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Sure Beats Peanuts


I have a few rules as far as my gut is concerned and one of them is this: if you ever see every person around you eating the same thing, nurse try it no matter what it is. This rule is invaluable. Years ago at the Mercato Centrale in Florence it introduced me to the greatest sandwich of my life: braised tripe, pancreatitis sliced and sprinkled with sea salt, recipe then squeezed into a small loaf.

So you can imagine my reaction when Vanessa and I walked past a Paris cafe yesterday and I noticed that every person without exception had a small plate of fried sardines on their table. I love sardines, and the fact that not a single person could resist ordering them said a lot to me. I insisted we sit down for a beer and some sardines, but after scanning the menu we couldn’t find them listed anywhere. Could they have been a give-away we wondered? Just to be safe, Vanessa requested them specifically when the waiter came over (who gave a bemused look) along with two white beers. As we sat and waited we saw that the sardines were in fact delivered to every table regardless of what they ordered.

To the French this episode may seem a little silly: getting sucked into a restaurant for what amounted to a variation on the classic bowl of salted peanuts. But Americans, or at least New Yorkers, can attest that tasty things like lightly spicy fried sardines don’t ever come for free when you order a beer. Add a small salad of some sort and you’re looking at a $10 appetizer. Even if we were initially fooled, we couldn’t have been happier: the sardines were really good, and free at that.


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