That was the joke I made a couple weeks ago as I departed from the Baltimore Washington International Airport to Charlotte, N.C., which in turn was where I hopped a flight all the way to ... Paris, France, if you can believe that. The joke, of course, was that all I knew I would want as I traveled across the Atlantic Ocean was an L’Dorito (what I assumed to be the French version of a Dorito) whenever my plane landed and the late-night munchies came marching my way. The wee small hours of the morning can always haunt a man, I knew, and there has never been a more fierce ghost than an oversized bag of potato chips when the skies are dark and the television turns to infomercials.
Actually, there was a bit of credence to the notion. While airplanes scare me, foreign food can be downright terrifying, especially when it comes from a country filled to the brim with impossibly thin people. Besides, I had no idea what type of noteworthy cuisine either Paris or France offered. It’s not Italy, which gave us the innovative and irresistible round mound of fabulousness called pizza. Nor is it Philadelphia, which gave us the perfect formula for cheese steaks, or Mexico which gave us scrumptious tacos (or, for that matter, the initial incarnation of a Dorito, presumably).
Imagine my surprise, then, when I happened across a tiny store in the heart of the city’s fashion district on the second day I was there. Wandering through the cramped and thin aisles, I first discovered my most relevant find: a six-pack of Heineken that cost a surprisingly thrifty four euro. The problem? Exactly what is the one thing that drinking beer typically inspires the normal, fat American body to do after emptying those six bottles? Reach for L’Salad?
Not a L’Chance.
Through the cramped walkways, I continued. Without a viable eating option to accompany my new-found No. 1 priority of purchase, I knew the night (or my trip) would never be complete should I not find a proper form of fat to digest. There were meats that looked processed and no more appetizing than the uncooked duck I had as an appetizer at the top of the Eiffel Tower (which, by the way, tasted, looked and felt like cat food). There were cheeses that smelled strong and offered a glow that radiated the single worst color a cheese can exude (yellow). And, probably most importantly, there were loaves upon loaves upon loaves of immaculate-looking bread (who knew the French could give us so much more than just Coco Chanel?!).
Exasperated and a little disoriented, I approached my final turn down the final aisle I had yet to explore. There it stood: Shelves on top of shelves that proudly held small bags of what us Americans would call potato chips and even smaller bags of what us Americans would call candy. Owen Wilson had nothing on me, I thought. This was what it should look like when the clock strikes midnight and the black skies of Paris set the perfect backdrop for hours of whimsical fantasy.
“Eat your heart out,” I wanted to say to Woody Allen.
“Eat” I kept repeating in a whisper to myself as a bit of drool slithered down my chin.
I landed on what essentially amounted to a variation of the sour cream and onion chip, some type of gummy candy that was advertised as having a soda flavor, and, of course, that six-pack of Heineken. Returning back to my hotel room late that night, I reached for a bottle opener, grabbed the bag of potato chips and unsuccessfully attempted to turn on the television for 15 minutes (so many buttons, so little common sense).
The result? A mildly flavored thick piece of fried potato that gained points for crunch but turned my stomach with its flavor. As it goes, France’s version of sour cream and onion tastes a lot like how I always imagined ranch dressing would taste if it grew from a tree and its branches were edible. Oh, and by the way ... I hate ranch dressing.
Still, it served its purpose. Some junk food in the middle of one of the most beautiful cities in the world is better than no junk food in the middle of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I never ended up finishing the small bag, even after working on it for three straight nights. My limit was about six chips per day before I would give up on trying to force my palate into liking something it clearly couldn’t. As for the soda-flavored gummies, well, let’s just say “gummy” in French doesn’t quite mean the same thing as “gummy” in English (after about two pieces, I was convinced the fillings in my teeth had been broken and the dentist would be my first stop after flying back to the States).
Fortunately, I still had my Heineken. And no matter what country in which you might be residing, the universal language of beer will forever seem to know no boundaries. For that, I could describe myself as only one word.