I would not describe myself as a “foodie,” but I definitely enjoy fine dining. So, you can imagine how excited I was to spend a week in France, le food capitale du the world. I do, however, consider myself a bit of a pork connoisseur. You might even say I’m a “porky.” I have one business colleague I dine out with regularly and when we go to a new restaurant that has an interesting pork dish on the menu, he invariably says, “I know what Bruce is going to order!” He’s usually right and it usually involves a pig.
Back to France. We spent several days in the beautiful seaside town of St. Malo in Brittany.
The old city behind the wall was a treasure trove of restaurants with crepes and galettes (the entrée equivalent of a crepe, which is used mainly in the dessert context in France) and other yummy dishes. For lunch one gorgeous sunny day, we picked out a lovely little brasserie/creperie in an authentic cobblestone square. To my delight, they had several pork-based galettes on the menu. In particular, several of them included various sausages. Oh man, I love sausage. All sausage. Everything straight from Jimmy Dean’s breakfast links to the finest chorizo in South America. Hell, I even love scrapple, which is sausage’s ugly stepchild (defined by Wikipedia as a “mush of pork scraps”). For the sake of clarity, I even enjoy pork that involves the nastiest parts of the pig.
One of the galettes on the menu boasted of andouille sausage with a mustard sauce. Fabulous. I was almost certain I had eaten andouille sausage before (my recollection was Cajun-esque, which made sense since Cajun cuisine has its roots in France). Besides, it didn’t really matter because I love ALL sausage. So, I ordered the andouille galette and waited eagerly for my pig to arrive.
Let me pause for a moment to say that I am a very adventuresome and willing eater of strange food and to share a story. Back in 1999, I co-founded an investment firm to do deals in China. I had never been to China, which, in retrospect, should have been a flag to my investors. But, I read every book I could get my hands on about doing business in China and Chinese customs. They all emphasized the critical role of the big meal production and the importance of eating everything served to you, lest you offend your host/business counterpart and put the deal in jeopardy. On literally my first night in China, after 20+ hours of sleepless travel, I staggered bleary-eyed into my first Chinese business dinner and, boom, I was served a slug. No, I am not exaggerating. No, I do not mean “large escargot.” I mean a friggin’ slug like the ones that crawl out on your front walk at night on a humid summer evening, flicking their antennae at you. Like the ones you poured salt on as a kid to watch them dissolve. It was at least 4 inches long and, I seem to recall, still twitching. And, all I could think about was those damn books that admonished over and over, “if you don’t eat what’s served, you will offend your host and your business meeting will not be successful.” I ate it. Every last bite of it. I think it was still alive on the way down. I ate it anyway. It was monumentally disgusting. But, I ate it.
One final side note to this side story. I was at the fateful slug dinner with my much older and more China-savvy partner. Bill had been to China many times, done numerous deals in China, eaten numerous meals in China, spoke fluent Mandarin, and was once married to a Chinese woman. Bill never touched his slug. As we retreated to our hotel, I said, “Hey Bill, how come you didn’t eat your slug? Weren’t you worried it might mess up our deal?” He responded logically, “screw the deal; that was a fucking live slug.” There endeth my first lesson in China business dining.
So, it is against that backdrop that my andouille galette avec mutarde arrived at the table. And, when it did, I nearly passed out. From the smell. I took one small bite. I literally gagged. Thanks be to God that no big business deal rested on my eating one more bite let alone the whole galette. I quickly folded over the rest of the galette to cover the andouille (in hopes that it would contain the smell) and started poaching food from my wife and children’s plates.
I have to admit my shock and surprise at the way this unfolded. How could something so yummy as sausage smell and taste so putrid? My wife did a little research when we got back to our hotel room to solve this mystery. She found a website that, frankly, I am shocked I made it to now without knowing about, called Uncle Stinky.
Uncle Stinky has two references to andouille sausage. First he says:
“I would never have discovered Troyes, a beautiful medieval town of timber-framed buildings, were it not for a pale, lumpy sausage made from pigs’ intestines that smells like a pissoir….”
For the non-French speaker, he goes on to provide a translation of “pissoir.”
Definition: pis·soir (pis-wahr): A public urinal located on the street in some European countries. [French, from Old French, from pissier, to urinate].
Second, he references the author of the Wikipedia article about the sausage, which has a somewhat different take on andouille:
“French andouille is an acquired taste and can be an interesting challenge even for adventurous eaters who don’t object to the taste or aroma of feces……”
So, two references to my beloved lunch meat – one says it tastes and smells like piss and the other like shit. Hey, garcon, please bring me more andouille.
Needless to say and unlike my encounter with the Chinese slug, I did not eat the pig shit. I’m sure somewhere back in St. Malo there’s a very offended chef. Not my problem. He’s the one that invited me into the sausage factory.