Boeuf Bourguignon/Lemmings

I don’t want to hijack Charles’s thread about his upcoming crawl, so I am responding here to Parn’s questions about the obsession Paris visitors have with Boeuf Bourguignon and why visitors all go to the same crappy spots. Caveat: These are my opinions and theories and most certainly are not representative of anyone else.

Question One: What’s the deal with all the Boeuf Bourguignon love?

— Two reasons. First off is the Julia Child factor.

Non-Americans probably won’t get or care about this factor. But in the 1960s, middle class America was a culinary wasteland. In many households, canned and frozen food was the norm, frozen TV dinners were very popular. In my home (with seven kids) we didn’t have foods like fresh garlic (garlic salt was it), or fresh herbs. Julia arrives on the scene with her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking, co-authored with two French cooks.

Introducing French food to the general populace, Julia hosted what became a very popular TV show, The French Chef, featuring recipes from her books. But there was much more to Julia then those recipes. Over the years, she became an American icon, known for her common sense and wit. She shunned commercial endorsements, and maintained a sense of dignity when other food personalities sold out.

One of Julia’s most popular recipes from The French Chef was Boeuf Bourguignon. The audience laughed with Julia as she happily poured red wine into her stew pot, a move not common for American housewives. And even though the recipe takes up three pages in her French Chef cookbook (which features recipes from her shows), that stew became THE iconic French dish in America. Julia broke down the steps making it easy for viewers to make it. In fact, it was the first French meal I ever made. (My first ever French dish though was Crepes Suzette.) So, many Americans consider Boeuf Bourguignon, the quintessential French dish, something comforting they love and want to try in Paris.

— Reason Two: Boeuf Bourguignon is delicious.

Photos of the Boeuf Bourguignon recipe from my well-worn French Chef Cookbook:

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Question Two: Why do visitors to Paris go to the same crappy spots?

Answer: The Snowball Effect and because they are Lemmings.

Granted, the snowball effect started long before social media. When I first joined Chowhound, back in its earliest days, I chose the screen name TrishUntrapped. Until I started reading posts on Chowhound, filled with tips about great restaurants in New York City, I usually only went to Tourist Traps. Those were the restaurants I read about on the back of a playbill after a Broadway show or heard about through advertisements. But on Chowhound, my culinary world opened up, getting tips from others. I no longer felt trapped. It didn’t matter to me that I had never met AranciGuy from Queens, but when he recommended an old school Italian red sauce joint in Bayshore, I had to go. I knew it would be delicious, and it was.

Fast forward to today. Taking into account granddaddy message boards like Chowhound - social media has grown and GROWN. People are still prone to listening to the voices of strangers. I recently started following a Facebook page about Paris Travel Tips and there is a lot of conversation going on. On the food side, virtually every new poster asks about places to eat. And a number of the board regulars post photos of the amazing meals they have had at Angelina and Pink Mamma, so guess where everyone wants to go? Trip report after trip report, 90% go to those two places. They endure a great deal of angst if they don’t get a reservation three months out.

I shake my head. Lemmings. You Lemmings! You do NOT need to go to those places. They are RIPOFFS! They are TOURIST TRAP CENTRAL! But my voice is silenced by the regulars. I am not AranciGuy, I have not earned a following. But I have started to post photos from the restaurants I have enjoyed, and am gently recommending alternatives.

I am trying hard not to be a Lemming. And I thank Parn, John Talbott, Onzieme and others for taking the time and having the patience to help visitors like me find culinary bliss in the most beautiful city in the world.

Don’t be a Lemming:

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I like this topic, @Trish.

Sometimes, travellers end up at tourist traps because they’re convenient to the sites, they’re following through on a loved ones’ recommendation, or one person in the party has their heart set on a certain resto or dish. Sometimes, if you’re travelling with others, going with the flow makes more sense with the group dynamics.

I treat my meals like a batting average when I’m not travelling solo.

When I am inside a tourist trap, or a chain, or a place I wouldn’t have chosen, this is the challenge.

Figuring out what that restaurant might do well, and seeing if I might be right.

I think I was fussier and more of a snob 15 years ago than I am now, despite being a better cook who has tried more things 15 years later.

I love Paris, but I don’t think it’s the most beautiful city in the world! I’m not even sure it’s the most beautiful city in France! :joy:

Full disclosure: I’ve visited France 7 times, and I’ve never ordered Boeuf Bourgignon at a restaurant. :trophy:

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Me too, I don’t think I had one, maybe a “descontructed one”. It’s a homemade stew, if you want a good one, try the recipe of Paul Bocuse.

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I think also, to eat well, one needs to do research, it’s hard work actually. Easier to just follow everybody.

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Many first time visitors to any foreign country are wary of the unknown. Language, culture, food, all of the things that give a place its identity. When they read about a restaurant that welcomes foreigners and makes them comfortable by gesture and approachable food, they relax and have a good time, return home and publicize their find. Repeat and repeat until you have what we call a “tourist trap”. These places serve an important purpose and need.

Not necessarily lemmings, just visitors who honestly have no idea how to cope in an unfamiliar milieu…

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Thank you for this @pilgrim. I studied 7 years of French in junior high and high school and excitedly went with my high school group to Paris for the first time. This was in the late 1980s. And I experienced racism, mostly while sightseeing with my group but also in restaurants (however, the presence of my awesome and capable white male chaperones probably helped to curb that). When I returned to Paris as a young adult in my 20s, I also experienced uncomfortable situations. My friend (who is also Asian) and I stuck to my places where we felt comfortable. And we thoroughly enjoyed our trip. That’s my limited experience. I hope to visit France again soon because I love the language and the culture.

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“And I experienced racism”
Although off-topic, can you give details ?

I have Asian-French friends (mostly of “Indochinois” and Korean origins), who, while having no problems elsewhere in Paris, are very hesitant to go to the tourists zones because they are considered particularly easy prey by all the scam artists, pickpockets, etc that patrol the tourist areas and ligne 1 of the métro. I presume this was your experience as well.

I have the impression that, for many foreign tourists, Paris is like some grand theme park with the tourist attractions and cutesy little bistros the “rides”. The living Paris, its culture and lifestyle are largely ignored. Because of language barriers and short stays, maybe this is inevitable.

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I think that’s true of many major cities. Our stays in Rome and Florence certainly seemed similar & NYC is only saved by its sheer size, enabling a lot of us to avoid major parts of the city, except to go to Broadway’s theaters or maybe a prominent museum.

Knowing (& living) it is one of the major reasons for being on CH and other food boards like HO. Although limiting (especially due to language issues) it does give folks a glimpse behind the curtain and maybe some ways to peer in further if interested. Folks who visit regularly, some that are part time residents & those (like you) who are full time Parisians & who are willing to participate in English language boards are crucial to those of us who want to get more discussion, insight & direction than an Eater.com restaurant list/review or a Tripadvisor board will give us. And, when you come to NYC for a visit, you’ll know not to ask for the best bagel.

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@ParnParis Not ignored but more probably unseen. When we used to travel, my mother would put us on a city bus and we’d ride to the end of the line, then in another direction. Only after we had seen the various parts of the real city did we begin to visit its famous sites.

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On my last visit to Rome, I had a walking guide (a book) and my phone battery had died, so I couldn’t use an online map. I didn’t have a charger. I was in a daze, walking around this beautiful, residential neighbourhood, maybe within a mile of Villa Borghese. I realized I’d walked off the map that I had. I stopped inside a Sicilian coffee shop, marvelled at the pastries, which were unlike the more typical Roman pastries you’d see closer to the typical tourist circuit.

Luckily I was able to backtrack to a street on the edge of my map, and figure out my way back to my hotel.

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Phoenicia: “I stopped inside a Sicilian coffee shop, marvelled at the pastries, which were unlike the more typical Roman pastries you’d see closer to the typical tourist circuit”.

Warning --One of my tangential stories coming up.

I grew up in Brooklyn (ok, you all are painfully aware of that) and there was always a very, very large Italian population. “Italian” restaurants, pastry shops, etc. were plentiful and were always a part of my life. I starting traveling to Italy over 30 years ago, driving and touring thru Northern Italy with my wife. Rome, Milan, Parma, Venice, Umbria, Florence – I loved it but never felt that I recognized the culture or the food & figured that long time immigration to the US had revised what was seen as “Italian” in NYC. Then I went to Sicily and I felt like I was back in the Brooklyn of my childhood. The food, the pastries, the culture. So, yeah, I get your point. Did you eat any? Have you been to Sicily? or Brooklyn? (answers best placed elsewhere on HO I guess).

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I’ll start an Italian pastry thread :it::it::it:

When we were regularly visiting London, husband and I would run around all morning, lunch, then he would take a nap. I would jump a bus and see some outlying bourg or village. One afternoon I was greeted by the manager of our small hotel. He asked about my day and I crowed, “I’ve been to Mortlake!” He look puzzled and horrified and replied, “Why on earth?” “Because it’s there?” He felt sorry for me, and I for him.

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10 years ago there were several posters on another board that you and I are on who never crossed the bridge into Brooklyn from Manhattan. Now you cant keep several of them away from my part of the world, but I’m guessing that 90% of Brooklyn is still unknown to them. And, while parts of Queens is now becoming trendy, well not so much the Bronx or Staten Island.
Of course, the other side of the coin is that my mother worked in downtown Manhattan but never set foot anywhere else but work/train station, nor did she go much outside her area of Brooklyn without us kidnapping her. That was the only way she wanted to understand her world.

You underscore an important point. It is seldom useful to ask a local in an outerborough about anything other than the immediate area since most of them seldom veer far off their daily rat-tracks. I probably know more varied parts of Paris quite better than I do San Francisco although I’ve lived here 50 years.

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But some visitors enjoy or even prefer contact with kindred souls. Several years ago another couple joined us in Paris and a side trip to Brittany. I had carefully charted our evening meals, taking them to our favorite and some new trending, under the radar places. Several days before the end of the trip, they asked to go out alone. The went to Allard, sat in the American room and had an outstanding and unforgettable time chatting with other Americans. Something for everyone.

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Similar story: My husband and I were in London in the 70s and took the tube out to Richmond to visit a garage that he bought mail order parts for the Triumph TR3 that he had at the time. We were so excited and would tell people that we had gone all the way to Richmond! People looked at us like we were nuts (as did the guys at the garage - I don’t think they had seen many in-person American customers).

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We did the same but caught tourist fever and took the ferry back to downtown, passing under those wonderful iron bridges, past rowing clubs and… Spur of the moment, which sometimes yields the best moments.

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Bessarabsky Market, Kyiv. Ukraine
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