I have it on good authority that there are two supposedly authentic Mexican restaurants in town.
My company cafeteria is not one of them.
Now you'd think that's pretty damn obvious, and that I'd be a complete fool to go for the "Mexican lamb stew" on the menu today. "Omid, you idiot," you may say. "When was the last time you saw lamb on a Mexican menu?"
That's a totally valid question, considering I've eaten goat at real Mexican places more often than lamb... But there are lamb dishes south of the border for damn sure. Still, you don't see it on most menus Stateside, so to see a Mexican lamb dish in Paris?
Hey, maybe they're tapped into something I didn't know about!
With the above argument in mind, I went ahead and ordered it.
It didn't look Mexican. It didn't smell Mexican. And after a couple of bites, I could verify that it sure as hell didn't taste Mexican.
In fact, I think I determined why they bother to call this otherwise fine-tasting stew Mexican: It's brown.
Next thing you know, they're going to serve me "Chinese chicken," turned yellow by tons of saffron, right?
All political incorrectness aside, it's probably an honest mistake. The executive chef of our company cantine (if there even is one) probably heard about - or maybe even saw at some point - mole. The spicy, rich, chocolate-infused sauce that is not only tasty in its own right, but when prepared well can make even the gamiest of meats palatable.
But being French, this chef de cuisine probably thought, "Impossible! Nobody dares to eat chocolat wiz... MEAT!" And thus, he concocted a dark brown sauce that looks somewhat chocolatey but tastes like... any other brown, broth-based sauce. That flour-thickened middle ground between jus and gravy. Plain. Old. Sauce.
I know that culinary musings about the company cafeteria are pretty much pointless. It's the working stiff's equivalent of a pig's trough, for fuck's sake! Never mind that our building was built by Gustave Eiffel's firm, with the cafeteria's curved girders and thousands of rivets meant to be reminiscent of the eponymous Tower everyone so romanticizes. You still eat your food off of a tray under so many rows of industrial-strength fluorescent lights.
I write about it, though, to illustrate my daily battle. That despite how good the French food is in France, I have to try really hard to find that bowl of pho. That I have to wait in line to eat a decent bowl of ramen. That I'll probably not have a decent burrito until the next time Air France flight 84 touches down at SFO. And this saddens me.