Food in 2 Worlds™: Fast and Spicy, Reinventing the French Crêpe for NY Tastes

A golden-brown crêpe. (Photo: Dan Zen)

Fi2W is featuring the work of students in the Feet in 2 Worlds course at The New School. Tatiana Galzy is a master’s student in Media Management.

Recent weeks have seen two French holidays—La Chandeleur and Mardi Gras—that are celebrated by eating crêpes. Although these holidays are typically thought of as Catholic in origin, the tradition of holiday crêpes goes back to pre-Christian celebrations.

Many of these pagan beliefs endure around the holidays, which celebrate the end of winter’s coldest months. By cooking a meal resembling the sun, you are wishing for prosperity in the coming year. Crêpes are one of the most popular treats in France, and every French person has at least one fond childhood memory of celebrating La Chandeleur or Mardi Gras.

The only crêpe restaurant chain in New York, Vive la Crêpe! was actually exported from Mexico by two brothers who started the business back in 1996. Despite its unlikely origin, the restaurants are a success and have expanded very quickly from their original spot in Nolita to several locations throughout Manhattan.

The Mexican duo based their brand on Paris. The name of the chain in Mexico is actually “La Crêpe Parisienne”, and their logo is the contour of a Parisian street sign.

New York is considered a world capital of street food, with many different cuisines to enjoy on the go. While crêpes in New York often cost more than other options (crêpes, just like Paris, can be overpriced), the success of Vive la Crêpe! suggests that, slowly, crêpes are becoming a lunch and snack option as valid as a burrito or a pizza slice.

The crêpe recipes that are offered in the US are very different from the ones in France, and conform to the American palate. In France, savory and sweet crêpes traditionally have different batter, one with whole-wheat flour and the other with regular flour. This is not the case at most New York crêpe restaurants.

Crêpes are a traditional meal from Brittany, and the recipes are usually pretty simple. They focus on ham and cheese for the savory ones, and can be a little more original for the sweet ones, containing butter and sugar, Nutella, fruits, melted chocolate, marmalade and salted butter caramel among other sweet flllings.  New York crêpe restaurants generally offer the ham and cheese option, but they also offer fillings that would be seen as sacrilegious to any Breton: chorizo, shrimp, curry or peppers.

The small French restaurant Pâtes et Traditions in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is owned by a couple from Nice named Lorenzo and Soraya.  Here the crêpes are made the traditional way with two different batters, but the recipes have also evolved from their Breton roots. They offer one crêpe dish with curry and another with spicy merguez sausage and peppers.

The minute you enter the restaurant, you feel a change of atmosphere: it’s very bright, tons of ornaments hang on the walls, and everything exudes kitsch from the south of France. On a cold Saturday morning, the line of people waiting outside for a table could be a deterrent. But the wait staff is French, and their accent and friendliness are definitely good selling points.

Lorenzo and Soraya came to New York with their family and opened the restaurant in 2009. Their philosophy is clear: simple food, good products, and the laid-back atmosphere of the south of France. They want their customers to be prepared to wait and take their time, the antithesis of the typical New York meal on the go. “I want to say to embittered customers who are in a hurry, this is not the right spot for you,” said Soraya.

But generally New Yorkers equate crêpes with fast food and street food. The Crêpes Truck has been crisscrossing city streets for 3 years now, and has won a place in New York’s food cart geography. There is still a way to go, however, before we see famished students waiting for crêpes after a night of partying in the East Village.

Sweet crêpe batter recipe

This is my family recipe. The two secrets are the final whisk and letting the batter sit for 30 minutes to an hour.

Ingredients:

2 cups of flour

3 eggs

2 cups of milk

3 1/2 tablespoons of butter, melted and slightly cooled

1 pinch of salt

2 tablespoons of vanilla sugar*

4 tablespoons of amber rum

*Vanilla sugar is made by placing a vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise into a bowl of sugar for at least a day.

  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and the eggs.

  • Gradually add in the milk, stirring to combine.

  • Add the salt and melted butter.

  • Add the vanilla sugar and the amber rum and beat until smooth.

  • Let the batter sit for an hour.

  • Heat a lightly oiled frying pan about 8 inches in diameter over medium high heat.

  • Pour or scoop the batter into the pan.

  • Tilt the pan with a circular motion so that the batter coats the surface evenly in a thin layer.

  • Cook the crêpe for about 2 minutes, until the bottom is light brown, or when you can see the edges come off the frying pan.

  • Loosen with a spatula, turn and cook the other side, or try to flip your crêpe.

  • Don’t forget to stir the batter before making each crêpe, and oil your pan frequently.

  • The first crêpe is usually ruined; so don’t give up at the beginning.


    Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation and the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation.