Eating Out - it's all about French restaurants, local ingrediants, seasonal produce and regional specialities

Restaurants

You will find all sorts of restaurants, from simple and cozy to fancy and gourmet, and of course everything in between: brasseries, inns and tearooms. The French take what they eat very seriously indeed, always demanding fresh ingredients, seasonal specialties and somewhere to sit and eat without being rushed. Eating out is very much part of the French culture but the décor and the ambiance of an eating establishment seem to be a secondary consideration when it comes to choosing where to go. Look where the locals go and you will not be disappointed with quality and value for money.

There are most definitely three meals a day as far as any French person is concerned.
Breakfast: this is generally served from around 7:00 am to 9:00 am, and consists of a large hot drink of coffee, tea, or chocolate, with croissants and/or bread, butter and jam.
Lunch: served between 12:00 pm and 2:00 pm, on work days this is the main meal of the day, usually consisting of a salad starter, a main course of something meaty and a small dessert. It is usually finished off with an espresso coffee.
Dinner: usually starts around 8:00 pm and is a family meal. It lasts for one or two hours and consists of an appetizer, an entree and a dessert.

Restaurants by and large keep to this timetable and often close in the afternoon. Plan to be seated at your chosen lunch time table before 1pm to ensure that the kitchen is still open. Bars stay open in the afternoon but don't do food. In restaurants, bread and carafes of water are included in the price shown, as are all service charges. However, it is customary to leave a small tip on the table. If you feel that the food and the service has been exceptional then tip accordingly.

Local specialty dishes in the Aude have been influenced by its location at the crossing of two ancient trade routes from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean coast and from the heart of France to Spain, its turbulent medieval history and its fine vineyards. Seasonality is still celebrated by local chefs who have plenty of fresh local ingredients to choose from.

Typical local ingredients

Fresh fish from the Mediterranean:
Anchovies, baudroie (monkfish), calamar (squid), dourade (bream), encornets (squid), loup (sea bass), poulpe (octopus), rouget (red mullet), sardines, seiche (cuttlefish), supions (baby squid or cuttlefish), thon (tuna).
A variety of shellfish is reared in the large Basin de Thau behind Sète, famous for its miles of oyster and mussel beds. Try the Tellines, small triangular clams. Superb with a hunk of fresh bread to mop up the jus!
Preserved fish: Salt cod and succulent anchovies landed at Collioure on the Cote Vermeille near Spain, the anchovies are available in oil or marinated with peppers and spices. Take the opportunity to eat them fresh, they are superb!

Charcuterie
The collective name for dried meat and sausages are made all over the region and are often served as a starter with delicious fresh bread. There are ham and pork and salami type sausages, but for something with a stronger, taste try wild boar rolled in black pepper, it will make your taste buds tingle.
Jambon cru is dried ham, very tasty and quite rich.

Cheese
The available flat lowland areas of the Aude are filed with vines and there isn't enough rain to support grass for grazing animals, so most of the local cheese is made in the hills from sheep or goats milk. The cheeses are made in small palm sized disks called Pélardons and Crotins.
Perail is a runny sheep's cheese made throughout the region.
Cantal cheese is made from cows milk and is the oldest of French cheeses dating back to the time of the Gauls, kids love it and it is great for cooking.
Tomme de Pyrénée with its distinctive black skin is the perfect pick nick cheese to be eaten with local tomatoes and fresh bread whilst looking at a breathtaking view or relaxing on a shady terrace.
The most famous local cheese is the blue Roquefort; made from sheep's milk and matured in the caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. Arguably the king of cheeses if you don't include Stilton in the list!

Olive oil
The Aude is on the northerly margins for frost hating olive trees. The oils from the Mediterranean coast are light and subtle, ideal for complementing more delicately flavored food. Low yields mean that they are rather more expensive so they tend to be used on their own as seasoning oils. They are often sold in nice bottles that make good presents, but make sure that you put them in your hold luggage if you are flying. Cheaper Spanish or Greek oil is generally used by the locals for making up dressings and cooking. Arguably the best eating olive is the local small bright green crescent shaped Lucque.

Honey
Honey (miel) is produced all over the Aude and the flavours are developed from the flowers that the bees collect pollen from, so there are some powerful tastes such as chestnut and lavender, perfect for eating with goats cheese or if you prefer something more delicate seek out heather honey (bruyère).

Seasonal Ingredients

You will probably notice that the taste of all fresh fruit and vegetables is more intense. This is because they have been grown in an ideal climate and they are absolutely freshly picked, either the night before or the morning of the market, and because they are local they haven't spent days on the back of a lorry, packed in plastic!

Green asparagus appears in March and has the best flavour at the beginning of the season which lasts until June. Fab cooked with just butter and black pepper or lightly oiled and cooked on the BBQ.

Garlic arrives in May. The purple tinged skin 'Ail rose de Lautrec' has a sweet flavour and is considered to be the best. If you like garlic mayonnaise try Allioli, it's made from just olive oil, salt and garlic. It is a traditional accompaniment for fish dishes but it is pretty much interchangeable with mayonnaise.

Ceret is a small town near to where the Pyrenees meet the Mediterranean and produces the region's first cherries in May, but the very best eating cherries don't appear until June. The town has given its name to the colour Cerise.

Gariguettes (small strawberries) are abundant in the markets from mid-April to the end of May. Mara de Bois are considered to be the best variety by the local ladies and there is quite a rush to get them, so go to the market early!

Apricots, peaches and melons start to ripen in June; look out for roadside stalls.

Tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes and peppers are at their best during the Summer. Look for small-holder produce but don't expect supermarket perfection shape, they are grown for flavour, not regularity of shape.

Figs can be found growing wild by the roadside. Some figs will ripen in June and they have a delicate and succulent flavour. From August the rest of the figs will ripen. Together the taste is not quite so good as the early ones, but still better than any available in the UK! There are several varieties to look out for. The pear shaped "fig blanches" are the best eaters, followed by the more common black figs that have a redder flesh. Eat them with cheese or drizzle with honey and put them briefly under a hot grill for a mouthwatering desert. Don't bother with green figs because they are less sweet and are most commonly used for jam.

Red and white desert grapes are available from September. Most have pips but the intense flavour makes up for the inconvenience.

The Autumn harvest of sweet chestnuts, walnuts and almonds is celebrated in a nut festival in the town of Lavelanet and nuts are used in salads, main courses and deserts as well as being eaten on their own as a snack. A marron glacé is a chestnut candied in sugar syrup and glazed. Produced in only a limited quantity, they are appreciated as a delicacy and often given as gifts.

Wild mushrooms and truffles are foraged for in the woodland areas and their location is kept a close secret by the locals because they are expensive to buy. If you gather mushrooms you can take them to a local Pharmacy who will tell you if they are safe to eat.

Pomegranate bushes can be found growing in some hedgerows, but the fruits are very small and not very edible, possibly because they don't get enough water. Pomegranates are imported from the former French colonies and are succulent to eat with meat or add to a salad. Knock the seeds out by whacking half a fruit with a wooden spoon.

Regional dishes

Cassoulet
Cassoulet is one of the oldest specialties in France and one of the most appreciated. Its origins go back to 14th century, during the 100 year war. Cassoulet is the most famous dish from south-west France. Cassoulet can be translated as "bean pot stew" or "white bean stew" or "meat and bean casserole". The origin of cassoulet is not very clear. Some historians say it is an Arab dish, some others say it was created in Castelnaudary during the Hundred Years' war (14-15th century).

There are 3 famous Cassoulet recipes:
Cassoulet de Castelnaudary, made up with pork meat.
Cassoulet de Toulouse, more rich than the Castelnaudary recipe because it has lamb and sausages in it.
Cassoulet de Carcassonne, made with partridge.

Rouille à la setoise - cuttlefish cooked in a tomato and saffron sauce thickened with a garlic and olive oil aioli. Also cooked in a similar way is encornets farci - stuffed young squid.

Bourride de Sète - is similar, but features monkfish (locally called boudroie). Bourride can also mean a soupy fish stew - a more rustic Languedoc version of Provençe's bouillabaisse.

Tielle or Tièle - these are orange glazed seafood pies commonly seen in markets. Great take away food. Based on poulpes (octopus) and tomato.

Anchoïade - is a spread similar to tapenade (olives) but made with anchovies.

Petits pâtés de Pézenas - small pastries that look a bit like toadstools and are stuffed with sweet lightly spiced mutton.

Cassoulet originating from the town of Castelnaudary - this is a rich, slow cooked haricot bean stew with duck or goose confit and Toulouse sausages.

Brandade de morue - amalgamated salt cod, olive oil, milk, garlic and perhaps a little potato. Can be served warm or cold.

Aligot is garlic mashed potatoes with cheese, with a uniquely stringy textured and delicious taste.

Any dish described as À la catalane will have a base of tomatoes, onions, garlic, red or green peppers and ideally some red Banyuls wine.

À la languedocienne - is a dish with a base of dried ham, garlic, chard and parsley.

Crème catalane - is crème brûleé, flavoured with lemon peel, fennel seed and sometimes cinnamon.

In addition to the local specialties, restaurants in the tourist areas will serve a cross section of classics dishes from the other French regions.

Specialities from other parts of France

Alsace
sauerkraut (with local cured pork)
kouglof (cakes with raisins)

Aquitaine
Duck-based foods (foie gras, breast, gizzards, confit)
Piperade (pepper and cooked tomato omelette)
Poulet basquaise (chicken prepared with tomatoes and sweet peppers)
Cannelé (cake with caramel)

Auvergne
Green lentils from Puy en Velay
Truffade (potatoes, bacon and melted Cantal Tomme cheese)
Pounti (salty/sweet cakes stuffed with herbs and with or without prunes)

Bourgogne
Escargots (snails)
Beef bourguignon
Fondue bourguignonne (morsels of beef cooked in oil)
Gougère (cabbage with cheese)

Brittany
Crêpes and galettes (very thin pan cakes)
Far (a sort of flan)
Kouign Amann (salted butter-based cake)

Ardenne
Boudin blanc (a type of white sausage)
Ouillette (chitterling) sausage from Troyes
Ardennes ham
Croquignolles de Reims (small, pink biscuits)

Corsica
Cured pork meats
Wild boar stew
Brocciu (sheep cheese)
Chestnut flour, citrusFranche-Comté:
Poularde aux morilles (chicken with morel mushrooms)
Morteau sausages

Paris, Ile-de-France
Meaux and Melun brie
Coulommiers (cow's milk cheese)

Limousin
Tourtou (rye flour crêpe)
La tête de veau (head of veal)

Lorraine
Quiche lorraine
Mirabelle (sweet yellow plum, also fruit brandy)

Midi-Pyrénées
Cured pork meats
Gascon pastis (puffed pastry, strips of apples steeped in armagnac).

Nord-Pas-de-Calais
Carbonnade flamande (beef with beer sauce)
Hochepot (meat ragoût)

Normandy
Camembert and other cheeses
Escalope de veau normande (veal in a mushroom-cream sauce)
Le poulet vallée d'Auge (Calvados flambé chicken cooked in cider), andouille de Vire (chitterling sausage)
La Teurgoule (rice in milk)
Caramel of Isigny and cider

Picardie
La ficelle picarde (leek-stuffed crêpe)
Clafouti aux maroilles (cheese)
Le Cackruse (pork with prunes)
Le gâteau batu (kirsch cakes)

Pays de la Loire
Les sablés nantais (Nantes short-cut pastries)
Berlingots (hard mint candy)

Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur
Bouillabaisse (fish soup)
Anchoïade (anchovy-based cream)
Aïoli (variation on garlic mayonnaise)
Soupe au pistou (pesto soup)
Fougasse (flat loaf)
Marzipan from Aix

Rhône-Alpes
La fondue savoyarde (cheese cooked in white wine in which bread is soaked)
Quenelles (dumplings), cured pork meats

Riviera
Pissaladière (a sort of tomato and onion pizza)
Salade niçoise
Ratatouille (mix of cooked vegetables)

Bon Apetit!

 
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Domaines des Etoiles - Cottages & Bed and Breakfast• 2 Chemin des Moulins • 11240 Routier • France 
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