The Real Deal
French cuisine owes much of its reputation to two simple precepts:
Eat in season. Eat locally.
What does that mean exactly? Well, a French restaurant in France
worth its salt would not dream of serving une entrée
(a starter) of tomatoes and mozzarella in the dead of winter. And
even if it were on the menu through some faux pas (literally,
false step), a true French gourmand (foodie) would not think
of ordering it at that time of year. In France, the mantra is to
eat foods at the peak of freshness and flavor-and it follows that
the most local products are the freshest and best.
A recent trip to the Saturday market at Arles in Provence gave me
a whole new view on fresh. There were the usual suspects-fruits,
vegetables, flowers, honeys, olive oil, cheeses, meats, and farm-fresh
eggs. You could even buy an entire plateau (tray) of 30 eggs
for 4.50 euros. What a bargain! But I suppose you'd have to be cooking
for an army or making a whole lot of pâtisseries (pastries)
to use up all those eggs.
it was a huge booth full of live chickens, ducks, quail, geese and
other fowl that really caught my attention. In all the times I have
shopped at open-air markets in France, I have never seen such a
cornucopia of live volaille (fowl). I immediately wondered
if les clients (customers) were buying them to raise them
for eggs (this was most likely true for the hens) or to keep them
as pets (children were picking out some of the birds) or to butcher
them for Sunday dinner (a real likelihood, France being France).
On this particular sunny Saturday, the poultry vendors were doing
a brisk business. Customers were lined up two and three deep to
purchase their choice of fowl. It was a fascinating process to watch.
First, the customer told the vendor what she wanted. Then, the vendor
expertly cut slits or air holes in the appropriately sized cardboard
box. Next, the vendor opened the bird container, thrust a hand into
the mass of living feathers and flesh, chose the best fowl for the
customer, and quickly tucked it into the prepared cardboard box.
Money was exchanged, and the customer went on her way. I could have
parked by this stall and watched the live bird spectacle the entire
While I won't be raising my own poulets (chickens) anytime
soon, I came away from the market with a renewed interest in enlarging
my potager (vegetable garden) and in making sure I only buy
eggs fresh from local farms. Thankfully, I have a couple of great
sources for real, just-laid eggs at my current home base in Dallas.*
And who knows, if I can get fresh heritage turkeys through my Slow
Food connections here, I might even be able to scare up a just-raised
chicken or two.*
The gourmet boutique Flavors From Afar in the Snider Plaza shopping
center carries eggs raised on a local farm as well as locally-produced
cheeses. The eggs sell out fast so I often have to put my name on
the waiting list! I sometimes find fresh eggs at Roy's Natural Market
in the Preston Royal shopping center.
* Slow Food is an international non-profit organization devoted
to protecting the culture and tradition of what I call real food,
i.e. non-industrialized and non-fast food. Check out the main web
site at www.slowfood.com
or the local Dallas chapter at www.slowfooddallas.com.
October 01, 2008
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