French Eats

Having always enjoyed French cuisine I’d found in the US, including our regular special occasion spot La Bergerie in Old Town Alexandria, my mouth watered waiting for the chance for my tastebuds to experience the ingredients and pairings within France itself.

One stop on our trip was selected solely for the chance to try authentic bouillabaisse. Of course there was much more to see in Marseille and we did just that, however, it’s importance on our list was purely food-driven.

Marseille Bouillabaisse Ingredients 1

Driving through so much of the country and across various regions afforded us the opportunity to taste a cross-sampling of French cuisine. Our first meal, a simple lunch by any other description was elevated in the French way quenching our desires to enjoy every single bite along our journey. Our meal of a chicken and avocado bagel sandwich for my husband and ham, cheese, and basil pesto flatbread with lightly dressed greens for me not only filled our tired-of-airplane-food-stomachs but left us wanting more. Our chance encounter with this bistro only happened because it was situated around the corner from our hotel and because we needed to buy time until our room was ready.

Later that day we donned our rain gear and magically avoided any lines to go up in the Eiffel Tour and set our eyes on the vastness that is the city of Paris. Afterward, on our walk to the Champs Elysees, we took a break not only to rest our muscles still jet-lagged and which we were determined to stretch out, we enjoyed a sweet and a savory crepe. My first ever…the Nutella crepe was a sweet and warm delight (only wishing I had added strawberries). For my husband, the ham and cheese crepe tasted just right.

First Crepe 1First Crepe…photobombed!

As we continued on our journey, equipped with our list of food we already knew we wanted to try in general, we spent time every couple of nights to research the iconic dishes of the city or region we were about to visit or the ingredients that were not to be missed. Others we came across by happenstance. For example, in Mont Saint Michel, we chose to eat at our hotel before starting our trip onto the island. Since the restaurant was soon expecting a large tour group, they asked us to pick from a limited menu to ease the demands on their kitchen. Not entirely excited at first with the options compared to the rest of the menu, I grudgingly picked the Galette Normande (Normandy pancake) with ham and cheese without the raw egg and a butter and sugar crepe. It ended up being an incredible foodie experience reinforcing the adage of trying new things. Not only were our taste buds and stomachs happy but so were we, left craving for more.

Galette Normande 1

Mont Saint Michel has a long tradition of omelettes…a little something I read ahead our trip. Knowing my husband’s affinity for omelettes, I knew it was a must on our foodie list. What came out of the kitchen and put in front of him was a pillow of egg! There’s no better way to describe it. Each bite was airy and fluffy and although it was an interesting choice for dinner fare, he couldn’t be happier with his dinner.

Mont Saint Michel Omelette

Arriving in Bordeaux after our 5.5 hour drive from Mont Saint Michel, we got settled into our hotel and quickly headed out with our map and list of top places we wanted to see. We figured we could find lunch somewhere along the way. On our way to the Bordeaux Cathedral, my eyes widened as I saw a fruit and veggie stand stacked with beautiful and abundant produce. Artichokes bigger than I’d ever seen. My only wish was that I had a kitchen to cook in right then and there. {This sentiment didn’t stop throughout the whole trip…any market or produce stand I passed, I had to resist the urge to buy everything in sight.} We instead selected to buy a basket of strawberries to eat as we walked and to enjoy for breakfast the next day. As we turned to walk away from the produce, we found a cute little bistro. Like had been becoming our routine, we arrived after their normal lunch time. The server and chef conferred and offered us one of two salads. Naturally, we ordered one of each and a glass of wine to share. We again encountered limited options but the fortuitous chance to try something a little different. And again, were were completely satisfied with our choices. My salad…tomato, mozzarella, zucchini slivers, fennel drizzled with a light sesame dressing. Chris’ salad…a caesar salad with sundried tomatoes and breaded chicken. Our lunch was made even better by listening to the banter of another patron with our server, poking fun at his accent when speaking English. We joined in and shared pleasant conversations with them making us feel quickly at home in Bordeaux!

Many might scoff at our decision to have a burger not only in France but in Bordeaux. But we didn’t care, we were days away from returning to Rwanda where the burgers are good but nothing compared to those we’ve found in the US. Our decision was made easier after feasting our eyes on a menu of gourmet burgers with toppings and combinations we had never considered putting together. And no one can say that a glass of red wine doesn’t go with a burger! Our favorite glass in fact was tasted right there along with our juice burgers. {We later realized that the red recommended to us was the same we enjoyed – and loved – with our salad lunches earlier in the day.} Curious about those topping combinations?…mine had cheddar cheese, bacon, sautéed onions, pickles, avocado, and finished with an onion and ginger chutney. We may just have to borrow these ideas as inspiration for our next BBQ.

Bordeaux Burger

The next day, we set off for Carcassonne our palates satisfied but watering for the next item on our list…Cassoulet. We had already selected our restaurant to try…we just had to get there, see the sights of the citadel, and make our dinner reservations. As our GPS struggled to route us to our hotel, we quickly realized it was because our hotel was located inside the castle walls. The cold, dreary weather and our walk inside the walls to our hotel left us looking for something to fill our stomachs and warm us up. In our fine tradition, we again got there after most places had finished their lunch service, but we lucked out that just at the entrance to our hotel nestled a little restaurant with a decadent beef stew.

Carcassonne Beef Stew

Afterward, we were full, warm, and happy! Our lunch break and subsequent short siesta bought us time enough for the clouds to break and the sun to come out. We wandered through the streets, stopping for ice cream (now heated up by the sun and stew), tastings of chocolate, and whiffs of fragrant soaps. As the night came, so did the chill in the air but well-timed for our hearty and warming Cassoulet dinner. Eager to try it and duck confit for the first time, we were in awe of the simplicity and complexity of the dish all at the same time. The time taken to make this dish was evident in the layered flavors and the sheer tenderness of the meat. It’s a dish crafted slowly over several hours from the duck confit requiring almost 2 days to prepare and the hours of low heat required to soften the beans and melt the meat fat to infuse the flavors into the beans.

Carcassonne Cassoulet

Our timing for Avignon was not perfect for being able to see the lavender fields in bloom but we set out to drive through the fields and imagine what it would look like with row after row of purple. This also lead us to stop at a road-side produce stand. Always a favorite of mine during the summer in the US, I was excited to stop at another one on our journey. We couldn’t leave without cherries – can’t even remember the last time I enjoyed fresh cherries – lavender, herbes de provence, and cured meats to take back with us.

We continued our day in Avignon, we toured the Papal Palace and the remnants of the Avignon bridge (Pont Saint Benezet). We completed our day with dinner outside in the Place de l’Horloge. Determined to try an Avignon speciality, we ordered escargot in puff pastry as an appetizer and lamb for the main dish. Both left our tastebuds savoring the flavors and seasonings.

Before our trip began, we had a couple restaurant possibilities based on online reviews for where to eat bouillabaisse in Marseille. While in Bordeaux, we finalized our research and called ahead to reserve a spot. Make sure you do the same to ensure a table is available for lunch or dinner and that the bouillabaisse will be ready and waiting for you.

Just like with the Cassoulet in Carcassonne, the amount of time and attention that went into the bouillabaisse became more and more evident with each bite. And it was also quite the operation. Starting with steaming hot broth which you dip toasted baguette slices/croutons covered in a spicy aioli into to soak up the broth. Then as the broth cools, you are shown the selections of fish and seafood for your dish. After each item is filleted and deboned at your table, it is presented to you with additional steaming broth and potatoes to combine together in your main bowl and enjoy. The presentation was just as luscious as the depth of flavor from each and every bite. Each item was removed from its shell but left intact to display flawlessly at the table.

Marseille Bouillabaisse in Broth

Being pregnant and hesitant about what exactly might be served in the bouillabaisse and whether the fish would be on the list of those with low levels of mercury, I decided to go with the chef’s recommendation of the day, a rockfish provencal. Doing so assuaged my concerns and allowed us to try the long-awaited bouillabaisse as well as another dish featuring regional seasonings.

Marseille Poisson Provencal

We finished our day walking around the Old Port and sitting of the ferris wheel looking out over the port and city surrounding it. Walking around, the sun beating down on us, we passed restaurant after restaurant with endless options of what we could pick for dinner. What a dream! What immediately caught our eyes was the menu listing head-on shrimp with risotto and vegetables. Both of us looked at each other knowing we had found our place. Finishing our day of fresh coastal cuisine with this dish was a delight! Even nicer was the warm sun still out well into the night.

Marseille Head-on Shrimp with Risotto

We spent our second day in Nice being lazy, sleeping in – for the first time on our trip – and away from the museums and stores to soak up the beach and putting our feet in the water. With many beach restaurant options, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind us and sit looking out to the water listening to the tranquil sounds of the waves lapping before us.

Our risotto from the night before left me wanting more, so I couldn’t pass up the option to again try a seafood dish with risotto and asparagus (a favorite of mine not available in Rwanda). This dish plated with extra flare from the crispy cheese chips and the slivers of parmesan cheese was even better than our dish the night before.

Nice Shrimp Risotto

After our panini lunches from a road-side rest stop on our long voyage from Nice to Chamonix through Italy, we needed to eat but eating early made us hungry for dinner early as well. As we walked around downtown, glancing up to the snow-capped mountains we had just visited, we stopped by cured meat stores and perused the array of options. Wanting macarons but not getting any yet by day 10, we stopped into a shop to get a gift box with room enough to almost sample all of the options. The two that didn’t fit, were our featured afternoon snack. The light, delicate, tender fluffiness of each bite was like pillows of flavored air in our mouths. Just what we needed!Chamonix Macarons

Later, finally getting to dinner time…we sat down with a platter of charcuterie and potatoes to dip into and coat with a pot of the richest fondue I’ve tasted! The platter for two proved to be more than we could fit in our stomachs. It would have been enough for 3 or 4 people to share. But having a fondue pot at home go unused for quite some time due to a lack of cheese options in Rwanda, we happily filled ourselves up with the delicious warm cheese…enough to hold us over for quite some time.