Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Ici et là - The butcher shop

'Here & There' is a Wednesday series dedicated to shops. The 'here' is the area around Paddington. The 'there' is generally La Rive Gauche de Paris, especially the single-digit arrondissements. I am interested in how people live, not in retailing per se.

Bellevue Road, Bellevue Hill
Are you a harker? Do you look back to some of your childhood and wish it had not disappeared? I do – I wistfully hark back. It is as much in the language that swirls around my head (butcher, baker, greengrocer, corner-store, milk-bar), as it is in the types of places I look for examples of these shops. I search the High Streets and the Main Streets; eschewing the arcades and the shopping malls. I am from the generation who went down the street to buy necessities, not to the mall for a ‘shopping experience’.

Rue Saint-Louis, Ile Saint-Louis
Is it possible to discern a difference between butcher shops in my Parisian haunts and butcher shops here at home? My experience is that super-marchês in Paris are smaller, meaning that the meat sections are also smaller, resulting in the survival of more stand-a-lone butcher shops, la boucherie. In Paris, La Boucherie takes one’s breath away the instant the hearth is crossed.

Left: Rue du Bac Right: Rue de Bourgogne
Finding a stand-a-lone butcher shop in a ribbon development in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney has been a struggle. It seems that butcher shops are now within malls, like Westfield, or within major grocery supermarkets, like Woollies and Coles. In my mind whirls a faded memory of blue-striped aprons, smoothed and hollowed chopping blocks, massive hooks, sawdust, and missing fingers, or fingers swathed in band-aids (cloth not plastic).

Oxford Street, Paddington
Just as the cuts of meat from assorted animals have altered over the years, so has the ratio of cut to packaged meat. Windows are now replete with a myriad of spiced sausages, seasoned rissoles, and marinaded kebabs. Gone is the tray of wavering tripe, the aerated liver, and the poops of kidney. ‘Offal is awful’ seems to have consigned these ‘cuts’ to the dustbin of history.

Left: Rue Caulaincourt, Montmartre, 18eme Right: Hampden Road, Artarmon
However, there is one distinct similarity between a butcher shop in Paris and its equivalent in Sydney - and this could be in the eye of the beholder, especially should that beholder be a 'harker'. Butchers are proud individuals who really care about the image of solidity that they present to their customers, to the service that they provide for their customers, and the image of their shop in their neighbourhood. Butchers are pillars of their community.

Bellevue Road, Bellevue Hill


Kay L. Davies said...

Just the other day I was telling my husband about the butcher shop of my childhood. My best friend's dad was a butcher, and I remember my dad arranging a fishing trip with his friends by phoning Gloria's dad to ask for specially cut and prepared steaks for himself and his friends. He'd agree, then fill a camping cooler with steaks for them, the bottom layer frozen hard, the next layer frozen a little bit less, the next a lot less, and the top layer fresh.
We used to joke that Dad and his friends never had time to fish because they spent all their time eating steaks, while we were at home eating wieners and beans!
Knowing a butcher who could and would cut meat as we wanted, as we watched, was a part of life then.
Guess I'm a harker, too, Julie! Love your photos.
— K

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

Anonymous said...

Looks like a neat place to hand out!

Great story Kay!

J Bar said...

We certainly had some great butchers, greengrocers, delis in my suburb when I was growing up. Sadly, most are gone now.

Ann said...

The Parisian butchers look so much more interesting.

There's still one lone Aussie butcher in my suburb. Expensive but good quality. I'll be distraut when he decides its time to retire.

karen said...

We still have local butchers in the small suburban shops in Canberra, and at the markets. And the common thing seems to be that they're all real characters! We spent ages yesterday being entertained by the pair at the markets yesterday (and I put them on my blog). The thing that made the most impression on my daughter about the Parisian butchers was the rabbits, still with some fur so you knew they weren't cats!

freefalling said...

Poops of kidney??!!!
That's not what they are really called, are they?

My Mum was telling me the other day about the cooked breakfasts my Nan used to make for them.
Lambs' brains
Tripe on toast
Bacon and lamb's fry.


Although.....I AM partial to a bit of oxtail soup.

I always remember going to the butcher shop when I was little with my Nan and being intrigued
by the sign on the wall that said "No Expectorating".
What the hell were you people DOING in the 70's - walking around the local shops having a spit here and there?

Offal, expectorating... it's all too much for my delicate sensibilities, I need to lie down with a cold compress.

freefalling said...

And why is the liver aerated?

Julie said...

*grin* I love it when someone actually reads my text!!

Poops I made up - appropriate, hey?

With the liver, I tried to think of a word to describe its texture. When it works, a liver is criss-crossed with millions of little veins carrying blood. But when on the butcher's block, those veins give the appearance of a series of pipes. Hence, an appearance of being aerated. What are those chocolate bars that are similar?

I can remember those signs about 'expectorating'. And I can remember Karen's image of watching a butcher retrieve a whole rump, take his knife and what do call the sharpening device ... well take them out of his little holster ... sharpen the knife and slice through the steak ... no wonder they lost fingers etc.

Bob Crowe said...

I had similar childhood experiences, although our local shops were quite downscale from these. I have the fondest memories on going with my mother up to Queens Boulevard, the main thoroughfare, where each merchant would give me a little sample of their wares. Ah, nostalgia.

Dianne said...

Ah! La Boucherie has such a beautiful ring to it and the attention to detail and advise from Le French Boucher is unparalleled,
I think my favourite of the old time shops is a grocery store - in France I think the equivalent would be an epicerie?

diane b said...

A stimulating post Julie. Love the comments too. I always read your text. I too remember the local butcher in Sutherland. On a Saturday morning there would be customers five rows deep waiting to be served. We used to eat raw tripe and vinegar and pretend it was oysters. My mum cooked heart, steak and kidney pie, and liver and bacon. I enjoyed it then but recently when I was told to eat liver by a doctor I found it hard to stomach. Funny that! I loved pigs trotters too. Mum made a great rabbit stew as well.
Watching a butcher cut the meat for you would be a dream these days compared to supermarket meat, plastic wrapped, coloured, water saturated and overloaded with hormones.

Mary Ann said...

You presented this so well. I don't remember seeing many butcher shops in the US, but they're around every corner here in Beirut. You've inspired me to take some pictures there soon. . . .

Joe said...

A fascinating post Julie. I also have fond memories of the local shops. Perhaps I recall them fondly because they live in a carefree childhood with not a worry to be seen. The Malls have their place but somehow I prefer the striped aprons, the sawdust floors and the parsley garnish.

Julie said...

Diane - You find liver hard to stomach. For me it was always tripe that was hard to stomach.

... sorry ...

Julie said...

Some great comments today folks. Such fun to read.

As a child we had steak and kidney (chuck or blade steak) as well as lamb's fry (liver) & Bacon & fried sheep brains. Mum used to cook tripe and drown it with some sort of white sauce and THAT was garnished with parsley. Dad refused to eat that, and we were all on his side. Mum loved it.

But my favourite was the Sunday roast. Now that I live by myself I rarely (not a pun!) have a roast. Must go to a pub and have one a week I reckon.

Joan Elizabeth said...

I'm a harker too. I remember us rolling up the newspapers and carrying it up to the butcher in the cart. He weighed it and paid us money. They used the newspapers to wrap the meat ... deemed totally unsanitary today, along with serving fish and chips in used newspaper.

We lost our local butcher in the be Lawson shops demolition ... sad to see them go.

Joan Elizabeth said...

Just read the comments ... bacon and lambs fry (yum) the deli cafe in Leura has it in the menu. At home we had liver rather than lambs fry and it made the most amazing gravy.

Alan O'Riordan said...

I hadn't thought about it before, but you're right. Butchers serve as a barometer of "progress" in a given community. If you know Melbourne, South Yarra has virtualy none, whilst Prahran/ Windsor have a few that seem to be thriving. I rest my/your case.