroma of coffee beans. Marie-Morin has created a crème café so rich and tantalizing, it should be a crime to indulge in alone. In fact, Marie Morin's treats, which include real tarte au citron (lemon tart) topped with the classic meringue, as well as clafoutis aux cerises (cherry custard cake), crumble pommes (apple crumble), and tarte aux fraises (strawberry tart), are ineffably divine and remind me of the ones I used to enjoy in Paris at the corner patisserie. Their texture, freshness, and richness of ingredients inspired me to express my thanks directly to the Morin family team in Bretagne, who wrote back a few hours later to describe how elated they were to receive my feedback all the way from Beirut.

Though I am often swept by nostalgia for my year in France and the goodies I discovered there, until I get the chance to go back, you'll find me frequenting the TSC yogurt shelf. See you there!

Plain yogurt made from goat milk.


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