It goes without saying that each time you travel to France you embark on a gourmet journey. You inevitably try new food and discover – and sometimes even acquire! – new tastes. My student year in Strasbourg gave me lots of new things that I now love and eat : ) And if you know me you’re aware of the long list of things that I don’t like… Well, this journey to France was no exception – it was a true gourmandise! No surprise then that even my photographs tend to depict some food-places : )
Apart from visiting Strasbourg for the millionth time in my life and discovering the Rhône-Alpes region, I also got a chance to see Provence in spring – no, no lavender fields in full blossom yet, too early. I saw more of Côte d’Azur in its pre-summer glory. And there was just enough of spring and blossom and a looooot of sun. Well, you know, according to the sad statistics St Petersburg gets only 30 days of sun each year… So I guess I got in 2 days in Provence about twice as much of sun as I would in those 30 days back home!
France is a cheese-lovers’ place par excellence, and that means – my place. Without mentioning lots of cheese I’ve tried at my friends’ while staying at their hospitable homes, I’ve rediscovered… Camembert, which I actually never loved. Moreover – I even ate an ENTIRE Camembert at one meal! That was at a restaurant somewhere on the way to Monaco where we stopped to eat. Actually, this is not a typical dish for the Midi (South of France) at all. Camembert is from Brittany, right, and that is in the north. But we were fortunate enough to stop at Le Relais de Bonaparte restaurant in Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume (!) and find baked Camembert as plat du jour! Four of us ordered this:
And you can imagine that the car we were travelling in smelt just like a Camembert delivery service on wheels would smell : ) Anyway, that was delicious – the cheese is baked directly in its wooden case, it melts and even its rim which I always considered the worst part of Camembert turned out to be so tasty when baked! You dip bread and potatoes in the gooey cheese and then – however delicious that might be – you find yourself struggling to swallow the gluey cheese! The salad helps counterbalance the richness of the cheese + potatoes + bread. Much water is needed too =)
Chèvre cheese – a very soft and light version of goat cheese that we’ve bought at the farmer’s market in Sanary-sur-mer, a 100% French seaside town. Oh that market, I could spend like hours looking at all the gorgeous products!
We ate the cheese with chestnut & fig bread (!) and this was the second time I actually enjoyed chèvre – the first time was eating a tartine in Strasbourg’s restaurant l’Épicerie – they bake a long wedge of bread with goat cheese, pine nuts and honey and then serve it warm, mmm! Talking about the market, I went there twice and each time bought some super-tasty and super natural things like these olives provençales:
The producer is called Cocktails du Midi (Southern Cocktails) and they even have a delivery inside Europe (of course), so if you are craving for some sun-herbs-oils-infused olives, fruits and also herbs and spices, that should be a foolproof choice! The woman who turned out to be the owner offered me to pack all the purchases sous-vide (vacuum packaging) so that they could make their way to Russia safely. And they did – but not for long did they live in Russia =) I’ve also bought some traditional tapenade from green olives (there’s obviously garlic in there too plus herbs and olive oil):
The crackers you see in the photo went well with the tapenade – I actually made them on purpose and did not add too much salt in them as I knew these will be eaten with salty tapenade. No recipe for tapenade (just no right ingredients here to make it!) but here is the easy recipe for the crackers:
A year ago – Petrogradskaya Side, St Petersburg
Two years ago – Short Post on Short Crusty Baguettes
Homemade Ritz Cracker adapted from www.cupcakeproject.com will make a packet-full of chewy crackers ready for you to spread some salty olive paste on!
Changes: I added just a bit of pumpkin seed oil and the result was a greenish colour of the dough which once baked was not that distinct (nor the taste was affected). The shapes that I’ve chosen were completely not Ritz-like, just hearts and circles. I didn’t brush the crackers with salty water to make them more neutral.
Result: Nice crackers, nothing special!
Tapenade also exists in its black olive version – this one that we’ve sampled at a very tiny but such a nice restaurant called Le Provençal – was really salty. They serve it with rusks from baguettes. The restaurant owner (oh how I adore these places where you talk to the owner!) said that hers is one of the few places in Sanary that are still owned by a family, the same as the hotel where we stayed (just in case – hôtel de la Tour).
You can imagine that it was quite a challenge for me to choose something to my liking from the vast variety of – I really believe you here, meat and fish eaters! – very tasty dishes. So I ordered tagliatelle à la provençale which turned my perception of pasta upside down! You just need the right sauce!
The last day in Sanary we went to a fish restaurant and the dear owners were so disappointed when they learnt I don’t eat fish… So here was my personal boosted with all the possible add-ons variant of Salade fermière:
But the most delicious thing was served à côté (so that I don’t die from hunger after eating JUST this salade – ahhaa, sometimes I really wonder what meat-eaters think we vegetarians take our energy from…) – fondue de poireaux – leeks sautéed with cream, oh! You can spot them in the upper right-hand corner, just a tiny bit but so tasty! Well, I can say that I enjoyed the vegetables more than the salad – because the French salad means lots of vinegar and, well, acid.
Some shots from Sanary-sur-Mer in the Var department, just au bord de la mer! I would call it a French paradise for French families and French grannies and grandpas : ) Spotted another couple of super-sporty Granny and Grandpa making their jogging marathon in morning! Was glad I was jogging alongside them too : )
The town is what I would imagine it to be, especially the touristic old center. Used to be a major fishing place, now only 13 fisher boats are left which still go to the sea to get the fresh fish and then sell it early in the morning right at the seaside.
Early morning colours:
And in the evening:
I opened the ‘swimming season’ in the still cold waters of the magnificent Mediterranean sea, together with super-cold-and-sun-resistant babushkas and children. And even got sun burnt all the while it was snowing in Russia! My Mom was updating me on the nasty weather conditions in St Pete those days. When I came back we had some weirdly hot days too but now it’s back to good-old rainy-windy St Petersburg again.
I can say that Monaco (see the first photo too) did not impress me that much as the feeling you get when you spot some tiny detail that has been here from God know when. Ha, I just love those old towns although I can easily imagine how dead this place looks in winter and how boring the life should seem for a city person.
Monaco reminded me of Luxembourg (they both have lifts that you take to get to another part of the city…), also embellished and touristic and making you think where they take all this money from : )
We also visited Cassis, a seaside resort closer to Marseilles, which was a real tourist nest! And our French friends were really shocked at the quality of food and service we got there (imagine trying to find any place to eat after 3 p.m. in France! no way, they’re all closed!). But my pizza was ok (one of the advantages of being vegetarian – you do not have to worry that much for the quality of meat or fish in your meal), although with just one sort of cheese instead of four .) Anyway, that was a culinary journey indeed!
Another Épicerie – this time a shop of all things “made in Provence”. This one was in Grasse, the centre of all Fragonard, Gallimard and something starting with M parfums, a crowded place with narrow streets and traditional beige coloured houses.
I preferred listening to early morning sounds and birds in Eze, a small village perched on a rock on the way to Monaco and Italy. And you can also listen to Morning in Eze
Will tell you more on Strasbourg soon. More food coming too.