Cuisine ("Ia Bouffe")
- France has a near-obsession with the enjoyment of highest-quality cuisine. For many, this is reason enough to spend an extended time here.
- There are many fine restaurants nestled in small villages and towns in this area, some with 'star' ratings, though none in Carbonne proper. Still, our restaurants are well¬ above-average. You can never go wrong ordering the local specialty in small-town restaurants.
- "Menu" vs. "a Ia Carte". Menu is not the document you receive after being seated. It is a list of several complete preselected meals offered by the kitchen, often for that day only. Many fine restaurants only offer 'le Menu', often on a chalkboard for your consideration before being seated. It usually represents the best values for a serious diner. For example, you might order "Menu at E15" or "Menu at E21". "La carte", on the other hand, IS the printed document at your place setting listing individual items (NOT the dessert items exhibited on a rolling display table; 'le cart').
- Restaurant hours: If the French eat at all in the morning, it isn't at restaurants. The main meal is served between Noon and 2PM, every day except Mondays. Most restaurants also serve a full range in the evenings, closing around 9PM.
- Extraordinary because, unlike most towns in Europe, no main highway passes through the town. Usually, 24-hour high-speed thru traffic disrupts commerce, and noise damages the quality of life. Carbonne is connected to the outside world by two fixed bridges and a few secondary roads. All traffic is local.
- Nobody, either in restaurants or at the Market wears those ugly plastic or latex surgical gloves while handling foodstuffs. It is a matter of trust and low actual risk. If you are so fragile that simple handborne bacteria threatens you, stay at home.
One thing that distinguishes French fresh fruits and vegetables is Variety. Not only do you find many kinds of a product (4 of tomatoes, 3 of asparagus, 5 of potatoes, 4 of plums, etc.), but in a given bin the pieces often vary widely in size and shape. American-style uniformity culling is not done.
Since sealed packaging is the exception, you can select the properties you want and even sample some products before buying without guilt. Location of the producer always appears on the package or on the price sign. It is still possible to get 'cardboard strawberries' or tasteless melons, but very rarely.
You still see seasonal availability in the market. Many items are found for only a couple weeks a year, adding to their perceived value and often causing celebrations and festivals for their harvesting, preparation, and enjoyment. Products aren't imported from the far reaches of the world just to make them available year-round.
Everyday French produce is equal to America's finest, not what's found at Publix.
Some 'manners' notes for eating in France (particularly the Southwest):
- When you take a piece of bread from the basket, put it on the table to the upper left of the main plate. You tear off small pieces of it to eat or for pushing food onto the fork when needed (never with fingers). The morsels of bread can also correctly be used as an edible sponge to pick up the last of those wonderful sauces. If only one large piece of bread is in the basket, don't be afraid to tear off a piece and return the balance to the basket. This happens with 'pain campagne' (country bread) or our local 'fougasse'. Be creative with knife and fork to avoid EVER touching food with fingers.
- Fingers are OK for pieces of fowl on the bone and for red meat on the bone after most of the meat is removed by conventional knife and fork (same as USA).
- Foie gras, whether served with regular bread or the more formal toast squares, is a special case. If it is 'entier' you coax from the large piece on your plate a small morsel and force it gently into into the bread with your knife...never flatten it completely. Of course this is particularly true for the fresh, 'mi-cuit' fois gras. Always show respect for this rare product. If it is 'bloc' you don't need to be so respectful. It is treated more like very good pate'. You don't need to watch your calories with foie gras unless you are very wealthy.
- Foie gras= cooked liver of specially raised goose or duck
- Entier= sliced and served exactly as cooked in a terrine. A single piece can be an adventure of color, flavor, and texture.
- Bloc= product uniformly blended from many pieces of liver. Most people have experienced only the 'bloc' product, usually canned.
- Mi-cuit= literally, 'half-cooked'. Cannot be stored more than a couple days with refrigeration. Exhibits greatest flavor and tenderness.
- Midday meal at local restaurants; everyone orders from the chalkboard (ardoise) the limited daily specialties. You specify the entree, main dish, and dessert in advance. Table wine is usually included with the meal. The entree/salad is first but when you have finished it, keep the implements for the main plate. Business diners often get faster service to get back to work on time.
Most restaurants in France are pet-friendly.
Restaurants; general. If you are seated at your table and see a bottle of Ketchup (where other tables have none) you are authorized to be outraged. Many French people think Americans put the condiment on everything, thus destroying all the properties they ostensibly came to France to enjoy.
Mealtime; general In France it is considered most impolite to comment on one's personal state of satiety after eating. The following words are never spoken at the table; "I am FULL"
Le Vin; an editorial:I have discovered French red table wine and I drink far more of it than I ever thought I would.
During the first 58 years of my life I never liked red wine...it was harsh, astringent, and not a pleasure to consume. Further, I was disappointed that it did not taste at all like my childhood favorite Welch's Grape Juice which it visually resembled. If I drank wine at all, I tended to go for a sweeter generic rose.
If I can describe my favorite drink, as purchased at a local hardware store at E1,35 per litre from a roughly 200-gallon tank and dispensed into my recycled 5 ltr. plastic bottle via a hose and nozzle not unlike that at an automotive service station...it is one of 5 varieties they offer, in red, rose' and white, identified only by the percentage of alcohol and the nearby region of origin. This red wine of the Tarn Region is 6% ('12-degrees'), rich and full, almost no sweetness but devoid of punishing tannin. It tastes and smells a lot like the source fruit. It augments without distracting from the meal. It is more a part of the metaphor of the meal than a feature. It also instantly clears the palate for changes in what you choose for the next bite.
I have actually sampled about 6 different kinds of French red table wine. To my surprise they have a wide range of flavors, many very subtle. The Tarn is just my current choice.
My non-European friends can't accept a wine that has no 'appellation', so I have dubbed it, "Chateau Gamm Vert", after the name of the hardware store. This way they are slightly more open-mended when I serve it from a pirated bottle in USA. Their response, however, is usually a polite smile and a big yawn, since it has none of the tannic 'bite' they expect. The USA-available bottled wine closest to the overall impression of the Tarn is 'Beaujolais Nouveau' or 'Villages' from Georges duBoeuf (but it's a lot more than $1.50).
It is beyond my understanding why Americans and even many French seek beverages that simply taste bad. Perhaps they have a streak of masochism or maybe they just follow what other people do. There is certainly great 'snob appeal' in spending the price these wines command.
Now I know why most Europeans consider simple red table wine indispensable to their quality of life.
SOMELLIER: Your job description.As host for social gatherings, you are required to Pour The Wine. This is a serious job; often slaughtered by ignorant hosts. The somellier rarely needs to speak doing his/her job.
- Of two stem glasses in the setting, the larger is for water; the smaller for wine. Guests usually fill their own water glasses, but assistance by host or other guests is highly appreciated, particularly when the bottle or pitcher is out of reach (or Heavy).
- This primer assumes you possess and are capable of operating the opener ("tierre-bouchon"). It is important when opening a bottle in view of the guests to slit and remove the capsule cleanly, then complete the opening process as if you do it every day, without comment or drama. If a problem arises while opening, deal with it out of sight of guests.
- NEVER pour the glass more than 2/3 full. This allows the guest to swirl the contents to examine the 'robe' and check the 'bouquet'. Refils also follow this rule, but not before about ¼ level.
- The Drip. This is the practical reason for the small towel on your arm (NOT an affectation). Develop natural moves to casually deal with this. Red spots on the white tablecloth are NOT appreciated.
- Knowledgeable guests who hold the glass while you fill or refil it may raise it to wordlessly signal you to stop.
- After checking all guests for refils, immediately return the bottle to the ice-bucket or designated spot on the table with the towel in a convenient place.
- Red wines are usually served just below room temperature, and white chilled. Rose may be either, but if unsure; chill it.
- A correct somellier adds a 'touch of class' to any gathering.
Contact Us for a French Rental experience.