I’ve just come back a wonderful break in France (yes I’m quarantining) although carrying an extra half stone as a souvenir 😮
Impossible not to really - how can you possibly avoid all the fresh bread, croissants, pastries and cheese calling out to you at every corner?
The region I was in is a very rural and quiet part of the Charente, home to the towns of Cognac and Angouleme - the twin town of Bury for any Mancs reading this. (Bury has an Angouleme Way and Angouleme has a fancy-sounding Boulevard de Bury but that was the only connection I could find between the two towns)
The Charente region itself should be twinned with a hospital coronary ward – the local delicacies are not for the faint-hearted nor those with high cholesterol.
Pineau, a locally distilled sweet, potent, fortified wine is a popular aperitif; pate de foie gras is in abundance and on every menu along with various other HEAVY pates or huge slabs of goats cheese are popular starters. Confit duck - duck cured in salt,then cooked in its own fat (ducks have a miserable time in this part of the world); Limousin steak and andouilettes (sausages of the devil - made from the heady /revolting combination of chitterlings – the slitheriest parts of the pig’s intestines wrapped up in it’s colon, onions, wine and sometimes the added bonus of tripe. Yummm) are all main course staples, washed down with a carafe or two of the many, many wines from the region. Then perhaps the local (HEAVY) cheesecake or one of the fabulous, rich pastry tarts on offer, rounded off with a cheeseboard. Final touch is coffee and cognac from Cognac which is up the road. And that's just for lunch. Then surprisingly back to work, not a trip to the local A & E for an ECG.
None of us were foie gras fans – both for our health and duck / goose health reasons and when I initially asked what andouilettes were, vaguely aware that they were some kind of sausage, but oblivious to their hideous interiors and stomach turning reputation, I just got the answer “they’re not for you”.
Obviously, this made one of our indignant party (thankfully not me) feel obliged to prove her wrong and instantly order them - with the naive musings - "what can be so wrong with a sausage. It's probably like black pudding?"... And then regret their indignation just as quickly, blanching after one mouthful and the examination of the sausage contents which were like something gruesome from CSI. “No. Just NO. NO. NOOOOOO.”
Vegetarians are not very popular in the region and most menus have nothing suitable for them.
Restaurants tend to require a few days warning that a vegetarian might be in their midst. Then they may be lucky to get the meat meal without the meat or the ubiquitous bread and cheese for each course.
However, we struck lucky and the local places we tried were keen to help with one obliging chef reciting all the ingredients in his kitchen and animatedly discussing (whilst masked) what he could try and make with them as though cooking with just vegetables was a whole new world to him.
Funnily though, in spite of their saturated fat-based, alcohol-soaked diet, the Charenteuse folk have a very high life expectancy, living on average ten years longer than the rest of France.
This fits in with the French Paradox “the apparently paradoxical epidemiological observation that French people have a relatively low incidence of coronary heart disease while having a diet relatively rich in saturated fats” (Wikipedia)
However. it might be just down to their slow, leisurely, sun-filled; pollution-free way of living,
Shops open when the shopkeepers can be arsed. 2 hour lunch breaks are the norm (“go the supermarket between 12 and 2 – nobody will be there at lunchtime”) Restaurants are all busy with workers and tradesmen having three course lunches with wine. That’s when they can be bothered to open. Most restaurants have a 2 pm strict closing time and most are closed Sundays and Mondays. Sometimes Tuesdays and Wednesdays too. And Thursdays. Or just whenever they don’t feel like opening. We learnt to always check before turning up.
There was one restaurant, that was only open on Sundays. We tried to book for Sunday night to be breezily told “oh no we only open for lunch…” Apparently money is not the motivator in this part of the world.
Maybe we should take a leaf out of their book. Although a damn sight heavier, I was definitely more relaxed and chilled on my return.
That is until I got my online quarantine shopping delivery to find Tesco had rationed pasta and sold out of toilet roll again and I was down to my last roll… Welcome home.