Well-Traveled Frogs: France Imports Favorite Dish A festival in Vittel, France, last weekend celebrated the culinary delights of a signature French dish — frog legs. But Mort Rosenblum, founding editor of Dispatches magazine, says most of the frogs eaten in France come from far away.

Well-Traveled Frogs: France Imports Favorite Dish

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So over the weekend, a town in eastern France called Vittel held a festival dedicated to frogs - not really the whole frog, just their legs - as a culinary delicacy. Actually, in French, they're called "cuisses de grenouille." I don't think I said that right, but I - it's - I tried it.


Fooled me.


(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Which translates to, actually, not even frog legs, but specifically the frog thigh. But we should note, France actually banned commercial production of frog legs back in 1977. And other laws limiting the harvesting of French frogs means that the vast majority of the frogs' legs that the French consume every year actually come from very far away, even as far away as Indonesia. So how big are frog legs to the French? Let's ask Mort Rosenblum...

PESCA: I believe that's Rozhenbluhm.

MARTIN: Rozhenbluhm.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Do you like...

Mr. MORT ROSENBLUM (Founding Editor, Dispatches Magazine; Author, "Escaping Plato's Cave"): Only - only when I'm eating frogs' legs.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Mort is an American writer living in France and the author of "Escaping Plato's Cave," founding editor, also, of a new quarterly magazine called Dispatches, which debuts in May. And he also writes about food from now and then. Hey, Mort. Thanks for coming on.

Mr. ROSENBLUM: Great to be here.

MARTIN: So, here in America, as you well know, we have aptly, or not, linked the French, inextricably, with the frog leg. Is this a fair connection to make? In France, how important are frogs' legs to French cuisine?

Mr. ROSENBLUM: Well, you know, they're pretty important. I mean, they're not like onion soup. But I mean, the French do love their frog legs, and as everybody knows, that's sort of the lovable term for the French, the frogs. I mean, it's kind of - they're kind of identified with it, because it's such a distinctive dish.

MARTIN: Is that - by the way, I mean, in America, we kind of call the French "the frogs," but do other people call the French...?

Mr. ROSENBLUM: Oh, my best friend here, we call him "Froggie (ph)." I mean, you know, they kind of laugh it off. It's not really a derogative term. I mean, all the - if you mean it derogatively, like a lot of these kinds of terms, you know, somebody might take offense, but...

MARTIN: It's all in the delivery.

Mr. ROSENBLUM: You should hear what they call us.

MARTIN: That's true. Hey, when did frog legs become part of the French diet?

Mr. ROSENBLUM: Well, the funniest thing is - because they're - the people that really rag the French about being frogs, the froggies, are the English, and they actually started in London. It was Escoffier, when he was cooking, you know, in the west - in, you know, around the Savoy.

He started doing frogs' legs in the 1890s, and the English called it "nymphs' legs," and they really caught on. And then they came back to France again. So it's actually Escoffier, the French guy, cooking in England that started...

MARTIN: Cooking in England.

PESCA: Nymphs' legs? So was he trying to fool people, like they weren't from frogs, that they were mystical?

Mr. ROSENBLUM: No, no, no, no, no. He was just - he bounced around a lot, Escoffier, and I mean, you know, he said they were frogs. I think they just, you know, they just gave it a romantic name, but I think they knew what they were.

MARTIN: So, we've heard, you know, tales, now for decades, that frogs' legs had to be imported to France. Does it matter to the French where the frog legs come from? Do they...?

Mr. ROSENBLUM: Well, you know, it sort of does. I mean, there's not much choice, because there's - there, as you said in your introduction, there is a law against it now. And you know, and so they've got to - they've got to really - uh, really...

(Soundbite of rustling)

MARTIN: Mort, are you making some frog legs in the background?

Mr. ROSENBLUM: No, I'm sorry. A bunch of frogs came in here and tried to take over the phone...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROSENBLUM: The - they've had to limit the number, you know, because the French are kind of worried about the number of frogs here. So they've - I mean the actual frogs, they've - so they've put on - some bans on hunting, but of course, that hasn't really stopped it. What it has meant is there's been a lot of importation. And French frogs really taste better to most French cooks.

MARTIN: Ah, so, this festival that's happening in Vittel, we found out about this from a little publicity item that called frogs, quote, "a disappearing feature of traditional French cuisine." I mean, are they making it a mountain out of a mole hill here?

Mr. ROSENBLUM: I think they're kind of overstating it. I mean, if you go to the Vonnas (ph), in a department called the Ain - which is impossible - A-I-N - but there's a wonderful three-star chef called George Blanc who's got 50 ways to love a frog. I mean, he's got, you know - ah, I mean, there are a million ways to eat frogs.

Normally what they do is, you know, garlic and parsley, you know, like snails, and what you taste is the garlic and parsley. But you know, they'll do snails in cream and white wine and escargot and curry and with apples and brochettes. You know, so - you know, no, that's not going to disappear any time soon from France.

MARTIN: What's your favorite way to have frog?

Mr. ROSENBLUM: I like it the old - you know, Bernard Loiseau - the late Bernard Loiseau from Saulieu, used to - was a wonderful three-star chef who, alas, shot himself, but his kitchen goes on, does this wonderful dish with parsley - kind of a parsley puree and, you know, the kind of plump, local frogs around Burgundy in this - oh, what can I say? Parsley - I mean, you're going to have to taste it. It's kind of - I mean...

MARTIN: No. I don't.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROSENBLUM: Food words fail me when it comes to things like this, but what you get is a good, firm kind of - people say they taste like chicken? Not really. It's a little more, like, fishy. But you get that strong parsley, garlic - oh, they're wonderful.

MARTIN: OK. I think we're going to link to that traditional recipe on our website, so everyone at home can try to prepare...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Frog legs...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: And we shall rest assured...

Mr. ROSENBLUM: Good luck (unintelligible).

MARTIN: Knowing - we shall rest assured knowing that the frog leg, and frog legs in French cuisine, is alive and well. Hey, Mort Rosenblum, an American writer living in France, author of "Escaping Plato's Cave," and he writes about food now and then. Thanks very much for being with us, Mort.

Mr. ROSENBLUM: Great pleasure. Think I'll grab lunch.

MARTIN: (French spoken) Merci bien!

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROSENBLUM: (French spoken) De rien!

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROSENBLUM: See you later.


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