French Food: Adventures through the Regions of France by Train

 

One lucky traveler took a four-week adventure throughout France. With just a few ideas of where she wanted to go, Jean, a Rail Europe, Inc. employee used a France Rail Pass.

Jean set out on a quest to eat to her way through the culinary heart of France. Like any smart traveler, she kept a journal of her trip, and was kind enough to share with us in hopes of inspiring others to take the journey of their lives.

Paris. Marseilles. Cassoulet and croissants. Hearty bouillabaisse fished from the Bay of Biscay. France was my indelible, edible dream. I bought my plane ticket and a France Rail Pass, she started my gastronomic voyage.

1st Trip: Going Way off Bouillabaisse: Paris to Marseilles.

After a few days of exploring Paris, I pondered where I should go next. At first I craved Breton oysters with their briny, salty flesh. I booked my train ticket and packed up my suitcase. But then, a change of heart and direction. I wanted to go south, to taste wines and scour fishing villages for faux impressionist paintings. Within a few hours of booking, I was able to cancel my ticket – for free. Instead, I booked a ticket to Marseilles – France’s third largest city, which sits on the Mediterranean. Underneath the sea, succulent jewels to create its famed Bouillabaisse. I had to have it. I boarded the TGV at the Paris Lyon station and in three hours of scenic beauty, I arrived.

It’s no wonder Cezanne and Renoir were inspired to paint here. The Old Port (Vieux-Port) is simply gorgeous. Guarded by two massive forts, its one of the main places to eat in the city – and home to Marseilles’ daily fish market. It’s here that I decide to find the best Bouillabaisse. At Michel the fish, perfectly balanced broth and delicious rouille are served up with majestic views of the Mediterranean. The restaurant is elegant, the food, effortlessly prepared. I’m drowning in deliciousness.

2nd Trip: Marseilles to Toulouse

After my 1st Trip: Paris to Marseilles with the France Rail Pass.  I’m starting to get the equivalent of Stendhal Syndrome. But instead of art, I’m fainting from food. I continue this cuisine journey to southwest France – from Marseilles to Toulouse where I hope to consume the ultimate cassoulet. But first – a quintessential French lunch – wine, cheese and bread. These are a few of my favorite things.

I step inside Xavier a world-class fromagerie since 1976. The smell is overwhelming and I love it. I’m here to sample some of France’s best cheeses. The area is known for its sublimely tangy and raw-milk Roquefort. I buy a small square, baguette and a split of Cote du Rhone for lunch head outside to a park bench, and experience joie de vivre.

One can’t survive on vin and frommage alone, so I head out to discover the city.

Toulouse is home to an incredible area of museums. From art of the antiquity to modern art, the city is home to some vital collections. Not to mention it’s the center of the aerospace industry, with Airbus headquartered here. It’s a fascinating mix of the old and new.

But now I’m hungry. And it’s time to find that cassoulet. I asked the locals the best place to savor their signature dish, and I was surprised to find that I’d been asked to join numerous families in their own kitchens. Seems everyone here thinks they make the best cassoulet. Alas, I set out on my own – and discover Maison du Cassoulet. The HOUSE of Cassoulet. I’m in.

A dish that dates back to the 14th century – the name comes from the dish its typically cooked in – the cassole. This deep, round earthenware pot with slanted sides helps keep cassoulet moist and delicious. The meat is slow cooked and sublime – pork and mutton – topped with white haricot beans. As a proponent of the slow-food movement, I feel in touch with its historical beginnings in just one bite. A pot, a cover, some hearty goodness at the center of it all, slowly simmering to a delicious end…

French Wine

3rd Trip: Toulouse to Bordeaux

I’m ready to wine. Enough with this delicious cuisine. It’s time to swirl, swish and spit. Ok, maybe I’ll swallow a few delicious drops of the renowned vintages of Bordeaux. The Aquataine region has been growing wine since the 8th century, and the city itself is a UNESCO Heritage site, for it’s “outstanding urban and architectural ensemble” of the 18th century. I pretend I’m here during the 1700s, a sheepish coquette strolling the pre-Paris Haussman boulevards of Bordeaux. Waving off admirers with my ruffled parasol.

Awake from my daydream, I go for a walk along the right bank of the river Garonne, bottle of Mouton-Rothschild in hand and a cheap corkscrew I brought with me from back home. This wine is considered one of the finest reds in the world, or as the its known to oenophiles, a “premier cru.” This was a considerable splurge, and I make sure to relish every note. Crisp, fruity flavors with a touch of licorice. Round and full on my palate, I let it flow down, warming my soul like the Aquitaine sun.

Foie Gras

For an encore, I decide to try one of the region’s famed – and controversial – specialties. Foie gras. At a marché that specializes in this fatty duck liver, I find a golden-yellow piece – taut, smooth and flexible. This particular variety is from Perigord, where the gavage is made with yellow corn.

It is heavy to eat. On my stomach and my conscience.

But J’taime.

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