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Deciphering Local Culinary Jargon

Day two of romancing the Mediterranean coast near Montpellier. We are currently 12 people reunited for the holidays. My step-sister Delphine lives here with her husband Erwan (he owns the wine boutique) and their adorable daughters. Visiting from Brittany: Erwan’s mother and from Toulouse, his aunt. My father (Canadian) and step-mom (Parisian born) have rented a large house in Montpellier to accommodate this large group. It is home base while we gallivant the surrounding areas.

On this second day of discovery, we are visiting Sète, a quaint town and home to the largest fish port of France. And of course, no sightseeing can be complete without breaking for a long and leisurely lunch in a local eatery. The wind is bitterly cold but the sun warm enough to permit us to eat on a terrace outside, sheltered from the Mistral. And with a sizable group like ours, finding a table inside most port side restaurants is nearly impossible.

I am still amazed at how foreign the vocabulary of French gastronomy sounds to me. I am not a novice at this at all and I am not on my first French trip either. But each region has its own specialties and its own food dialect it seems! I mean, one can always find steak and mussels and “frites” but my motto when traveling is to dive right into the unknown. Why should I have a Steak Frites when I can choose “Seiche à la Rouille” for instance??? What on earth is seiche you may ask (well, unless you are truly French that is)? Ok, well I know what sèche is: it is in the squid family but slightly bigger. But “seiche à la rouille” is new to me! I have had rouille in the past which is typically a red mayonnaise made with garlic, saffron and cayenne and mostly served on little toasts to accompany Bouillabaisse, the well known Mediterranean seafood soup/stew (Cioppino is the San francisco similar fish soup). Side note on Bouillabaisse: if you order anything called Bouillabaisse anywhere else than by the Mediterranean, than you are ordering an imposter because the base of this soup is red rascasse (rockfish) which is only found in these waters. Although other Mediterranean caught fish can also be used in this soup, Bouillabaisse with rascasse is the most authentic. Back to my seiche à la rouille: this was different so why not try it?

Although my youngest and my husband ordered Steak Frites, I was thrilled to no ends when my oldest ordered a regional specialty: stuffed mussels and stuffed “encornets”. I had to ask what “encornets” were: simply another name for squid, how fancy! Other items ordered were “bullots”, a type of cooked sea snail served cold with a garlic aïoli, minuscule deep fried smelts and mussels (which were served raw, like oysters). My “seiche à la rouille” was divine: cooked to perfection, tender and smothered in a rich thick rouille of tomato and saffron.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit of Sète even with the abnormally cold weather and crazy winds which actually brought the temperature down to -7C! After lunch, we continued our discoveries by car, following the scenic route back to Montpellier through little towns and vineyards. We even braved the winds with a brisk walk on the beach of Palavas-les-flots. The day was crowned with a pasta dinner, fussilli Al’Amatriciana, that I prepared for the clan. And although I had purchased all local ingredients, somehow the result was not as good as the one I make at home because the smoked lardons (bacon) I bought fell a bit flat. There sure is one thing Canadians do extremely well: smokey delicious bacon! No envy for European taste on that one item lol!!! Our homemade pasta/salad/cheese tray/French pastries dinner ended a second day of good eats!