qwahsso chris congdon upstairs project

The word is spelled with a C and then an R, but that’s not how the originators say it. To listen to them, it’s more of a Q and then a W. 

The weirdness continues: they manage to get the two Ss in the middle, but exhale through the vowels so they run out of air before the N and the T. The word just disintegrates before it leaves  their mouths.

It's their word, so they can say it however they want, and they can spell it however they want, but you wonder why there isn’t a stronger connection between the two.   

Regardless, I had one today. I often do on Saturdays. I look forward to them. They’re delicious.

The French, who expect the rest of us to adopt their national speech impediment when using their words, are a pastry people. They know what to do with butter, flour and eggs, and they would be appalled at both my pronunciation and at the thing itself.  

When the French make a qwahsso, it is buttery and flaky and light, with a slight bite needed to penetrate the delicate dough. You buy them fresh from the bakery or the cafe and eat them immediately. Crumbs crackle and cascade down the front of your shirt.  A French qwahsso is a piece of pastry magic that compliments both savories and sweets. Use it as a vehicle for jam or charcuterie. It might be an accompaniment for a cup of coffee or cocoa or just eaten on its own. It’s a wonderful thing.

The one I had today wasn’t like that.  It came from a gas station. It arrived frozen on the company truck, was microwaved and then placed into a plexiglass warming cabinet.  I have no idea how long it had been there before I came along. It was stuffed with egg, cheese and sausage. The zap from the nuker collapsed its puffiness - it lost all texture and form. There were no flaky crumbs. It was gooey and squishy and my American gas station croissant was nothing at all like the French kind, but make no mistake, it too was a wonderful thing.  Salty and greasy and cheesy, it filled the hole in my stomach so I could pedal the remaining 14 miles home.

The French might look at my gas station croissant and say, “ce n'est pas un qwahsso, c’est des conneries!”  They’re sensitive about how their language is used and protective of their culture. This American gas station thing would be an abomination, but I’ll rise to my compatriot’s defense.

It’s too much to expect the workers at a convenience store to be expert pastry chefs.  They’re already busy selling merchandise, doing maintenance, resetting gas pumps, and telling the skateboarders to go be teenagers somewhere else.  To make a proper French qwahsso takes a single-focus dedication that they just don’t have time for.  So rather than striving to make each and every gas station croissant the best it can be, they strive instead for uniformity.  

In the convenience store world, it is more important for us consumers to get what we expect, than it is to accurately reproduce an icon from another culture.  What we expect is something sandwichy and breakfasty - salty and fatty enough that you know not to eat it the day before a blood test. What we expect is a small piece of meat on a soggy crescent roll, and we expect it to be inexpensive.  What we expect is that the one we buy in La Porte City is exactly like the one we buy in Hudson, or New Hartford. The gas station croissant hits all of those marks, so we, the consumers, end up satisfied. It’s not that we’re unsophisticated, we just grew up with a different standard for this particular thing.  

You can, actually, find a true French qwahsso in the USA, or at least something close enough to not be an insult to them, but it’s a high-end product.  Just like the French ones, they’ll be in the locally-owned shops where artisan bakers take great care to get the butteryness and flakiness just right. Customers in trendy, too-tight clothes ask for them by name, croaking and gagging their way through “qwahsso”, and then pay with a tap on their phone, not realizing or caring that the pastry just cost them a twenty.   

Maybe it’s just as well we say it differently, because they really are different things.

One represents a nation’s commitment to gastronomy, the other is just utility food.  One, you enjoy at a sidewalk cafe with fresh air, birdsong, and friendly neighbors, the other, you eat while driving.  Each has its place. Each fills its role well. It is a shame we spell them the same.

that first step

that first step