In December 2015 I authored a (perhaps too indignant) piece slamming the frozen food chain Picard (and even questioning its raison d’etre). It’s Spring 2021 and I have to take back at least some of my words due to a series of events that led to my first (and second, third, and fourth) visit to the chain.
Picard regularly drops mailers into just about every mailbox in France. I have had a habit over the years of using any sale flyers, be they from grocery stores or sports shops like Decathlon or Go Sport, as free language learning supplementation. I will leaf through them, looking for words or phrases I don’t know. If I see anything interesting, I’ll tear that sheet out and add it to my “look at later” pile. Then I’ll message my French friends and clarify things (an example from the past: “You guys call any sports shoe baskets, even if they are for tennis?”) In early March of this year a mailer landed with the title Hello America featuring a number of “limited-time” special items.
“Hmm, what do the French consider quintessentially American,” I thought to myself, and started leafing through the mailer with a smile on my face. The cover had a “Big Fried Chicken Burger” for 4€50 as well as a banana bread cupcake for 2 €. The next page featured something called “American box” which gave you 11 pieces each of mac and cheese bites, mozzarella sticks, and pulled pork bites: 33 in total. That was 8€95 and thousands of calories.
There were also the 3€50 “Tex-mex burrito” and 2€95 “Hot-dog à la New-Yorkaise.” They even had bottles of Sam Adams beer for 2€50 each. But the one that caught my eye was on page 3 of this version: 400g of “American chicken wings” for 5€40.
Those who know me well know that I am a great lover of chicken in general and even more so of chicken wings. It’s traditionally classified in the “American food” category for me (even though people all over the world enjoy chicken wings in their own style and cuisine) which I generally stay away from while here in France to make the visits to my family that much more enjoyable: combining people I miss with food I don’t often eat. But when this mailer landed in my mailbox it was the middle of Lent and I had been fasting from meat for some weeks. I also considered that I wasn’t heading back to the States anytime soon and that given that these were frozen wings, they could be broken out on Sundays or after Lent was finished. “Well, for scientific purposes,” I reasoned, “I should really check out these Picard chicken wings and make sure they are good.”
I can’t say I eat frozen chicken wings regularly (or ever, that I can remember) but these were really good! Could Picard have other frozen food that is good? Again, in the name of science, I decided to find out.
The Paris stores aren’t very large. You just have large freezers everywhere and some cardboard boxes in the front you can help yourself to if you don’t have one of your own “keep cold” bags. The other limitation Parisians often deal with is freezer space. Most of us in the city have smaller fridges with limited freezer space. I could pick maybe 3-5 items to bring home, assuming that I had an empty freezer at home.
I pretended that I knew what I was doing, but having never really been inside one of these before, I slowly went by every single freezer, making mental notes on what they had. I even picked up a few things on those subsequent visits, including:
- a 20-pack of breaded Alaskan pollock filets (really good)
- some snack-size ham and cheese calzones (decent)
- the aforementioned “American box” (honestly, not bad but only meant to be consumed in one sitting if you want a food coma: I’ve been away from the States too long to take down so many calories at once so I took it in parts)
In my eighth year in France, I still love to cook multiple times each day (more than ever, actually) and I still find it unacceptable that many people choose to make Picard a regular part of their lives rather than just an occasional one. But, almost six years after I penned my last article on Picard, I’m happy to admit that I understand a bit better why the French might choose it: there are some quality flash-frozen fruits and vegetables in addition to the pre-made food I treated myself to, all at reasonable prices. There’s even the bakery section where someone can grab frozen pain au chocolats that they can warm up in their own oven and make-believe they put the effort in to make them.
While it’s not very French of me to admit that I was wrong, perhaps that’s why the Hello America campaign so brilliantly ensnared me. Bonjour, Picard. You got me. 🙂
Photo from the Facebook page of Picard.
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