Behind the French Menu
For the visitor to France Emperor Napoléon III’s most well-known works are the rebuilding of the center of Paris. Acting under the orders of Napoléon III a new center of Paris was built under the direction of Georges-Eugène Haussmann; for that incredible work, which remains the Paris center you see today, Georges-Eugène Haussmann would be made Baron Haussmann by Napoléon III.
Haussmann also directed the creation of Paris’s sewers, a very important work; that made the air of Paris breathable. Today when in Paris you may visit part of those sewers; it is an interesting one hour educational tour and not at all smelly.
I prefer butter to margarine, because I trust cows more than I trust chemists.
Not too well remembered by the French is that Emperor Napoléon III was also responsible for a competition to create a butter substitute, and that competition produced margarine. If you remind a Frenchman or French woman of that disaster they are likely to walk off with a pooff! You may lose friend.
Despite the disagreements that still exist over margarine and butter in those pre-refrigeration days there was a true need for a butter substitute that did not quickly turn rancid like butter. Napoléon III’s armies and navy urgently need a transportable fat, and Napoléon III’s solution was a scientific competition. The competition was won by a French chemist Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès (1817-1880). Mège-Mourièss’ invention involved mixing processed beef fat with skimmed milk; the successful chemist patented his invention in 1869. In 1871 the inventor sold his patent to a Dutch company that later would become part of the company Unilever.
Getting margarine to look like butter was another problem. In the beginning many countries passed laws that banned the coloring of margarine. The last law that prohibited the adding of coloring to the originally white margarine was only repealed in the province of Quebec, Canada in 2008. I know of none others.
Napoléon III also gave the order for the rebuilding of Les Halles, then the central Paris food market. Of all Napoléon III's major works Les Halles with its bronze and glass decor is no more; Les Halles was relocated, in 1969, to a much larger area in Rungis to the south of Paris. The Les Halles métro station indicates the general area where the market was, and a number of restaurants that were made famous by the onion soup they served in the Les Halles market have remained there. Some of those original restaurants still offer service 24/7; however from experience, onion soup is not always available 24 hours a day. The modern, huge, food market of Rungis, outside Paris may be visited by bus or metro, and there are multi-lingual guided tours for professionals, as well as tourists.