The Shop of Dreams and Confit: MA-France
Friends, I have to make a confession today. A horrible one. Sometimes, just sometimes, I love a place so much that I’m selfishly tempted to keep it to myself. This is not a feeling I’m proud to own. Rest assured I never act on such scandalous thinking. However, I found a place that seriously tested the limits of this character flaw. However, after a heartfelt therapy session with a pain au chocolat, logic faithfully roused the decision that this gem was meant to be shared for all to enjoy. MA-France, a French gourmet store humbly residing on the Arlington-Lexington town line, is the mecca for the everyday New England francophile or gourmand- a proclamation not to be taken lightly. Having opened in 2013, owners Cecile and Francois departed their homeland of France to create new opportunities for themselves here in the Bay State. Their story is featured in a May 2013 article in The Boston Globe , and I encourage you to read the piece- you’ll feel good!
I stood outside of MA-France assessing the delights that might await me inside. On the exterior, it’s a typical no-frills storefront with a French flag and simple bench, but once you waltz through the door, every sense you possess will be instantly engaged. Starting with the distinct, enchantingly rich and nutty aroma of French butter, you might be seduced into ordering a savory crêpe or something sweet from their pâtisserie. Once you awaken from this buttery trance, you will then hear actual French music adding a cheery and upbeat energy to your upcoming shopping experience. I sadly do not recall the exact song playing during my excursion, but I do know that it helped me browse and choose confit. Fact.
MA-France isn’t the mega-super-grocery store we are generally accustomed to visiting here in the United States. It is indeed a specialty store, bakery, and delicatessen- you won’t find a dozen brand varieties of bread, but you will find a few offerings of only the finest authentic French fare! Need some confit? MA-France has a generous collection ranging from the typical fruits to rose petal confits. Entertaining friends? All of your charcuterie needs await before you. Meats. Cheeses. I was most drawn to a giant wedge of Roquefort. If I weren’t currently pregnant, I would have been tempted to buy the whole thing in its entire, deliciously stinky glory. The truly exceptional nuance of MA-France, which places it above and beyond most specialty stores in the area, is its offering of actual French groceries that one would find at the neighborhood Franprix. Rare brands of common groceries, which are everyday staples in France, give the French expat a nostalgic taste of home. Of course, in the spirit of the French sweet tooth, you’ll even find the infamous Carambar candies! Miam!
While the smells, sounds, and products all equally charm, the most impressive aspect of MA-France is the exceptional people who work there. If you’ve ever been to a local shop in France, such as a fromagerie, épicerie, pâtisserie, etc., then you might know that the owners generally take great pride in their products. For instance, a French cheese monger will take as much time as necessary to make careful recommendations and suggestions for pairings, regardless of the people queue. Customers painstakingly waiting for their turn are assuaged by the fact that they’ll too get great, individualized service. This is one of the many things I deeply appreciate about French culture, and shoppers at MA-France can also expect this supreme level of care. Although fast-paced, the bilingual staff enthusiastically takes the time to help customers practice French, or explain their products. While I was waiting in the pâtisserie line ogling the pristine baguettes, the customer ahead of me- a friendly local and seemingly devoted patron- attempted to order some desserts. Timidly, he pointed through the glass to the Paris-Brest (a popular French pastry) and attempted to order in French. The server patiently smiled back, demonstrated some useful pointers on pronunciation, and gladly explained the origins of the famed French sweet. Given the current social climate, the exchange was as invigorating as it was hopeful. Immediately, the intimidation I often experience when speaking French disappeared, and I ordered as many things as I could simply for the opportunity to speak the language.
Leaving the unpretentious store having only spent thirty dollars was a miracle. It was a true test to my often pitiful willpower. My bountiful haul included a fresh baguette, pain au chocolat, sauvignon blanc confit, confit with violet petals, and confit with rose petals. Hey, a good confit is hard to find! Don’t judge. I do want to note that I actually held a package of Carambars, and after several minutes of hard thinking, decided to wait until my next trip to purchase them. These are tough decisions! I frolicked my way out of MA-France feeling less jaded about humanity and so happy to have found this merry francophile haven. I’m already planning my return during which I fully intend to try their crêpes. Goals are good! Whether you’re French, a francophile, or just someone who likes to try different things, MA-France is the perfect spot for you. C’est parfait!!
À la prochaine.
46 Massachusetts Avenue
Lexington, MA 02421