Once, in my blog on LiveJournal, I wrote about the best things in the world which France has—cognac, fashion, wine, cuisine… My opinions caused a real dispute. However, after ten days of staying in Provence, France, my confidence in the incredibility of Provençal cuisine seriously weakened. I should even say, it collapsed.
Apparently, one cannot talk about French cuisine as a whole; it is possible to talk only about the cuisines of the separate provinces. For example, just about 150 km from Gordes (a small town in Provence), the food was really mouthwatering. What an onion soup we ate in Carcassonne, in the province of Languedoc! What a cider! What a salad!
Preparing for living in Provence for ten days, we were expecting a miracle: Provence is the birthplace of French cuisine which is declared as UNESCO World Heritage. It would be really delightful! But …
The first French restaurant and the first French dish. It was frog legs with garlic sauce. Not bad, but obviously it is far from World Heritage. We were surprised. Let’s proceed. The next was salad.
Not bad, but obviously far from World Heritage. Average Moscow’s restaurant can offer even better dish, notably in two variants – battered and in sweet-and-sour sauce. We are surprised. Let’s move on. Salads go next.
Fresh? Yes. Beautiful looking? Absolutely. Tasty? Well, I should say not. It was made without imagination.
Coffee. A complete disappointment. The French don’t know what CAPPUCCINO is. They think that cappuccino is something like bad black coffee with whipped cream from a dispenser.
Desserts! They were much more delicious in the Magic Life Kemer Resort in Turkey. But the French go a step further: they make dessert out of any dish. Every salad or meat dish contains at least one sweet ingredient. The apotheosis is a meat with jam!
Almost every cafe and restaurant in Provence offers the same dishes: scallops, duck medallions, and mussels. To find frog legs we were forced to peep into five restaurants, asking if they had them. It is considered to be the national French dish, isn’t it? Why it is so hard to find there? Very strange! As for onion soup, we found it only once in the ten days of our stay in Provence, and it was poor. 😦
Provence is definitely not the reason the people from UNESCO decided to include French cuisine in the World Heritage. There is one dish that could be worthy of this honor, but it could not be called pure Provence. I have in mind a tartar. We tried it for the first time in Picardy, France, half a year ago.
Tartar is a portion of red minced beef mixed with different sauces and herbs. We were nervous of eating it at the beginning (raw red meat, after all), but remembering carpaccio and sushi, we rushed to the attack. Mmmm, it was yummy! Carpaccio has lost a big part of its luster.
Then, in splendid small town Gordes where we lived for several days in August, we found the Tartar Club, a restaurant specializing in tartars. It is located only a few steps from the central square of Gordes, and it offered more than ten variants of tartars.
We chose the tasting set: three different variations of small tartars. From left to right: St. Tropez, Italian, and Traditional. The Italian was the most delicious.
Later, we had one more tartar, traditional, at the foot of Marquis de Sade Castle. All the other items on the menu were the painfully familiar set of two – three dishes offered literally in every Provence restaurant.
Only when our Provence journey was about to end, we finally came across a miracle in France—a good lunch—and in the very unexpected place: the ancient Abbaye De Montmajour not far from the city of Arles.
Across the road from the Abbey, we found something like a self-made parking place. There were no towns and villages nearby; only a small cafe right by the parking area.
“Shall we stop and have lunch here, or drive to the nearest town?”
“Lets stop here. In Province, the food is the same everywhere: scallops, duck, foie gras…”
We hid our Mini Cooper under the tree and went to the cafe.
Nobody spoke English there, but our French was good enough to order something. We were not expecting anything extraordinary, but IT WAS BROUGHT.
Where do you seek the Provençal cuisine, Michelin experts?
As you can see, there are some places in Provence where one can get a delicious (and cheap) lunch, but you have to look for them for a long time, or know precisely where they are. I can safely recommend one such a place—the tiny cafe by the parking lot near Abbaye De Montmajour, Arles, Provence, France.
P.S. Their chef who regularly appeared with the prepared dishes near the counter was suspiciously similar to an Italian, but I didnt clear it up being afraid that the French cuisine, which just now had barely climbed onto its pedestal, would fall again.