`Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?'
Dijon, France — Dijon is famous the world over for its delicious, pungent, creamy-smooth mustard, developed here centuries ago. But there is more to the city of Dijon than its mustard.
Made culturally rich by the Dukes of Burgundy, Dijon has historic Romanesque churches, museums, castles, and abbeys - along with shops for cheeses, breads, sweets, snails - and mustard pots.
Dijon's art and architecture provide a mixture of old and new, of grace and bustle.
Caf'e terraces, especially on the Place Darcy, are cheerfully crowded at all hours with students from the university.
Long, crusty loaves of freshly baked bread are carried unwrapped by people strolling along or hustling home from work.
Dijon is the capital of Burgundy, one of the most inviting of the French provinces with its medieval towns, placid canals, and winding country roads.
Art students are often advised to save out a whole day for museums in Dijon. I recommend saving out a day for food.
My day in Dijon started with some historic sites, including a look at a Gothic kitchen with vaulted ceilings and ancient crypts made for food storage.
Don't miss, I was told, the old town houses of the rue des Forges, the Mus'ee des Beaux-Arts, and the Mus'ee de la Vie Bourguignonne.
The best way to get around in Dijon is by walking - whether to architectural sites or to the covered fruit and vegetable market in the center of town.
On Friday, the best and busiest day at the market, farmers from outlying villages bring chickens, mushrooms, berries, and other fresh seasonal products.
Between gastronomic stops, it is easy to meander through the ``Old City'' for closer looks at the outstanding l5th- to l8th-century buildings with hidden courtyards that lead to spires, turrets, and Gothic arches along the historic streets.
But Dijon has long been a center of gastronomic repute and the location of an annual international food fair.
Some of the specialties of Dijon include: Dijon mustard (of course), a special kind of gingerbread, regional snail dishes, ham with parsley (jambon persill'e), fresh cherries, and sweets made with black currants.
First, there's the mustard. Of all the appealing shop windows along the narrow Rue de la Libert'e, none are as picturesque as the one filled with hand-painted blue-and-white porcelain pottery - looking like an old fashioned apothecary.
This ancient mustard house of Dijon's Grey-Poupon has a gallery of handsome mustard pots, along with displays telling the story of mustard. Pots of many different kinds may be purchased, and they make excellent souvenirs, gifts, or collector's items.
Known all over the world, the mustards bring almost as much acclaim to France as Roquefort cheese.
Another delicacy associated with the province of Burgundy is cassis - the syrup of the rich, heavily fragrant black currants.
It is made into deep purple candies, preserves, and other sweets found in specialty stores all over the city. Although it is popular as a liqueur called cassis de Dijon, it is also available as a non-alcoholic fruit syrup.
At the shop called Au pain d'autrefois (Breads of the Past), country breads, made from centuries-old recipes, are fascinating to see, even if you're not buying.
If this shop is an example of ancient bakers, they must have been full of fantasy ideas as they pinched, punched, and rolled out their yeasty bread dough in the wee hours of the morning.
Turtles, dragons, cats, alligators; long fat braids; puffy round loaves, dark and light colors; little boy faces; hearts; and hedgehogs - all made of bread - are perched on the counters and shelves and hanging from the ceilings of this fabulous bakery.
In spite of the fantasy bread decorations, the artisanal bakers here bake bread every day in the ancient oven with wood fires that can be seen at the back of the shop.
The ancient recipes call for many different cereals and grains as well as additions of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, anise, nuts, and raisins.
``Really fancy decorated breads don't sell as well as the traditional country breads using different grains,'' says the saleslady. ``Although we have lots of special orders, the novelty shapes are mostly for decor.
``One of our specialties is a tarte `a la moutarde. For that we use a light dough, lighter than pizza dough, with a mustard topping - Dijon mustard, of course,'' she adds.
It sounds somewhat like bread with mustard. When I mentioned it to Pierre Franey, a New York food writer originally from Burgundy, he knew all about it: ``Indeed, that's very familiar. It reminds me that bread and mustard is not such a bad snack. I had it when I was growing up very near Dijon.
``I'd come home after school, hungry for something to eat, and we children would be given a piece of plain bread with mustard - good, fresh Dijon mustard, of course,'' he said.
``I remember, too, the French bakers,'' he reminisced. ``They still work very long hours, especially in the country areas. Like all bakers, they start mixing the yeast in the middle of the night at three or four o'clock. After baking, they must spend all day in the shop selling the bread. Then after that, they also deliver bread to country homes and farms where there is no place close by to buy it.
``My brother who lives on a farm in Burgundy has a baker who leaves bread even when nobody is at home. He knows where to go to find the bread box, and he checks to see what amount or kind is needed, leaves the right amount of bread, then pays himself from a money supply left for that purpose.''
A completely different kind of Dijon bread comes in delightful, old-fashioned packages at Mulot et Petitjean, one of the most unique shops, a landmark known for its spice bread.
It is a dark, rich, spicy loaf similiar in appearance to gingerbread, but there is no ginger in it, and the French correctly call it ``spice bread'' or pain d''epice.
Made of honey, rye, and white flours, the loaves usually call for four flavorings - almond, currant, anise, and orange rind. The French serve it thinly sliced with coffee or tea, and it is excellent this way.
The shop is a fairyland of spice bread in every imaginable form.
The bread often comes in the shape of animals or fish, and is stuffed with jam or marmalade, glazed with white or chococha, apricot, currants, or nuts. There are rich full loaves or mini-loaves, spice cookies, and small cakes called natural loaves.
The bread is shipped around the world from its two shops, at 13 place Bossuet and at 16 rue de la Libert'e.
The shops are also a good source for Maille and Fallot brand mustards, nougats, candied orange slices, different forms of crystallized ginger, both the root and fresh young ginger, and other delectable sweets.
One of my favorite Dijon specialties is jambon persill'e - which is ham, baked and layered in parsley and aspic. It is well worth a special stop at a charcuterie, such as the family-run Gevrey shop at 11 rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Charcuterie is the art of preparing meat, especially pork, in various ways such as sausage, meat pies, p^at'e, rolled and smoked hams.
At this charcuterie, also a bakery, M. Gevrey uses family meat recipes handed down from his father and grandfather, starting with all fresh products.
Early every Tuesday morning, he goes to market. Then in the afternoon he prepares the meat, grinding the mix for sausages, p^at'es, enough for a full week. P^at'e and the parslied ham take two weeks, resting to allow seasonings to blend; sausages, one week.
Although the Gevrey specialty is the jambon persill'e, the lightly smoked ham is also very popular now, he says, and so is the jambon blanc (white ham), another specialty.
Chicken Dijon 1/4 cup Dijon mustard 1/4 cup melted butter 2 1/2 to 3 pounds chicken parts
Place chicken parts, skin side down, in shallow baking dish or casserole. Combine Dijon mustard and melted butter. Pour half the sauce over chicken parts.
Bake at 350 degrees F. 30 minutes. Turn chicken over, and pour remaining sauce over all. Continue cooking 30 minutes more, or until chicken is golden brown and tender.
Phyllis Hanes is the Monitor's food editor.
Taste for mustard - from spice trade
Mustard is basically a simple blend of mustard seeds and vinegar, although in the last few years many different mustard flavorings have become available.
Flavored varieties are popular in the United States, but mustard has never had quite the same prestige in American cooking as it has had in French cooking.
The French consume tons of mustard a year. It has had a place of honor among French foods for centuries. It was such a gastronomic rage during the 18th and 19th centuries that one report lists 93 varieties - including flavors such as nasturtium, rose, anchovy, garlic, and even truffle.
Up until the 19th century in France, mustard was purchased fresh daily by shoppers, who would bring their individual pots to the mustard shop to be filled.
Dijon has been France's mustard capital for centuries. The city was on the spice trade route in Gallo-Roman times. As a result, the French people became accustomed to heartily-spiced foods.
When the spice route shifted, the Dijonnais needed a substitute for the spices that were no longer so readily available, so in the 17th century they started to mix grape juice with the dried grains of mustard. This produced the whole-grain Dijon mustard with a grainy texture, now called moutarde `a l'ancienne.
While the town of Dijon gave its name to the popular moutarde de Dijon and still produces about 70 percent of France's mustard, the name actually refers to the creamy, smooth mustard developed there.
Thus, Dijon is a mustard type, not a brand name. Made from seeds grown in the region, Dijon mustard has a subtle, flavorful, piquant flavor and is not fiery hot.
A familiar brand name is Maille, a company founded in 1747, making it the oldest brand among all Dijon mustards. Another Dijon brand name is Amora, a company founded in 1753. It was the first to export its mustards internationally.
Legally, Dijon mustard can be made anywhere; and in fact, some of the best French mustard is made in nearby Beaune, at the small shop of old-time mustard maker Edmond Fallot. M. Fallot packages mustard for Georges Blanc, Troisgros, and Tour d'Argent, as well as for the Fanprix supermarket chain in Paris. Their mustards are available at many shops in Dijon and Beaune, and at Charles de Gaulle Airport duty-free shops in Paris.
moutarde - This word can be used on French labels when mustard is made using only black or yellow mustard seed.
moutarde a l'ancienne - A mild-flavored mustard made with seeds roughly ground and hulls left in the mustard flour.
moutarde blanche - The name of most white mustards.
moutarde forte - A strong mustard, at least 28 percent mustard powder.
Flavored mustards contain herbs, spices, fruits, etc. These are generally made with the hulls of the mustard seed and are therefore milder. The formulas are highly secret.
French food authorities prohibit the addition of color and use of non-organic chemical preservatives in French mustards.