oh, to be able to eat...
April 17, 2010 1:18 AM   Subscribe

Living without a fridge. As a vegetarian. In Paris. Also, how to find fermentation starters...

For the next two and a half months, I'm living in a chabre d'etudients at Paris-Sud university. We have a shared, fridge-less kitchen area with just a stove top and a microwave and a spot to do some dishes. Being a vegetarian in Paris already makes me feel like some kind of Jainist monk, going without a fridge and having only a minimal (and pretty dirty) kitchen area just makes it worse.

(I think a lot of the other students just eat at the university cafeterias, but these are very spotty for me since the vegetarian options consist mainly of MASSIVE QUANTITIES OF CHEESE piled onto a bit of bread. And I love cheese and all, but there's something nice about a varied diet. Like not feeling like my intestines are going to explode every three days. It also seems that the existence of these cafeterias has destroyed the market for prepared food in the area, so there don't seem to be any decent cheap restaurants in the area.)

Question 1: Any suggestions for good and nourishing foods requiring a minimum of preparation and no refridgeration?

Question 2: Can rice-milk survive without a fridge for more than a couple days? I was trying soy milk, but this morning went to pour some on my musli and found it had turned into a block.

So I want to get a bunch of short-term fermentation projects going, including kefir. (If you ferment your milk, it will not rot.) Unfortunately, I haven't a clue as to where to find kefir grains in Paris, as I don't speak much French at all. (I've emailed the French people on the international kefir grain exchange site, but to no avail.)

Question 3: Where can I find kefir grains (or other interesting fermentation starters) in Paris?

Many thanks!
posted by kaibutsu to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Can you get an insulated box... we call them eskies in Australia... for the milk.. and put some ice bricks in it? Or buy a tiny bar fridge?Or perhaps buy small sizes of the long-life milk.

Also... someone said to put hydrogen peroxide in milk to make it last a lot longer. I read that here, recently, I'm sure.
posted by taff at 1:37 AM on April 17, 2010

Unasked question: buy a mini fridge. I'm sure they say that you're not allowed to have it in your dorm room or anything but unless you actually cause a fire they won't care. When I lived in a student residence in Lyon one guy had two fridges, a freezer, two PCs and his girlfriend lived with him in his room. Everybody had power boards, even though they weren't allowed. Mini fridges are expensive, but not as expensive as trying to live without one. What I actually did was split the cost of the fridge with the girl in the room next to me and give her a key to my room, so she could keep stuff in there as well. Your trust level and friends may vary.

If you really can't get a fridge, I would recommend you start enjoying your muesli with water and powdered milk (I know carrefour has it - lait évaporé). I would absolutely not start fermentation projects in your room.

Also, buy a rice cooker. Should be able to get one for ~20euros, and it can be used for everything. It makes life so much easier. Then live on rice and vegetables, or pasta and vegetables.
posted by jacalata at 1:43 AM on April 17, 2010

You could try a zeer... I've not made one but it sounds like it might be helpful.

Also, muesli is not so bad if made with water in place of milk (soak it overnight and then add a little in the morning to loosen it up).
posted by nz_kyle at 1:54 AM on April 17, 2010

Response by poster: The problem with a mini-fridge is that our building's ancient electrical system blows out when anything drawing more than 600W is plugged into it. I'm also leaving the country in two months, and investing a bunch of cash in a mini-fridge (especially if it just turns out to blow out the fuse every time its plugged in) is something I'd like to avoid.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:54 AM on April 17, 2010

Response by poster: I actually thought about the zeer (didn't know that's what they were called), but this is a less than ideal climate for one - neither hot nor dry. I might build one when I get back to Davis, though...
posted by kaibutsu at 1:57 AM on April 17, 2010

Bucket of cold water, food in sealed bags. Friend does historical re-enacting (all tents, very few electric points) and claims that this works for days, as long as you change the water when it starts getting warm - which takes a long time for a whole bucket.

Depending on the weather, the old-school 'carrier bag outside the window' can work well (especially if you just need to keep something overnight, as it's cooler at night). I did this when I was in an under-fridged university. The only problem was that the seagulls could recognise supermarket bags as potentially containing food, so you had to use a non-food-shop bag. I don't know how clever the bird life in Paris is though!
posted by Coobeastie at 2:10 AM on April 17, 2010

1) you are shopping like an American still. A lot of people in Europe still only buy food for one or two days at a time. So any vegetables and fruits you buy today (Saturday) should be used by Tuesday, when you will go back to the market again.

I know you have a busy life, and you want economy, but that isn't the way food is purchased here (though this, too, is changing). Meal-plan two days at a time and purchase for that time frame. Within two days, many of the things that we are used to putting in the fridge are okay with just hanging out. It's still tough if you are cooking for yourself and have to buy a whole head of lettuce, but that's what your friends are for, right?

2) go UHT milk, like parmalat. It lasts unopened for a long time, and open for several days, without spoiling. If you are set on kefir, find a store catering to the Turkish community, maybe around Nation?
posted by whatzit at 2:12 AM on April 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

Also by personal experience I testify that the pot-in-pot is awesome, but it is neither warm nor dry enough here to make them effective (I am also in France).
posted by whatzit at 2:17 AM on April 17, 2010

Best answer: I'm not sure if they'll be able to help you with the kefir, but there is a chain of natural food stores in Paris called Naturalia (at least there was a few years ago). It's kind of like going to a health food store in California circa 1990, i.e. somewhat limited, but better than nothing. The only one I can remember off hand was in the 18th at Metro Lamarck-Caulaincourt, which is no where near you, but I'm sure there's one closer.

For soy or rice milk I would get the little juice box sized ones that don't need refrigeration until they're opened. More expensive but better than solid soy milk (yuck). Or get small containers of UHT milk if you're going for cow.

Other things to eat that don't need refrigeration: fruit (at least it's not february), fresh veggie sandwiches (tomatoes, avocados, sprouts, etc), energy bars, nuts...

I would also recommend trying to explore neighborhoods that are easy to get to by public transportation and look for yummy ethnic food which might be more likely to be vegetarian friendly (and cheaper) than french restaurants.

Good luck!
posted by Ginkgo at 2:20 AM on April 17, 2010

Canned food (e.g. beans), dry foods (e.g. bread, cereal, powdered milk, nuts), and fresh produce that can be eaten raw (e.g. fruit, some veggies) would seem to be your best bets. Cruising the aisles of your local food store should give you a good overview of the no-prep non-perishable food choices available.

If you're willing to buy a cheap pot and use the stovetop, you open up a lot of easy low-prep dinner options, like steamed veggies and pasta/rice, all of which can be accompanied by canned beans to quickly make a decent balanced meal.
posted by Dimpy at 3:16 AM on April 17, 2010

stock up on lentils, canned goods, and buy fresh vegetables and bread immediately before you want to eat them.
posted by acidic at 3:21 AM on April 17, 2010

If you're going to "build" a fridge then consider using dry ice instead of water ice. It's colder so you'd need to insulate your food to prevent freezer burn, but it'll keep food frozen and it'll last longer. Plus there's no spillage etc. (though you need to make sure you don't sleep on the floor and your room's not hermetically sealed).
posted by alby at 3:34 AM on April 17, 2010

You're doing it wrong.

We're often told that good French cheeses should age on your counter for several days before being eaten, they definitely don't need refrigeration, neither do fruits, vegetables, and beans if you don't keep em' forever. Yes, if you like milk, you'll need UHT.

I'd say leftovers are your only big hurdle, well just don't make more pasta sauce than necessary.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:43 AM on April 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'll probably try to find a rice-cooker today, and I'll probably give the bag-hanging-out the window thing a shot, too... Thanks for the helpful suggestions, Gingko.

(jeffburdges: I understand that cheese does not need to be refrigerated. Unfortunately, lack of cheese is very far from my list of dietary woes. 'You're doing it wrong' is not helpful advice.)

As far as doing it right goes, I seem to be on something of an island of foodlessness. I'm at Orsay, so rather far from the Paris center. There's a place to buy bread nearby, but the closest market is a 45-minute walk away (and another 45-minute walk back). I'll make it work somehow, of course, but the soymilk incident this morning put me in a bit of an unhappy state.

The root of the problem is not so much keeping things cold (I don't use the fridge for much else than tortillas and beer back home), but developing or adapting food habits in what feels like an environment that is conspiring against eating properly. c'est la vie...
posted by kaibutsu at 4:19 AM on April 17, 2010

Definitely try Naturalia. They have 43 shops so you should be able to get to one if you're determined. Otherwise, they will deliver to you through the post but it's at least 9 euros for postage.

Buy something like powdered milk which will last well out of the fridge despite what it says on the package.

Get some tins of chick peas, a bottle of tahini, some olive oil, a lemon and some garlic (all shelf-stable) to make hoummus. Eat with bread or carrots that can also be kept unrefrigerated.

A lot of fruits such as grapes, apples, and bananas don't need to be refrigerated either. Do they sell fruit in the school cantine? Might be worth going into one just for that.
posted by hazyjane at 5:43 AM on April 17, 2010

2) go UHT milk, like parmalat. It lasts unopened for a long time, and open for several days, without spoiling. If you are set on kefir, find a store catering to the Turkish community, maybe around Nation?

Seconding the UHT milk. In the US, it's sold in single-serving containers, like juice boxes. I'd see if they have that in Paris.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:25 AM on April 17, 2010

Just on the UHT milk point--actually in France virtually all the milk that's sold is UHT. It's not as hard as it used to be to buy fresh milk (most supermarkets have it), but UHT is still definitely the default. So OP is probably already drinking UHT.

Oh--and once it's opened, UHT doesn't last that much longer than fresh. Unless you have a fridge...
posted by lapsangsouchong at 7:48 AM on April 17, 2010

For something a bit more helpful--have you checked out the marché couvert? It's by the mairie, very close to the university (though perhaps not so close to your cité-U). According to Google it's open Tuesday and Friday mornings, with a lot more stalls on the Friday. Picking up some fresh fruit and veg twice a week--enough for a couple of days--should help you alternate with the involuntary cheese-and-bread bonanza on the other days.

Having been a vegetarian in France, I sympathize. Good luck!
posted by lapsangsouchong at 7:56 AM on April 17, 2010

Fruits and vegetables last out of the fridge for about two days - more for some types. Leftovers, especially vegan ones (beans, pasta & tomato sauce, cooked vegetables, etc.), will certainly keep from lunch until dinner, and if you have a cool place to keep them will probably keep for 24 hours. I would eat them after 24 hours; ymmv.

I think yogurt might keep about a day in a cool place - I'm not sure though. Maybe someone else knows for sure.

I would probably end up cooking lunch and eating the leftovers for dinner, or making a very quick lunch (scrambled eggs w/ veggies & toast - eggs keep a while out of the fridge; pasta; rice and lentils; etc) and cooking dinner most nights.

I would get into the rhythm of shopping for produce and bread every 2ish days. Is there somewhere close you could pick up a yogurt for the next morning on your way home in the evening?

It's probably easier on you in terms of preparing your own food that you're a vegetarian, actually - you'd have to be a lot more concerned with food safety with meat, and I don't think you'd be able to store raw or cooked meat at all.
posted by insectosaurus at 9:16 AM on April 17, 2010

You could look for an electric cooler box ("glacière électrique") instead of a small fridge; they don't cool as low as a real fridge but don't draw much power, either. Many come with both 12 volt car-plugs and 230 volt house plugs. If you put something frozen (bag of peas or frozen fruit) in them on top of your other groceries you should even be able to switch it off overnight, if the whirring fans are too loud - they're usually pretty well insulated.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 12:36 PM on April 17, 2010

How about using a thermos for your milk or yoghurt? They keep things cool too.
Consider also a "personal fridge", they work from a cars cig-lighters and USB, so I am guessing they won't blow your power board. A similar alternative is a powered cooler, like you can buy at gas-stations.
posted by Iteki at 12:38 PM on April 17, 2010

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