Part of our excitement in moving to France was the opportunity to experience food and drink in (arguably) the most gastronomic country in the world. The French take food, wine, and other drink very seriously. Gilles once started a lengthy debate over the lunch table when he asked his colleagues their opinion on Nouveau Beaujolais. The French have a long list of delicacies that are banned or frowned upon in many other countries either because of health or cruelty-to-animals concerns. This list includes many delicious items such as foie gras, unpasteurized cheeses, capon, and veal, all of which the French would never consider giving up. Even if they do not prepare food, the average French person is incredibly knowledgeable about what they put into their mouths. This education begins at a very early age with children planting herb gardens at school, and tasting wine at supper. It is a vastly different mentality than we are accustomed to, but one we are enjoying.
Gilles and I have jumped into the French food scene headfirst. When the opportunity to try something new comes up, we generally greet it with open arms. We have enjoyed most things, including yesterday when I tried something that I unexpectedly enjoyed. That is until I found out what it truly was. The old adage, ‘ignorance is bliss’ applies here. Before I get into the details, I’ll list some of our other culinary firsts. As for some of the above listed banned/unethical items, we are firm supporters. We have enjoyed foie gras, unpasteurized cheeses, and veal prior to living in France. Gilles says he is happy to finally find people who enjoy baby cow as much as he does. If that statement makes you wince, perhaps you should stop reading now. Our firsts have been frogs’ legs (they do not taste like chicken), pigeon (surprisingly, a yummy, mild red meat), and duck heart. No problems there. Now to yesterday….
I went to one of our favourite restaurants, Le Berry, with a friend for lunch. She is Canadian, and returning to Calgary in July after having lived in Pau for two years. She said that she could not leave France without having tried steak tartare. Le Berry is reputed to make very good quality tartare, so she new it would be the best place to try it. You may recall from a previous posting what this dish is: ground meat mixed with various spices and served raw. At the time I likened it to a package of hamburger meat overturned onto a plate. Upon closer inspection, it does not look quite so unappetizing. She was enjoying it, so I gave it a try. I was shocked at how tasty it was. It had a light, almost fluffy texture. It certainly did not feel as though I was eating raw hamburger meat. It was seasoned nicely with chives, salt, pepper, capers, and worcestershire sauce. I was quite proud of myself so trying, and liking it. I decided I would order it again so that Gilles could try it. Ahappy ending, right?
Last night I was recalling my experience to Gilles on the telephone (he is in Gabon, West Africa). Earlier in the week he discussed steak tartare with a colleague who often enjoys the dish at Le Berry. He discovered an interesting piece of information that he decided to withhold from me until after I had tried the dish. That is that the dish is traditionally not made with ground beef, as I had assumed. It is made with horsemeat. Yes, horsemeat. His colleague claims that that is how it is still made at Le Berry. Huh….
Until recently I did not know that people actually eat horsemeat. Then I read in my France travel book that ‘chevaliers’ still exist. That is, a butcher that sells horsemeat. I have seen this meat at the local market, but still did not really believe that people buy it. But now, I have unknowingly eaten it! It does not change the fact that the dish was tasty. Would I order it again? I don’t know. I am still trying to work out what I think about yesterday’s experience. I do know that it will not stop me from being adventurous with my culinary choices in the future.