South of France
I visited the region on a two week business assignment near Marseilles. The November weather reminded me of early autumn but it was funny to see locals donned thick winter jackets. Despite my packed work schedule, I managed to enjoy regional cuisines. South of France sits next to the Mediterranean sea and is blessed with abundant sea creatures, bountiful harvest, rich wines, beautiful landscapes, warm sunny winter months, and Italian and Spanish influences.
My days started with hearty breakfast offered by the hotel. There were plenty of cold cuts, cheeses, breads, pastries, jams and jellies, freshly squeezed juices, a selection of coffee and teas, milk and cream, fruits, yogurts, eggs, potatoes, granola, and cereals. Midday came around and we would grab quick lunches from nearby bistros and cafes. A typical lunch set menu came with sandwich or salad, dessert, and a drink. The real feasting occurred during dinners. Dinners started late, usually after 8PM and went on for at least a couple of hours. One could not rush the wait staff as conversations flowed, orders taken, food lovingly prepared, served, and enjoyed over glasses of wines and spirits.
Although it appeared that the French ate alot, which they did and me too, it was quite rare to find overweight people. The replies that I often heard were because the French rarely snacked between these three key meals. Food was served in decent amount and rich in flavor and texture.
Like any large nation with diverse population, heritage, and traditions, Southern French food is richly influenced by the close proximity to the sea, other neighboring nations, and weather. Here, one finds olive oils, spices, herbs, vinegar, fish, shellfish, wines, and lots of vegetables and fruits in the diet. Herbes de Provence originated from this region. A popular dish is Bouillabaisse, a traditional Provençal fish stew originating from Marseilles. It takes hours to prepare the stew and is great to be consumed with close family and friends. It is akin to New England clam bake.
Lavender is grown in this region so one finds foods, desserts, drinks, soaps, lotions, and sachets infused with this plant.
If one fancies wines, there are many wineries tucked in the rolling hills to visit. Bandol is the most popular area to taste reds, whites, and Rosé. I tried Pastis, an anise-flavored spirit and apéritif that was served before and after a meal. Interesting but not crazy about it. Licorice is a common flavor profile found in sweets.
During my time off, I took the opportunity to visit the port city of Marseilles, the city of a thousand fountains of Aix en Provence, the small port cities of La Ciotat and Cassis, and the small feudal village perched on a cliff edge of Le Castellet. Many of these cities have architectures dated centuries ago so I was truly happy to weave in and out of the cobbled streets, take picturesque photos of people, buildings, and foods, and tap in my artistic and history self.
I noticed the French took their time to make quality products and had an innate sense of timeless styles in everything they did. People were generally friendly and spoke English as best as they could. No snobbery detected! I exercised some basic French phrases but pronunciation was tough with the accented words. Driving in South of France was as bad as driving in some roads in Asia. Cars were much smaller than their American counterparts because the roads were narrow. Trains and buses were not convenient so people still drove around. One needs to be quite aggressive both driving and walking. Parking was quite disorganized so one would find vehicles parked on curbs, pedestrian walkways, and on opposite directions.
Unfortunately, my trip ended within hours of the multiple Paris attacks. I was heading to the hotel near MRS when the events took place. I caught my morning flight to Paris. Transiting was a nightmare and I encountered massive crowd lock for several hours. Thankfully my flight back to the USA was delayed and I managed to secure a seat sandwiched between a large guy and a skinny woman.
Overall, I could not ask for a more blessed trip. Although it ended with horrifying events that I do not wish this on anyone, I truly enjoyed myself. I think I'm a blessed French Food convert :)
This webpage is dedicated to the memory of the victims that were lost during the Paris attacks.
Modified on November 24, 2015
Dinner, drinks, and desserts at Kitch & Cook Restaurant in La Ciotat.