À Paris: In Search of 🍳Oeuf à Cheval
I dream of croissants, but hubby yearns for the egg dish he first tasted long ago
We’re about to take our first overseas trip in more than three years. Paris is our destination. Cue: baguettes, croissants, café au lait, right? But the only thing my husband Jeff can talk about (at least when it comes to food) is his plan to return to a restaurant not far from the Eiffel Tower to order his favorite dish: oeuf à cheval.1
Why this obsession with what is essentially a hamburger with an egg on top? Let me take you back to 1982 and our first trip to Europe as a couple.
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Jeff was covering a video conference in Cannes on the French Riviera for The Hollywood Reporter. A daily trade paper with deep pockets in those days, THR was putting him up at the luxurious Majestic Hotel along the famed Croisette, setting for the annual Cannes Film Festival and also the backdrop for Elton John’s 1983 music video of “I’m Still Standing.” Of course I came along, convincing Adweek, my employer at the time, that I should write a story for them as well.
I don’t remember much about the conference, except for the many extravagant meals with champagne accompaniment that were served aboard yachts floating in the Mediterranean. Jeff had discovered video games and spent his free time playing Pac-Man and Galaga. Even pickier about food then than he is now, he remembers that despite the glorious setting, there wasn’t much of the local fare that he found appealing. No wine, coffee or unidentifiable foods in “creamy, fishy sauces” for this guy. (I, on the other hand, was happy to sample all of it!)
What Jeff really wanted was a good old-fashioned American hamburger and a Coke with ice. That was a problem. In 1981, there wasn’t a McDonald’s in Cannes—or any other fast-food franchise that we could find. In search of his hamburger fix, Jeff attempted to describe what he wanted to a polite but plainly bewildered waiter who undoubtedly was wondering, as I was, why bother to come to France when all you wanted was the food you ate at home.
“Oui, monsieur,” the waiter said finally. “I think I have what you want.”
To our amusement, he brought over a meat patty on a bed of lettuce, topped with a large fried egg. No bun, but it came with a side of fries.
“Voilà, monsieur!” he said proudly. “Oeuf a cheval!”
I don’t recall whether the meal also included a Coke with ice.
We have returned to France several times since that memorable visit, though to Paris, not Cannes. Jeff’s tastes have broadened to include crêpes (preferably Nutella!), baguettes (bread is big in this family!) and a strawberry and ice cream dessert he declared “out of this world!”
Ironically, we rarely eat beef anymore, but now there are some 1,485 McDonald’s restaurants in France, and the French are apparently quite accepting of fast food, sometimes called “le fast-food.” In a 2018 article in the Guardian, a man took umbrage at the reporter’s question about why the French, renowned for their superb cuisine, would be fans of McDonald’s.
“I can’t believe you’re asking this,” said Stephane Loiseau, a 29-year-old account manager tapping his order – “un CBO” (chicken, bacon, onion) with fries – into the touchscreen. “It’s such a cliché. They’re cheap, they’re fast, they use pretty OK ingredients. Why should the French be any different from the rest of the world?”
Apparently, the food at Mickey D’s in France is made with local ingredients and said to be superior to that served at U.S. McDonald’s . (We discovered a similar phenomenon in Japan, though the Japanese seem to have made a science of improving on American brands. Their amazing 7-Elevens bear almost no resemblance to their American counterparts. But that’s a subject for a future post.)
As for oeuf à cheval, Jeff will definitely be ordering it again in Paris for old time’s sake, while I will probably opt for something in “creamy, fishy sauce.” But we are both sure to visit a boulangerie—a French bakery—of which there are some 30,000 in France, one on almost every corner in Paris. Take that, Mickey D’s!
I found several French recipes for oeuf à cheval but only one in English, though I’m sure there are others. The one I hope to attempt at some point includes optional anchovies. Here’s a link. If you do try it, please let me know how it turns out.
Happy Birthday, Tina!
Just a shoutout to my dear cousin Tina on her birthday this week. We celebrated with a delicious lunch at Bianca (Culver City, CA), which has a French-trained pastry chef and is named for the Italian grandmother of two of the owners, whose recipes are the foundation of many of the dishes on the menu. I was told that the croissants were some of the best outside of Paris, so, in preparation for our trip, I took home a couple to sample. They didn’t disappoint. Happy Birthday, dear cousin! I’d post your lovely birthday picture, but I think you’re publicity-shy, so I won’t. Here are some croissants instead!
Stay tuned for more adventures en France, which are sure to include more culinary highlights than les oeufs and le fast-food, perhaps even a musée or two and future PhotowalksTV episodes from Jeff, also a contributor here on Substack.
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Au revoir! See you soon!
Literally an egg (oeuf) on a horse (cheval), this dish is usually a fried egg atop a burger (made of ground beef, not horse meat!). Sometimes it’s a steak with an egg on top, in which case it’s called a steak à cheval. Oeuf à cheval is often accompanied by fries (frites).