Provençal Cuisine of France: Is the Emperor Wearing any Clothes?!

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!

Onion soup. Carcassonne, France.
Onion soup


Salad with goat cheese and mushrooms. Languedoc, France.
Salad with goat cheese and mushrooms

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.

Salad with fried goat cheese. Provence, France.
Salad with fried goat cheese. Provence, France.

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.

Something like cappuccino and desserts in Provence.
Something like cappuccino and desserts in Provence

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!

Meat with jam and gratin. Provence, France.

Frog legs. Provence, France.
Frog legs

Provence cuisine

Scallops. Provence, France.

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. 😦

Salad with goat cheese. Provence, France.
Salad with goat cheese
Scallops. Provence, France.
Scallops in Provence

Onion soup. Provence cuisine.

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.

Provence cuisine

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.

Gordes. Provence, France.

The restaurant Tartar Club. Gordes, Provence, France.

Menu of the restaurant Tartar Club. Gordes, Provence, France.

Click here for a high resolution image

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.

The tasting set of tartares in the restaurant Tartar Club. Gordes, Provence, France.

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.

Tartar in Provence, France.

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.

The ancient Abbaye De Montmajour near Arles, France.

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?”
“Let’s 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.

The ancient Abbaye De Montmajour near Arles, France.

Nobody spoke English there, but our French was good enough to order something. We were not expecting anything extraordinary, but IT WAS BROUGHT.

Steak with gratin. Provence, France.
Steak with gratin in Provence
Roast duck with gratin. Provence, France.
Roast duck with gratin

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 didn’t clear it up being afraid that the French cuisine, which just now had barely climbed onto its pedestal, would fall again.

More about cuisine:

The Best, but Cheapest Trout Farm in the World
Eternal Oyster Season in Cancale, France
Two Wonderful Excursions: Swiss Cheese and Swiss Chocolate

59 thoughts on “Provençal Cuisine of France: Is the Emperor Wearing any Clothes?!

  1. I really enjoy reading your posts of your travels! It just goes to show that one can get good food and bad food just about anywhere in the world. We live and learn! Also, are you fluent in speaking French?


  2. You surprised me with this post. Here in Montreal we have some great French restaurants and have had some great meals eating Provencal cuisine. So it’s a surprise that the motherland has slipped…as another commenter said, it’s the tourists – the usual excuse for serving sub-par food (that no local would accept).
    Frank (bbqboy)


    1. Exactly, Frank. It was a real shock for us.
      I am sure Provence has SOME good restaurants; however, usually, we don’t seek SOME good restaurants in Italy, we just take our seats where we want and always get a great meal. This is a big problem in Provence.


  3. Really nice photos Victor, have you really eaten all of this food ! I felt in love with Provencal cuisine during my first trip to Baux de Provence last year, I stayed in a local nice boutique hotel Benvengudo and tasted yummy local specialities in different restaurants and bistro there.Not being a good cook at all, I was really intimidated by trying to learn how to cook this beautiful meal myself, so I took the opportunity to take a one day cooking class at the restaurant of the hotel, we got tips, basic techniques and advice from the chef of the restaurant on how to select fresh products, how to cook the meat and simple facts like that, I managed to memorize how to cook a ratatouille , really easy ! Hope to go back there next year


    1. Yes, I take pictures at first, and then eat. 🙂

      You was more fortunate. I am very glad for you.

      We ate in Avignon, Gordes, Sault etc., but had only very average dishes in Provence. Apparently a large number of tourists spoiled this region.

      In four weeks, Bretagne is waiting for us with its cheese and oysters. We’ll see.


  4. in the photo of the deserts you have a swedish Almondy Daim cake, that they sell in IKEA. It usually comes frozen. Have no clue where you ate that, but THAT is not french cuisine 🙂


    1. The only photo with desserts in this post shows a warm apple cake with cinnamon and almond cake which we ate near the Amiens cathedral. You can check in Google where this cathedral is located.
      There was no IKEA nearby.


  5. You just made me seriously hungry, and since it’s supper time, I’ll say good-bye for the day. Thanks for letting me camp out in your blog this evening. I had a great time and tried to leave my campsite as clean as when I arrived.


  6. Your pics are making me hungry 🙂 Too bad that so many dishes didn’t live up to your expectations. I hate when that happens! Food is such a big part of travelling and it’s easy to be disappointed when it’s not that good… I don’t think I have spent any time in Provence yet. Next time, you might want to give Bretagne or Normandie a try 🙂 we had a blast (and many a delicious meals) there.


  7. Thanks for the visit to my blog, and the likes too, Victor.

    I’m also a great Francophile, and Provencophile too, though the food can sometimes disappoint. the atmosphere never does, however, and it’s wonderful to find great food in surprisingly unpromising places.


  8. Before bashing Provence and it’s cuisine how about starting to spell correctly? The town is called Gordes and cuisses de grenouille are froglegs (not frogfoot) and this is not a Provençal dish but from Auvergne…


  9. Haha yes, Provence is one of those places that is slightly more hyped up. But really, like many countries, restaurants in France can also be hit or miss. You’re really better off going to smaller towns for real provincial food, and of course, every region has its different cuisines. Woohoo to the shout-out to Languedoc!


  10. I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy French cuisine myself. Delicious! Don’t hesitate to follow my blog or myself on Twitter @RealmOfMyOwn

    Keep up the excellent photos. I’ll for sure keep coming back to see them.


  11. Victor, I am positively drooling as I write this! and I totally agree with you. I have spent long periods in France. I lived there for a while when I was younger and my second husband and I had a house down in the S.West near Pau. I have eaten alot of French food over the years in many of the regions, and in my experience some of the best, and most delicious meals are the ones in the least likely of places. You are of course, absolutely guaranteed ambrosia in a Michelin starred restaurant but they are a big treat. I love the title of this particuar blog, very clever! and your photographs are stunning as always. Thank you for such a delicious visual treat. Lottie


  12. Could eat the photos. You made the food look delicious pity for you the tasting did not come up to the expectation. I agree that finding good local food is a BIG part of the travel experience


  13. The pictures you took are good… very natural and without “retouching” to look the best way possible (alike in the cuisine’s books)…
    France has changed in the years, this maybe to be able to please the cosmopolitan way of life… Don’t get me wrong 😉 but this is, as matter of fact, because of the huge amount of turists going around over there too…
    You said “Carcasonne”… well, that isn’t France at all! Just remenber the shops arount the citadelle and the bouch of different staff “made only for turists…”
    To get the real thing, you have to go into the small town, the very little places where the mass of traveling people do not go… Maybe is even difficolt to find such places, time has ruined a lot, I’m afraid!
    (Alike the swiss family I met in Japan: they orderet frenchfries with hamburger and swiss cheese in a sushi restaurant… and they got it! I was really ashamed of my own country).
    Take care, claudine


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