Rob and i have only explored a very small part of France,and only a small section of the canals in Burgundy – in 3 months barging we have travelled about 900 kilometres. There are more than 6000km of navigable canals and waterways in France. We have travelled 10 – 20 kilometres every day or so, lingering when we loved a village, or there was something specific to wait for – like fireworks.
We are at the end of our first nearly 6 month stay in France, back in our home port of Roanne,(the first two months spent sorting out paperwork, for me to extend my visa past 3 months) and I am reflecting on what I have loved about our time here. France according to statistics has the most tourists in the world – why? France would not be France without its food,(some of it really strange)…from frogs legs, (cuisses degrenouilles -why would you go to so much effort for less than a teaspoon of meat?) rabbit, (lapin) snails, the famous white Charolais cattle in Burgundy, from which a local favourite is made – blood sausage..definitely one up on south african boerewors..
The cheeses and breads have been close on my favourite food…
We have spent a lot of time looking for food, buying food, making food – its not like you can drive 5 minutes to the local spar… when we moor, we walk to the nearest village, or cycle with backpacks if the shops are further away. In Johannesburg, I am in and out of Woolworths in less than 10 minutes. I have loved shopping with my eyes here. One of the main topics of conversation in France is food, and wine. You wont hear French people talking about work..food yes.
The French believe in good quality food, fresh, (locally produced is first prize.) Some of the eclusiers (lock keepers) will sell “salade” from their gardens. (lettuce, tomatoes, onions…) fellow bargees have knocked on farmer’s doors to ask if the farmer will sell them eggs, tomatoes, a chicken… next year when I hope my French will be better, I will do this.
French people are proud of what they produce… There are “artisan” boulangeries (which means they use traditional or ancienne methods of making bread, using natural yeast and no preservatives) For close on 6000 years we have made bread using natural yeast, its only in the last 40 years or so that instant/commercial yeast has been used (any link with gluten allergies etc?) When you walk into a boulangerie, there is a ritual. Everyone greets everyone. There is a queue at a good boulangerie, but everyone waits patiently. Madame gives her undivided attention to the person she is serving. There is no rush, pleasantries are exchanged, a discussion ensues. . It’s my turn, do I want Pain or baguette? wholewheat, or demi-complet(half wholewheat) blanc , perhaps with sesame seeds, thin? long? fat? I open google translate. Nobody rolls their eyes, or mutters.. They chuckle..We have sampled only a few of many varieties of bread – Pain de Mais (with corn, i like) Pain de compagne, we both like, similar to sourdough, Pain boulle,a round loaf, and of course boulangerie stemming from this
No self-respecting Frenchman would dream of eating yesterday’s baguette. Leftover baguettes get fed to the ducks in France, (who are then eaten, recycled baguette?.) It’s critical to eat fresh pain or baguette daily. Or a pastry or two. Not one or two kinds of loaves, but a whole variety. A library of breads?
The bread is made by Madame boulanger, who gets up around 3 a.m. to make all her breads … I know this because in limited French and with a kind younger person standing behind me in a queue translating, I have asked…we had cycled for a few hours, and were thirsty. – we are sitting drinking perrier water at a tabac. (A tabac is a tobacco shop that sells bits and pieces which could include wine and coffee but not croissants or cookies)
– monsieur tabac is more than happy for us to buy a pizza at the boulangerie opposite him, and eat these while we drink un verre vin blanc.
… an artisan butcher – i havent researched what methods he uses yet…
Cheeses, wines, lentils, honey, butter, oils, spices (and more) may have an AOS stamp which means that they carry the guarantee of being made in a certain way for many generations and come from a specific region. e.g. champagne The history of protecting cheeses goes back to Charles VI in 1411, when the people of Roquefort were allowed to ripen their cheese in a certain way! Rob and I have eaten cheese and bread most days for lunch, with or without salad. Another favourite in France is goat’s cheese (chevron) which is slightly melted, and then added to a salad… definitely a favourite of mine.
We have had a tour of a cheese farm where they specialise in the famous Comte cheese. The production has been in the family for generations. There is tradition and great pride behind every wheel produced – some weigh up to 50 kg.
I love that each town or village has a fresh produce open air market each week. There is a list you get from any tourist office of which days towns have their market. Large vans truck their goods early to the market day, and goods are openly displayed. There is always a rotisserie van selling the most delicious chickens – great for an easy evening meal with salad..
You always know which stall has the best produce..
Everything, every single shop in the villages closes between 12 and 1 at least, or 2. It’s law! (Unwritten)If we arrive at a lock at 10 to 12, we are told to moor… Unless the eclusier knows no barge is coming after us, and he can then have a longer lunch.
We have eaten well in France… on the barge, at restaurants, and with friends. Lunch is important. Not just a slice of bread .. No, bread of course, today’s, but with fromage, salade, olive, jambon .. And
Yesterday it was oysters for lunch with ice cold wine,
crevettes for the pleb..
Why are French people slim and trim? They eat three meals a day, no snacking. Children are encouraged to think that it’s good to be hungry. The French might drink wine every day, but in moderation… Rob and I have yet to learn the art of moderation.