Couscous on the last menu of French 133!



Introduction to Francophone Literature from Africa and the Caribbean taught by Dr. Marie-Pierre Ulloa

Student authored vignettes on their couscous dinner experience at Bistro Vida on 30/13/17.

Bistro Vida is a French restaurant located in downtown Menlo Park, opened in 1998 by Egyptian cosmopolitan owner Ali Elsafy. Born in Cairo, Ali speaks five languages, English, Arabic, French, Italian, and Spanish.The menu features traditional French-style bistro cuisine, and couscous, and our dinner was generously sponsored by the Stanford Mediterranean Studies Forum.

Our class visit to Bistro Vida brought alive the texts we read in French 133 because cuisine is latent with culture, tradition, and history. By ordering couscous, we were granted access to Maghreb culture in a way that supplemented the literature we discussed in class. As we ate our meal, I was reminded of Laferrière’s L'Enigme du retour and how the protagonist, upon a sip of coffee, thinks of his late father and Haiti. As we ate, I thought Albert Memmi’s La Statue de sel and how the protagonist links a meal of couscous with the act of grieving. I thought of Maryse Condé in La Vie sans fards whose sense of community is forged by the food she shares with others, regardless of the country she is in. This experience with my classmates and Professor Ulloa was not only a highlight of the course, but also a wonderful way to culminate our curiosity for Francophone literature. (Sonia)

Our outing to Bistro Vida proved to be a wonderful evening. Prior to the dinner, we read about the history and significance of couscous in both North African (maghrébine) and West Indian (antillaise) cultures, and placed the dish's influence within the context of our course's readings. Therefore, upon arriving at Bistro Vida, we approached the dinner with an intellectual curiosity and framework that added another dimension to the meal. As we ate, we conversed (in French!) about the process and styles of preparing couscous. The direct link between the meal and our course learning, along with the ambiance of the restaurant, the conversation in French and the opportunity to enjoy a well-prepared meal, made the evening quite pleasant. (Kaitlyn)

The French 133 couscous dinner at Bistro Vida in Menlo Park was a highlight of the quarter. The dinner provided a great opportunity to get a taste of the influence of Maghreb and French cuisine and culture on a local venue. Bistro Vida also offered a great setting to discuss course material (Francophone Literature of Africa and the Caribbean) over delicious food, including a staple of North African cuisine (couscous) as well as classic French desserts (among them, Crème Brûlée, macarons, and Tarte Tatin). It was a joy to experience this collision of culinary cultures close to Stanford campus with my professor and classmates and a wonderful way to wrap up the quarter beyond the classroom. Opening up a window onto local flavor, the dinner at Bistro Vida was a great way to discover and celebrate the culinary tradition of France as well as the Maghreb. (Chloé)

Our class’s trip to Bistro Vida was a special ending to our class on African-Caribbean French Literature. After having read multiple works by North African authors, such as Albert Memmi and Kaouther Adimi, it was interesting to learn about the culture in a different way—through the cuisine. The couscous was delicious, with chicken, sausage and lamb; I have not had authentic North African food since coming to college, and so it was exciting to taste those flavors again. With my small classes, I also really enjoy getting to know my classmates, and during this dinner I talked to many upper classmen who offered me new perspectives on life at Stanford. (Renata)

Thanks for funding our class trip to Bistro Vida in Menlo Park! It was a great opportunity to eat the staple dish we’ve encountered in nearly all of the texts we’ve read this quarter, and it was also wonderful to spend some time with our peers and professor outside of the classroom. We sat at a large table right at the front of the restaurant, looking out onto the sidewalk as the sun was setting. The weather was beautiful! The owner of the restaurant took our orders – all couscous, of course, with different combinations of meat and vegetables. I had the vegetarian version and others had theirs with sausage, chicken and lamb which we learned is called a “royal" couscous. Our experience was only slightly different from the texts we studied in that the couscous was not served on a big plate for the entire table to share, and we also didn’t eat with our hands. That’s a skill to be mastered for the next time! (Ali)

At Bistro Vida, our French 133 course had a chance to escape campus and travel temporarily to North Africa and taste the local cuisine. We tried the couscous royal, a dish that we learned takes hours of preparation but is well worth the effort. The couscous is traditionally served family-style, but we each had our own portions. It was full of flavors and textures, from the grain itself to dried fruits to well-seasoned vegetables and grilled meats; all of the components of the couscous blended together to form one harmonious dish. Although we learned that in Morocco, people sometimes eat couscous with their hands, I appreciated having utensils to use during the meal. It was a delicious experience. (Ameena)