26 April 2015

Drinking pastis in Paris ~ how to look as though you know what you're doing

One of the nice things about our morning coffee place, Le Brio, is that one can order a drink to go with a coffee. It seems a civilised approach to life in Paris and ... why not?

In my case, I decided to try pastis, a liqueur that continues to enjoy great popularity throughout France. When last I tried pastis, it presented itself as deserving to be in the floor-cleaners section of a supermarket. Think about Dettol and you will understand the implications of what I speak. My mother once gave Dettol to me, undiluted, as a cure for a some kind of throat infection I had as child. It cured the sore throat, and it was three weeks before my taste buds started working again.

However, notwithstanding my first brush with pastis five years ago, and the memory of Dettol, a second chance is warranted, especially in the friendly setting of Le Brio.

It's easy enough to order a pastis, and so I did, en français. So far, so good. The pastis arrived in a tall and narrow glass. A glass of ice came with it and some water on the side. This is where things became complicated, at least in my mind. "What do I do with these things?" I wondered.

For reasons beyond comprehension,  and to the horror of everyone in the café, I decided, rather abruptly, to pour my pastis into the glass of ice. The café's manager frowned disapprovingly and other patrons shook their heads in disbelief. All eyes were on me to see what "the foreigner" would do next. The café became as quiet as the first snowfall in Dawson City. This is where I should have looked to Sherry for some wisdom, but no, without warning I threw my head back and guzzled the drink down. "Mon Dieu!" and "Merde" were words I heard exclaimed in hushed whispers from my now former comrades in Le Brio. I think I even heard a plaintive "oy vey" from someone in the back. 

Well. It took a bit of effort, and a wee bit of assistance from the patrons at the café, but here is what should happen when drinking pastis.

Your pastis will arrive in a tall glass along with a glass of ice and a container of cool, but not cold, water. In a perfect world it should be spring water. Note the rich colour of the liqueur.

You will pour some water into the glass containing the pastis. About five parts water to one part pastis is considered proper, though no one will get excited if you have a personal preference that is slightly different, within accepted French protocol of course, and you will never know what that protocol might be. Notice the addition of water has changed the dark golden colour of the liqueur to a cloudy shade of white. This is normal.

Now, you can add some ice. Again, it is a personal preference, though one or two ice cubes is probably okay. No ice would be okay too. 

At this point you should use the spoon provided to gently stir the concoction. This will release all the flavours.

Finally, you are ready to drink, not guzzle, but drink gently. Like a man but with some sophistication. I know this can be difficult for a Canadian male, but we have to try.

What a difference it all makes. This drink tastes fantastique! Unbelievably refreshing and ... not like floor cleaner at all.

Pastis was introduced to France in 1932 by Paul Ricard. Over 130 million litres of pastis are sold every year in the republic, or about two litres for every living person. It is especially nice on a hot day.

And yes, I continue to order it at the café, where my comrades have forgiven me my transgression. 

Photos by Jim Murray and Sherry MacDonald. Copyright 2015.

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