One of the joys of travel in France is, of course, gazing longingly at the food in the markets and in shop windows. A greater joy is eating that food. At one level, you can just grab a baguette and a piece of camembert and some pate and head for a park, a bench, or back to your hotel room for an indoor picnic. But to appreciate the food of France fully, you need a kitchen.
Remember those chickens dripping into the potatoes you saw in the post on Le Laurencin in Lyon? Sometimes they’re roasting more than just chickens dripping down on the potatoes.
Thus, Rule No. 1: If you go to France for more than a few days, get an apartment with a kitchen. Take one of those chickens (or the pig) and some potatoes back to your apartment. Add some super-fresh local vegetables, get some freshly baked bread, maybe some cheese, and certainly some wine. Enjoy. We picked an apartment in Paris just to be near the Marché Bastille (open Thursday and Sunday from 7:30 to 2:30 or 3:00). Follow Rule No. 1, and it will take your trip to another level.
Our Senior France Correspondents, Barbara Somson and Ross Eisenbrey, know this rule well, and delved deeply into the local cuisine in the Port Vendres area, as, indeed, they do wherever they go.
But first, a stop at a local bar for a snack. (That’s not a Rule, but it’s often a good idea.) Barbara reports:
Here are some of the oysters we had for lunch at the nearby Poissonerie, a fish market downstairs and a seafood bar upstairs.
If you look closely at the photo, you will see a “G” — this is the certification of an authentic Gillardeau. Get this
: Large, firm, claire-finished oysters from France’s famed fourth-generation oyster dynasty, which calls itself “the Rolls-Royce of oysters.” The oysters are raised in Normandy or County Cork, Ireland for their first two years, then finished in the salt ponds
of Marenne-Oleron. They are so prized that the Gillardeaus recently began laser-engraving their shells to prevent rampant worldwide counterfeiting. https://www.oysterater.com/oyster/gillardeau/
The oysters are also very deep, with a velvety but firm texture and a divine not-too-briny taste that lingers in your mouth for several minutes.
Now, back down to earth, and to dining à chez nous! I believe that the key to cooking good meals is not technique or equipment, but the best ingredients available. And this time of year, in this corner of France, there is a breathtaking abundance of perfect ingredients: countless well-made and aged cheeses (here, a piquant goat cheese, Salers (Aged Cantal), and Beaufort;
crusty, lusty loaves of bread (we even found a delicious Gluten Free one!); juicy red, minerally white, and refreshing rosé local wines (Collioure and Rousillon both côntrolée); fish literally off the boat (at the harbor two blocks away); two dozen different kinds of shellfish at the Poissonerie, including these clams, which found their way into a dinner
as did these mussels;
the prized red wine vinegar from Banyuls, one town south; and XVOO from any number of local olive groves.
Then there are the outdoor markets, held on Saturdays here in Port Vendres and on Wednesdays and Sundays in Collioure, with an overwhelming assortment of inviting vegetables and fruits — slender, crisp green beans; small, firm new potatoes; bright peapods; huge bouquets of red and white radishes; luscious tomatoes of all sizes;
crisp cucumbers; glossy, firm eggplants; onions with their stalks attached, purple shallots, fresh garlic; a variety of tender lettuces, endive, frisée (here is of Ross defying the adage, “Never eat anything bigger than your head.” We ate that frisée — for several nights’ salads.);
meats from local providers;
and melons that you can smell before you see them; strawberries to be eaten the same day they’re picked; soft raspberries; figs; several varieties of apricots; and perfect sweet cherries. And olives! Thirty types of olives.
[Ed. Actually, I took the olive photo in Lyon, but you get the idea.]
And always anchovies — more than thirty different kinds of anchovies!
They are caught in the waters around here and are packed at two different places in Collioure. (Here is a store selling one of the brands.) Our favorites are the fresh anchovies, lightly cured and still white and firm. We have them nearly every day; today we had some packed in lemon rind. Mmmmm.
This picture gives you some idea of how affordable these delights are! (250 grams = a little more than half a pound.) [Euro at $1.12]
And, voila, dinner with a nice local rosé — just a few of those ingredients, served around 8:00 on our balcony. (It’s light out past 10:00.)
and another dinner of bread, olives, tomatoes and endive, goat Tomme and Cantal, and sausage.
Really, doesn’t that look nice? The flowers are a nice touch. Can’t you just feel the crunch of the beans and radishes, and the freshness of the salad greens? Can’t you sense the aromas of the bread and the cheese? Aren’t you walking to the refrigerator right now for a glass of wine?
There you have a simple, easy-to-prepare meal with the freshest ingredients, at a fraction of the cost of dining out. It’s just another light meal for Ross and Barbara, who happen to be excellent cooks. Shopping in the local markets is a delight, and it helps you get a feel for at least part of the culture, and perhaps you’ll meet some locals or fellow travelers. And, oh, does the food taste good!
Lest I leave you with the wrong impression — astounded at how little Ross and Barbara eat. Compared to me. You may associate light meals with the fact that Ross and Barbara are very slim, as was I as recently as 1968. Okay, 1967. My sources have, however, documented their interested in desserts, such as these at Colliuore’s Le Cinquième Péché (In English, the Fifth Sin*) — first, a kind of Napoleon with pistachio cream served with cantaloupe sorbet
and, next, a divine custard in a baked meringue shell topped with a citrus mousse and restring on an herb sorbet.
When in France, do as Barbara and Ross do. You’ll live a rich, full life.
*The Fifth Sin is Gluttony, which is a way of life for some of us. I am, however, pretty clear on Pride, Envy, and Avarice.
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