Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Provence, France -- Where in the World Wednesday!

This week's Where in the World Wednesday jets us off to the beautiful countryside of Provence, France!  Our tour guide this week is one of my close friends Katia who spent a year living in a town called Cavaillon in Provence (yes, I'm jealous too!).  She currently resides in Philadelphia and definitely experienced some wanderlust after answering these questions...

(1) How would you describe food in Provence in 10 words or less?

Fresh, flavor, meat, colorful

(2) Are there any dishes that are traditionally from Provence?

Yes,  ratatouille.  It's a dish with zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, onions and peppers.  I think technically the vegetables should be layered in a dish and baked, but I like to saute the vegetables together and add fresh herbs.  There is another famous dish called bouillabasse which is a seafood stew.  The stew contains a mix of fish and shellfish, whatever came in from the day's catch. Tapenade (a dip made of olives) and aioli (some combination of mayonnaise or egg, and garlic, olive oil, lemon) are also from Provence.

(3) If you were bringing back a food gift basket representative of Provence/France for a friend, what would you include in it?  (Feel free to include perishable items!)

Cheese (probably some sort of smelly goat cheese from a local farm), wine, herbes de provence, a lavender plant, sunshine :-), olives, aioli, lavender candies, a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-pape (red/grenache wine)

(4) Do you find that food in Provence/France has been greatly influenced by certain ethnicities/religions?  If so, which ones?

Hmmmmmm (that was me thinking very hard) I think the dishes tend to be very local and reflective of what is available regionally.  But there were a lot of Moroccan restaurants in the area.

(5) What did you have for breakfast most mornings?

A bowl of cereal and when I was done with the cereal I would pour coffee directly into the bowl and use up the milk in my coffee.  Or else I would have a bowl of coffee and baguette with jam or Nutella.  Sometimes we'd have French toast if there was stale bread that needed to be used up.   I picked up the coffee in my cereal bowl from the family who I lived with when I first got there.  Super nutritious.

(6) Were there any food traditions that your host family had? 

 If the weather was nice all meals were eaten outside in the garden.  Also, any special meal (if there were visitors, if it was someone's birthday, holiday meals) lasted hours.  The meal would usually start with crudités, which could be as simple as sliced tomatoes or carrots.  The meal would also likely have one or two meat courses.  A lot of special meals included some sort of game or lamb.  There would also be a cheese course, possibly as the dessert. 

There were a couple other special meals I remember having.  The first was raclette.  It is a certain cheese that you melt right at the table on a raclette melting machine.  The cheese was then put on potatoes or ham.  Another meal was basically strips of raw meat - chicken, beef and lamb - that we cooked on a special grill at the tableAnd a final dish I really liked to make was tartiflette.  It is a cheesy potato dish.  Basically you saute potato slices with onions and lardons (sliced up Canadian bacon) put it in a big dish and add crème fraiche.  The cheese used is rablochon and looks a lot like a wheel of brie.  The cheese gets sliced in half so there are two circles and placed on top of the dish so that it melts down into the potato as it bakes.  Also super nutritious.

(7) What is one of your favorite pastries/desserts that you had? 

My favorite European pastry is a Brioche Suisse.  I'm not really sure where it comes from, perhaps Switzerland, and it goes by different names in different countries.  It is a braided flaky pastry with a custard and chocolate chips on top.

(8) If I had visited you while you were there, what food-related outing would you have taken me on?

Hands down I would have taken you to a wine festival (see above picture!).  While I was there I subscribed to a magazine (can't remember the name off the top of my head) that put out a monthly schedule of wine festivals throughout France.  I planned my trips to different regions based on when they had a wine festival.  Basically all of the vineyards from that region would come together in a gymnasium or convention center and give out samples of their different wines and vintages.  As a novice wine taster I really enjoyed festivals where the wines were arranged by flavor.  Answering these questions made me a little nostalgic for all of the exciting adventures I had at the different festivals, so I pulled out my "tasting notes" from a tasting I went to in Avignon called Rhône Exaltation: Degustations – Gastronomie – Patrimoine.  For 7 euros my friends and I received a tasting glass, a carrying case to wear around our necks and carry the wine glass, a certain number of drink tickets and most importantly a single use breathalyzer.  We somehow managed to taste any wine we wanted, no one ever asked us for tickets.  My friends and I would sit and describe the wines to each other.  My favorite descriptions included "tastes like an old friend you haven't seen in a while, but is still very familiar"  or "honey and vanilla ambrosia."  We also described a wine as tasting like "a rotting bag of clementines."  It's a good thing my passport is expired because I'm about ready to run to the airport and wait stand-by for a plane back to France!

(9) Were there any ingredients that you often found in dishes?

Garlic, herbes de provence, whatever was seasonal at the time.

(10) Was there anything that particularly surprised you about the food there?

Baguettes really are on the table at every meal.  Also, people tend not to buy any fresh vegetables or fruit if they are out of season.  Oh and eating like the French won't really help you lose weight, apparently the kicker is smoking like the French :-)

(11) What was your most memorable food experience in Provence?

Well the wine festivals are probably my most memorable experience.  But I also loved shopping at the markets for fresh vegetables, fruit and meat.  And of course getting to taste the vast array of cheeses was incredible.

Thanks Katia for participating in Where in the World Wednesday!  Anyone else want to buy a ticket with me to head to Provence?


Tangled Noodle said...

Your year in Provence must have been a magnificent experience, Katia! Your mention of ratatouille and bouillabaisse set my tummy growling so early in the morning and I wouldn't mind receiving that gift basket you 'virtually' put together. Thanks so much for sharing!

OysterCulture said...

Katia, thanks for sharing - its so much fun to virtually travel on these Where in the World Wednesdays, and France especially Provence is a welcome escape.

I always loved the smell of herbs and associate lavender with this region. I am with you, there is just something special about market shopping for food in France.

Your two cheese dishes: I love racelette, and tartiflette I must investigate.