The American columnist Charles Carrol Fulton, visited Paris in the summer of 1873. In a series of letters for The Baltimore American he faithfully reported his impressions. With a transparent enthusiasm, he described the beauty and amenities of Paris and his admiration for the efficient way in which the city was run. Of the food alas, he had nothing good to say.
From Europe Viewed Through American Spectacles by Charles C. Fulton. Text written in 1873:
Nearly all American families residing in Paris soon break away from the boarding-houses, hire a suite of furnished rooms, employ servants and go regularly to housekeeping. They endure French cooking and French living until they can stand it no longer, and then start off “on their own hook”. During the five weeks we have been at the French pension two families have already left and gone to housekeeping, and a third is now preparing to follow their example. They are here for the education of their children, and, proposing to remain a couple of years, soon discovered that it would be impossible to endure French living. Still, this house has the reputation of keeping the best table in Paris, but the manner of serving the dishes is so unreasonable that the enjoyment of food is destroyed.
Think of serving roast beef without potatoes or vegetables, and, when it is masticated, having peas or beans, that would have been so delightful to eat with it, served separately. Then the deserts are always a mélange of some kind, so mixed that it is impossible to tell what you are eating, and would puzzle an Andrews or Coleman and Rogers to analyze them. A lady remarked at the table to-day that she ate everything mechanically, without a thought as to what it was, contenting herself with the reflection that she would relish home food better when she got there.
“Well, mother,” responded a sharp-witted daughter at her side, who had probably been reading Mark Twain, “you can’t expect to enjoy sweet potatoes and hot corn, with Michael Angelo and Worth the dressmaker, all at one time.”
Breakfast is served in the rooms to each boarder as soon as it is called for, consisting of coffee and bread and butter. At twelve o’clock a lunch is served, of three or four separate courses, generally fried eggs, then beefsteak, or veal-cutlet, and fruit, after all of which is disposed off, coffee is served. Dinner is ready at six o’clock, requiring an hour and a half to dispose of it, each article being served separately and the plates changed, the vegetables invariably following the meat, but never with it. The food is all good enough, and much more abundant than at the hotel table-d’hôte, and would be very palatable if not served up in this nonsensical way. There is also an abundance of wine at both lunch and dinner.
“How I long to get home to enjoy a good square meal!” is the constant exclamation of an American wanderer.
We must not neglect to add that the parties who have gone to housekeeping since our sojourn here reported progress, and are delighted with the experience, viz: muffins, waffles or flannel-cakes for breakfast, with beefsteak and ham and eggs; dinner at two o’clock, with roast chicken and boiled ham, potatoes, peas, and Baltimore pearl hominy, all spread out on the table at once, to the horror of French cooks and servants; supper at eight o’clock, with coffee, cold chicken, and hot rolls from the Boston Bakery, on Boulevard Malesherbes. They are seriously contemplating buckwheat-cakes and pumpkin pie.
The only boarding house in Paris which serves meals in American style is Madame Dejon’s, No. 29 Rue Caumartin, but their table has become so popular that more than a hundred Americans from the Grand and other hotels in the vicinity dine there daily. They have literally turned this once-quiet boarding-house into a refectory, much to the discomfort of the home-guests. We should not wonder if some of these American ladies who have just started housekeeping on a small scale would ultimately develop into American boarding-house-keepers, and revolutionize the mode of eating in all these establishments. To an American it seems contrary to reason and common sense to be eating peas and beans as a separate dish, and meats without vegetables. Their guests are all American or English, and the sooner the revolution is commenced the better.