My first nougat encounter
1) I live in the most boring neighborhood in Paris.
2) I love nougat.
The first revelation was slightly upsetting. Whenever I escape the sixteenth arrondissement for the evening, I realize that the rest of Paris is out laughing, drinking and having philosophical discussions over oyster platters, while my neighborhood has already hung up its tweed coat and climbed under its tasteful duvet with a serious book and a mug of tea. I knew the deal when I rented my apartment, but because I have hermit tendencies, I usually actually like living in the sixteenth. It's tranquil, tidy and safe. I know this makes me disgustingly bourgeois, but so be it. (My poor ex-hippie mother was dying for me to rent a tiny, roach-infested garret in the Latin Quarter and shack up with some greasy beatnik performance artist while I was here, and I think it's safe to say that won't be happening any time soon.)
But Wednesday night in Montmartre made me a little jealous. All this time I could have been sipping pastis and flirting with bohemian Gallic guys at the local cafe! I could have been befriending my colorful cheese, fruit and meat vendors and dining on cassoulet in cozy restaurants at 11 p.m.! Everyone I passed seemed young and attractive and in love with life. In my neighborhood, you have to compete for tomatoes each day with Chanel-suited matrons sporting shellacked hair and yappy dogs, and the whole area closes up shop at 7:30 p.m.
As I ambled up and down the narrow streets bemoaning my uncoolness, I came across a cute shop with stacks of terrine and foie gras in the window. It called itself an "epicerie du terroir", which I suppose means that it specializes in high-quality regional products. Like a wasp to honey, I was attracted to a giant display of many types of nougat - mint, pistachio, chocolate, triple chocolate, citrus and on and on. So many colors and flavors to chose from, and each huge round had been sliced into portable, individually-wrapped pieces perfect for a salivating girl who couldn't quite wait until dinner. I asked the owner for advice, and he recommended one that had a few different types of nuts, citrus and a bit of chocolate. Pretty much a grab-bag, making it the perfect novice nougat. My slice was shockingly expensive (around $13), but it turned out to sustain me for over a week of nibbling, so it was a good investment after all.
I've thought about this a lot, and I think I've figured out why I'm now addicted. When it's perfectly fresh as this one was, nougat has a melting, fluffy texture that is very similar to chocolate chip cookie dough. It's almost too sweet sometimes, but the richness of the nuts and the zing of the citrus cut through all the grainy sugar. And you can break off a little bit, wrap the rest back up in its cellophane, and return for a little more in an hour, or the next day. Nougat is a loyal friend, great when you need a tiny sugar buzz or something sweet to snack on during those long, lonely nights holed up with a mug of tea in the silent sixteenth.
Appellations d'origine, l'epicerie du terroir
26, rue Lepic