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Friday, October 7, 2016

Thoughts On Eating In France

I have come to notice something about the way I blog recently and that is that I'm only able to write when I'm in the library. I can edit pictures pretty much anywhere as long as it’s neither too dark or too light, but writing needs to happen in the library if I want to have any chance of producing something that is actually worth reading. So, I guess that’s how I explain the recent radio silence on my blog: I haven’t been to the library in a few weeks, but traveling to France and England.

At the end of August, I packed my bags, left my apartment in Heidelberg to gather some dust and roadtripped through France with my parents. We saw the French Alps and the French Riviera, ate a lot of good food in the Southwest and then drove back to Germany after three weeks where I spent a week at home writing exams before my boyfriend and me flew to Manchester to celebrate our five-year anniversary in the Peak District. It’s been a busy month filled with many exciting moments and I probably have enough blogging material for the next three years, but I’m back in Heidelberg now and I can’t really explain just how relieved I am to finally have some down-time again and to get working on my fall bucket list.

Summertime in Nice

I can't tell a lie: Pierre Hermé was one of the main reasons I was excited to visit Nice!

To be honest, I have no idea how long-term travellers are able to deal with being on the road constantly. I love to visit new places and crave new experiences to not feel stuck in a rut, but I am also a creature of comfort that appreciates a physical home and a set routine. And while I do often feel the need to break out of my daily mold by traveling, I am also always glad to return to it after a trip. To me, there is something very comforting about waking up in the same bed every day and picking up my groceries in the same store each week and as much as I love travel, the best thing in life for me might still be to have a home that I can and always want to go back to.

Right now, I really enjoy being at home. I like to have plenty of time at my leisure to just be alone with myself to recharge. I enjoy having the time to think about things as mundane as whether I should buy a matte or a glossy pair of Hunter Boots next (by the way, does anyone have any opinions on this?) or which prints I want to hang on my walls to decorate my apartment soon. I cherish having the opportunity to read and write in peace. I love spending my evenings catching up on all the Youtube videos I missed while traveling, chatting to my boyfriend about everything in the world and flicking through my collection of coffee table books to dream about the trips I want to take as soon as I feel like breaking out of my routine again. But most of all, I am excited to get back into my own kitchen and cook and bake up a storm now that the temperatures are dropping and all I want for dinner is a comforting bowl of soup followed by an indulging slice of cake and a steaming mug of tea.

Restaurant Le Présidial in Sarlat-la-Canéda

Food is one of my favorite things in the world – sometimes I think I love it more than travel! – and if you could look inside my mind right now and see just how much time I spend thinking about what I want to eat next and which recipes I want to try out soon and how I can make the leftovers from yesterday more interesting today, you would surely ask me why I’m a travel and not a food blogger. To that I would simply say that I lack the patience for beautiful food photography and usually feel anxious when I take out my DSLR in a restaurant, but also that I’m determined to make more of an effort to create some food-based content for my blog in the coming months. And so I couldn’t think of a better way to start writing about my France trip than to talk to you about the food I ate in those three weeks.

fig tree 

Puy l'Eveque in the Lot Valley

France is food and food is France and so I haven’t exactly been starved for great food experiences on our trip. I used to always be quick to say that French cuisine isn’t my very favorite in the world, but while it’s true that thoughts of Dim Sum in China or really any other type of pasta fill my mind when I think of my favorite dishes, I now have to admit that the enthusiasm the French feel for food has been dangerously contagious. I don’t think that there is a single food lover in the world that wouldn’t enjoy eating their way around this country and whether you decide to sample the local cuisine in a restaurant or by cooking yourself after heading to a market to pick up some of the most vibrant produce you’ll ever come across, there is a good chance that you will quickly feel just as passionate about what’s on your plate.

The food we eat is always intrisically connected to our culture and that is nowhere more true and obvious than in France. Opening your eyes to the many different regional cuisines of the country and making an effort to understand how the food (and the wine!) has shaped its history and culture can easily make any trip to France a more profound experience.

Feeling the colder temperatures of the French Alps and seeing the cattle grazing on isolated pastures only reachable after hours of driving easily explains why the region’s cuisine is so simple and rustic and why cheese features so heavily in its dishes. Gazing upon the seemingly never-ending vineyards of Burgundy, on the other hand, makes you understand why wine seems to feature in almost every dish of the region and why a restaurant’s reputation stands and falls with its wine list. One could probably spend a lifetime exploring the French food culture and still find new dishes to enjoy and coming to this epiphany made me realize that I really do love French food – no matter what my favorite dishes are.

market in Antibes

scenes from the market in Cahors

Most of my happiest food memories from our trip are connected to strolling over every single market that I got the chance to visit. I found it especially fascinating to see just how much the markets differentiated from each other in different regions: The markets in the south of France seemed to be particularly focused on fresh fruit and vegetables and all types of olives, whereas the markets further up north had a tendency to offer more hearty fare like nuts, different types of meat, baked goods and, of course, plenty of cheese. One thing all the markets had in common, though, was that all the produce on offer was of outstanding quality: I saw eggplants as big as my head and spring onions as large as my fist, ate the best peaches I have ever had and spotted tomatoes in colors, shapes and sizes that I had never seen before. Everything seemed to be fresher and taste just a little bit better and had I not believed in the importance of regional and seasonal eating before, I surely would now.

Shopping on a French market is a true joy and even if you don’t enjoy cooking very much, it’s still worth seeking out a market at least once (and maybe picking up some fruit to snack on later) just to see all the mouth-watering produce on display. One market that I particularly enjoyed visiting was the farmers’ market of Cahors where most of these market pictures where taken at. Cahors is a small city in the department Lot in Southwest France, a region that has a serious reputation as a foodie destination even by French standards, and so the entire population of the town seems to be on their feet when the local vendors open their stalls each Saturday and Wednesday morning on the large square in front of the cathedral. The hardest thing for me was simply to decide just what to buy – the choice seemed almost endless!

colorful produce from Southwest France

harbor views in Cassis

But as great as the markets were, we obviously also had a few memorable restaurant meals. One dinner that stood out particularly to me was an evening at a restaurant called Chez Clement in the small coastal town of Cassis, where I tried a traditionally prepared Bouillabaisse for the first time.

A Bouillabaisse is a stew made out of fish stock, potatoes and multiple types of white fish and is typically eaten with crusty bread and aioli. It originated as a hearty fishermen’s supper in Marseille and seems to be a simple dish at first glance, but as the price quickly reflects – I have seen restaurants in fancier parts of the French Riviera ask for as much as 90 € per person – a lot of time and work has to go into preparing a proper one. I was surprised by just how flavorful the broth was and enjoyed every single bite of fish until I felt so full that I was positive I wouldn’t be able to eat for a few days, but I still ordered a Caramel and Raspberry Millefeuille for dessert (the dessert stomach is definitely a thing, after all!) and it was easily one of the best things I ate in France. Combined with a picturesque view of the setting sun over the little harbor, it definitely was a meal to remember.

vineyards in Burgundy

the city of Beaune

Another great restaurant memory was lunch in the 15th century wine-cellar of Caveau des Arches in Beaune. We had a few traditional dishes from Burgundy, like gougères (cheese profiteroles) and boeuf bourguignon (beef stew with red wine) and obviously some wine from the region, but while the food was delicious the one thing that made this meal a memorable one for me was trying snails for the first time.

One thing that you have to know about me is that I used to be pickiest eater on earth. As a kid, I barely liked any food: I hated all sorts of vegetables except for – I know this is strange – spinach, wouldn’t touch things I never had before and even refused to eat ketchup until a friend of my grandparents convinced me that it made fries much more tasty. My eating habits only started to change when I developed an interest in cooking as a teenager and learned that there actually were delicious ways in which vegetables could be prepared – but to cut a long story short, I would never even have entertained the thought of possibly ever eating snails ten years ago. But infected by the aforementioned French enthusiasm for food, I decided to give it a go this time and when the snails came to our table straight from the oven, the melted parsley herb butter that they were covered in still sizzling, I couldn’t help but feel wistful for how far my love and appreciation for food had come over the years.

home-made pizza dinner in Vence

welcome present in a gîte in Périgord

I’m going to tell you more about what we did and saw in France soon, but I hope that you have enjoyed this little insight in my history with French food until then. I am trying to push myself to publish more food content in the future, but it’s something that is still a little bit out of my blogging comfort zone, so this shift might be rather slow. I’ll see you next week with a post on England!

What is your favorite French dish?

Places Mentioned

Pierre Hermé - Macarons; shops in many different cities

Chez Gilbert - Seafood Restaurant in Cassis; member of the Bouillabaisse Charter, an initiative that aims to preserve the traditional preparation of this dish

Le Présidial - Restaurant in Sarlat; worth visiting for the location alone

Cahors Market - Wednesday and Saturday mornings

Caveau des Arches - Restaurant in Beaune serving classic dishes from Burgundy


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