Bread is simple and complex, yet infinitely connected to memory and place. One reader searches for the crusty French-styled baguette he became accustomed to while living in Africa.
Anyone who has frequented the boulangeries in Paris can tell you that the French baguette is hard to reproduce. The classic baguette has a crispy golden exterior and readily breaks or tears apart. The interior has an elastic texture with irregular holes, a sweet (according to the European palate, not ours) taste and is chewy. The shelf life of a baguette is from four to six hours, which hardly fits into the American lifestyle of buying for later.
In order to protect the classic French baguette from the horreur of par-baked breads, the French government passed legislation in 1998 requiring correct signage on bakeries. Only the shops making their breads on the premises from scratch could advertise themselves as boulangeries. The law also dictates the ingredients: wheat flour, yeast, water, salt and no preservatives. A boulanger (baker) may not purchase par-baked breads to finish (bake) on site.
The crispiest French-styled loaf breads available in Charlotte are found at unexpected places, but from cultures colonized by the French, like Vietnam and some parts of Mexico. Entrepreneur Minh Nguyen, at his Le's Banh Mi (4520 N. Tryon St.), has short French baguettes baked to his specifications with a thin, crunchy crust. These baguettes are available for sale individually. The second spot is Las Delicias Bakery (4405 Central Ave.), which bakes the bronzed, crackly bolillo, an oval-shaped loaf made from scratch every morning and on the shelves by 9 a.m.
Some baguettes found at grocery stores around town, like the loaves at Whole Foods, are spongy with dense innards. Bakeries offer better baguettes. At Amélie's: A French Bakery (2424 N. Davidson St.), the exterior of its French baguette is more chewy than crunchy, but it's a safe loaf nicely dusted with flour. The baguettes at the King's bakery are now sold at the front counter of sibling and adjacent restaurant The King's Kitchen (129 W. Trade St.). These loaves have a fairly crusty exterior and a good inside-outside contrast in texture; they're also shaped to include the pointed ends many Parisians tear off to enjoy on their way home from the boulangeries.
Looking for a food you can't find? Or do you know of other food items unique to the Q.C.? Whether it's regional foods or international, talk to me!