Lipp’s is where you are going to eat and drink too […]
There were a few people in the brasserie and when I sat down on the bench against the wall with the mirror in back and a table in front and the waiter asked if I wanted beer I asked for a distingué, the big glass mug that held a liter, and for potato salad.
The beer was very cold and wonderful to drink. The pommes à l’huile were firm and marinated and the olive oil delicious. I grounded black pepper over the potatoes and moistened the bread in the olive oil. After the first heavy draft of beer I drank and ate very slowly. When the pommes à l’huile were gone I ordered another serving and a cervelas. This was a sausage like a heavy, wide frankfurter split in two and covered with a special mustard sauce. (A Moveable Feast, 68-69)
As Norman Mailer put it, Ernest Hemingway was a “dedicated gourmandise” – his obsession with food is most present in his memoir, A Moveable Feast, which is about his adventures in Paris during the 1920s. I took a seminar called “Americans in Paris,” and this is one of the novels we read, and one of the inspirations for why I started this blog in the first place.
While Paris in the 1920s brings to mind many things depicted in Woody Allen’s magical movie Midnight in Paris including literary expatriates, beautiful clothing, jazz music, and many exciting artists, food might not be such an obvious characteristic of the time. This is why I think A Moveable Feast stuck with me so much: it brings to life the world Hemingway was a part of, including the world of food and drink.
In this quote, Hemingway gives a vivid description of his experience eating and drinking at the Brasserie Lipp. This image brings insight into the significance of café culture in Paris.
Even though I have never been to Paris before, as I “walked” along the Parisian streets with Google Maps I noticed that the place is sprinkled with cafes and restaurants, which emerged during the modern era. A typical café serves a selection of foods and coffee, with the large majority of them having outdoor seating for prime people-watching. Cafes “notably provided an ambiance quite different from the boozy miasma of the tavern” where people could read the newspaper and have a stimulating conversation over a cup of coffee and a pastry (Abramson 24).
Cafes come in many variations, including the brasserie, or brewery. “Brasseries appeared during the Second Empire, increasing in number after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 and the development of the train line linking Strasbourg to Paris” (Abramson 120). Many brasseries, because of the influence of the Franco-Prussian war, have a Germanic flair, including the Alsatian brasserie.
Alsace, a region of France with Germany as its neighbor, blends German and French cuisines to create the traditional food of the area. These distinctive dishes include cervelat, or pork sausage, as well as other items presented in copious portions (Price 155-157). Brasserie Lipp is one of the famous eateries in Paris that offer Alsatian cuisine.
Léonard Lipp, who couldn’t stand to live under Kaiser Rule after the French-Prussian war of 1870 and the loss of the Alsace-Lorraine region, came to Paris and opened his own brasserie. In 1918, the name was changed to today’s Brasserie Lipp as Marcellin Cazes took over the business (“Brasserie Lipp”). Brasserie Lipp remains a famous landmark for tourists who want to sit where Hemingway sat as he contemplated his future career with a plate of French potato salad and a liter of beer.
Hemingway’s memoir took place before he was rich and famous, and he struggled with affording food and often times skipped meals. Perhaps this is why he chose the Brasserie Lipp to eat in this particular scene – if Alsatian food comes in large amounts, and the Brasserie Lipp offers Alsatian cuisine, maybe he got a satisfying amount of potato salad for a fairly reasonable price. Additionally, we know that Hemingway loved his alcohol; after all, it was Hemingway who said, “Write drunk, edit sober.” Because the Brasserie is known for its beer, this was the perfect place for him to enjoy his meal with quality alcohol. Looking at his writing style, we can find a link between his “meat and potatoes” writing and his meat and potatoes meal.
When figuring out where to get a recipe for French potato salad, the first thing that came to mind was Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. When Child fell in love with French cuisine after World War II, she also became one of the most recognizable and iconic Americans promoting French food just like Hemingway in his writing.
I went directly to her cookbook in the school library, and used her “pommes de terre à l’huile” recipe, which includes fresh, clean ingredients that can be used just as successfully in America as in France.
I tried following her recipe as closely as possible with the ingredients I had. I think the biggest issue cooking was the potatoes. The recipe calls for “boiling potatoes” and I thought that the red potatoes I had would work well for potato salad; however, as I sliced the potatoes and tossed them in the dressing, they began crumbling slowly, which made me apprehensive to toss even more.
Despite that minor bump in the cooking process, the potato salad tasted delicious and filling without being too heavy. The white wine used really made a difference in the overall taste. I would definitely make these again!
As for the rest of the dish, I wanted to make sure I included slices of a French baguette as well as the sausage to bring Hemingway’s description to life. Alsatian sausage is not very easy to come by in San Luis Obispo, so I got bratwurst because I figured it would have the closest resemblance.
Pommes de Terre À l’Huile – sliced potatoes in oil and vinegar dressing
2 lbs. “boiling” potatoes (8 to 10 medium potatoes)
4 Tb dry white wine
2 Tb wine vinegar
I tsp prepared mustard (Dijon)
¼ tsp salt
6 Tb olive oil
1 to 2 Tb minced shallots or green onions
2 to 3 Tb chopped mixed green herbs or parsley
1. Scrub the potatoes. Drop them in boiling salted water to cover, and boil until the potatoes are just tender when pierced with a small knife. Drain. As soon as they are cool enough to handle, peel, and cut them into slices about 1/8 inch thick. Place them into a mixing bowl.
2. Pour the wine over the warm potato slices and toss very gently. Set aside for a few minutes until the potatoes have absorbed the liquids.
3. Beat the vinegar, mustard, and salt in the small bowl until the salt has dissolved. Then beat in the oil by droplets. Season to taste, and stir in the optional shallots or onions. Pour the dressing over the potatoes and toss gently to blend.
4. Serve them while still warm, or chill. Decorate with herbs before serving.
Abramson, Julia. Food Culture in France. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2007. Print.
“Brasserie Lipp.” The History of Parisian Cafes. Paris Bistro Editions. 2013. <http://www.paris-bistro.com/english/histoire_lipp.html>
Child, Julia. “Pommes de Terre À l’Huile.” Recipe. Mastering the Art of French Cooking. New York: Random House, Inc., 1961. 541. Print.
Hemingway, Ernest. A Moveable Feast. New York: Scribner, 2009. Print.
Price, Pamela Vandyke. “Alsace and Lorraine.” Eating and Drinking in France Today. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1974. 153-165. Print.