French love food. The saying “French live to eat and Germans eat to live” is very apt. (And some Irish add to this English eat to die.)
Walking through a French market is a joy for foodies, and even for others who just eat to survive. Over there, markets are organized differently. Food vendors are grouped and this makes it easier to sample their wares, examine quality and compare prices.
Mightiest of all the weird and wonderful species is the humble herring – dry salted, smoked, marinated or grilled. And where else you find a festival – Fete du hareng – dedicated to a fish? Then again, French also organize a festival for snails.
The visit the section of charcuterie, patisseries and fromageries is an absolute must. Although German sausages are better known all over the world, the French artisans’ handiwork taste as good, if not more exotic than their better-known brethren do.
When it comes to pastries, the French have it. Who can resist a crisp croissant with homemade wild-strawberry jam? And then there are palmier, Danish pastries, chaussons, just to name a few delicacies.
Cheese, cream cheese in particular, has been the forte of French cheese makers for centuries.
Their fine meadows and cow species yield excellent quality milk, which dedicated cheese makers convert to delicious Camembert, Brie, Roquefort, St Paulin, Crottin de Chavignol, Mimmolet, Muenster and chevre.
If you happen to visit a market on the Atlantic Coast, you will find many oyster stands where their wares are sold by the dozen, shucked, ready to slurp with a fine glass of Muscadet de Sevre et Maine sur lie should you be close to the Loire River, but further south you will be offered an Entre-Deux-Mers from Bordeaux.
Of course, not only are oysters are offered, but also mussels and all kinds of other seafood too.
In Normandy, you are likely to see tripe and all the ingredients go with it; cow stomach, feet, Calvados brandy and cream. If this fails to appeal, try andouillettes (small chitterling sausages), the ducks of Rouen, and Camembert, Livarot, Pont l’Eveque and Neufchatel all fine cheeses.
Honey, herb and vegetable vendors will encourage you to sample, sniff, and prod their wares, and will even give you recipes for free. Just for the asking.
The tiny mustard seeds brought by Roman legionnaires to Gaul to flavour their beef have played and important role in Dijon. In 1336, the Dukes of Burgundy staged a banquet for King Philippe IV of France when 300 litres f prepared mustard were consumed. To this day Dijon produces 70 percent of all the French mustard. You can even visit a museum dedicated to mustard in Dijon (48 Quai Nicolas Rolin).
The fame of Burgundian gastronomy spread throughout the world. They invented snails a Bourguignonne, Bouef a la moutarde, pain d’epice (ginger bread), sauce moutarde, poulet demi-deuille (chicken in half mourning with black truffle slices), and where else would you find the finest and pampered chickens of the world but in Bresse!
People make a detour of many hundred kilometres just to eat these succulent, superbly tasty chickens!
Of course, everybody knows about the fabled Burgundy wines, but in a market place, you will find Kir made with Aligote (local dry white wine) and cr√®me de cassis (black currant). This drink is named after Felix Kir, who was mayor of the city a long time ago and who decreed to serve it with white wine only to help growers.
Lyons, a handsome city, is the world’s culinary capital with restaurants ranging from bistros to the finest, and everything in between. The best bistros are called bouchon (cork), after the untold amounts of wine they sell daily to the thirsty locals and thousands of tourists who just come to enjoy good food and camaraderie. If you happen to love mushrooms, any French market will have on display chanterelles, ceps, girolles, truffles (late November only), champignons de Paris and much more, but only seasonal produce is available. French do not care much about canned food, although it was Nicolas Apert, an officer in Napoleon’s army, who invented the art of canning. Today it is an industry in much of the world.
If you happen to be in Sarlat, you can sample pommes sarladaises – potatoes cooked in goose fat. This is gourmet’s paradise, but it is not for dieters.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu
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