It is currently -4 degrees Celsius in Paris. The sky is beautifully clear and the sun is shining brightly. There is not even the faintest sign of a snowflake in sight. However, when the weather is as cold as this, it is time to bring out the Russian scarf, hat and gloves. This, in turn, brings out plenty of memories of Russia for me.
Pushkin, St Petersburg (photo taken in August 2008.)
One of the poems I learnt whilst in Siberia was this short poem written by Aleksandr Sergeyvich Pushkin in the early 1800s, to another man's wife. It is one of those that I have recited so many times, that I will probably (and hopefully) never forget it. (My (loose) translation is below.)
Я вас любил, любовь еще, быть может,
В душе моей угасла не совсем;
Но пусть она вас больше не тревожит;
Я не хочу печалить вас ничем.
Я вас любил безмолвно, безнадежно,
То робостью, то ревностью томим
Я вас любил так искренно, так нежно
Как дай вам бог любимой быть другим.
I loved you, yes it was love, well maybe,
In my soul, it hasn't quite gone out;
But don't worry yourself any more;
I do not want to bother you with it.
I loved you silently, hopelessly,
Sometimes too shy, sometimes jealous,
I loved you so sincerely, so tenderly,
That I hope you are loved by another in this way.
Beautiful, isn't it? Anyway, when the weather is this cold, it also makes me yearn for hearty Russian food. Therefore when my friend asked me where we should go for breakfast this morning, two words leapt out of my mouth "Café Pouchkine."
Situated on the ground floor of the Au Printemps departement store on Grands Boulevards, this "café" is really nothing more than a counter and a long table. If you are able to get a seat at the table, consider it your lucky day!
Today was my lucky day because either Paris had not woken up yet, or it had decided it was too cold to get out of bed. Either way, there were two spots free at the table!
What I had been craving was thick, stodgy, Russian flavours. The kind that, if I had grown up in Russia, would remind me of my childhood. Tvorog was just what I was after and I was feeling pretty confident that Emmanuel Ryon, Meilleur Ouvrier de France in 2010, would be able to satisfy that itch.
Tvorog is probably somewhere in between the English 'cottage cheese' and the French 'fromage blanc.' It is made (if my memory, and my Russian skills, serves) from soured milk, heated up and then strained. No salt is added, and it has a much lower fat content than its Western European cousins.
Emmanuel Ryon, the brains behind the Café Pouchkine, has often said that he seeks out the perfect balance of French and Russian influences. The Paris-Moscou, for example, is his twist on the Paris-Brest but made with kvas - another traditional Russian foodstuff, but more on that in another blog post shortly... Don't worry, there are still croissants, macarons and your standard French fare. There are also pirojzhki (little meat pies) if you're feeling more adventurous.
Nonetheless, his workmanship is top-notch. With whatever you choose, even if it is out of your comfort zone, you are very unlikely to go wrong. The pastry of my éclair was slightly thicker and more-browned than the average, but it acted as the perfect counter-balance to the creamy tvorog. His attention to detail is impeccable and each and every patisserie is a work of art.
Safe to say, there was nothing left of the eclair. I ate every single piece, and then licked the plate to get every last bit... And of course, I also recited the poem to myself too.
Café Pouchkine at Au Printemps,
Open from 9.35 every morning, until 8pm.