Thursday, November 25, 2010


Marseille?  Where is that? I've never heard of that place.  For those of you who don't know, it is a small port town on the Mediterranean coast in France.  What drew you to that place? In all honesty, it was Julia Child.  In her book, My Life in France, she describes the food of Marseille in such detail, that it made my list of places to go when I was in Europe (a 20 euro round trip flight doesn't hurt either).  The last few trips I have been on, I have traveled alone.  This time I was accompanied by my new friend Charleen (or Char Char as she is know to her close friends).  I am all up for exploring and going on adventures solo, but I thoroughly enjoyed having someone to eat with, travel with, and most importantly, someone to have interesting conversations with.
Our first order of business after finding our hostel was to find somewhere to eat. We asked the women at the fron desk for recommendations and she suggested Dos Hermanos.  Wary of the name, I ask "this is not a Spanish restaurant right?"  She assures me that the restaurant serves typical French dishes.  We set out to find this elusive Spanish named French food restaurant.  Unfortunately, we went in the wrong direction for 20 minutes and then once we adjusted our course had to walk up hill and up a set of stairs.  Needless to say, it took us about an hour to find the place, the entire time I was thinking "this better be worth it."  Oh the irony, the restaurant was in fact a tapas bar.  I like Spanish food well enough but I am in France, I want some French food dammit.  Luckily, there was one platter of the day that was French.  The benefit to being in a tapas bar is that the staff spoke Spanish which was a blessing as our French were extremely below par.  The meal was thoroughly enjoyable, I mean who can resist a gratin of potatoes, cream, cheese, and lardons with white sangria??  Not me!
For dinner, we enjoyed a savory and a sweet galette (similar to a crepe). The savory galette was filled with Provencal ratatouille and cheese and the sweet galette was with chocolate, bananas, and whipped cream. Our palettes were spoiled that first night. Our "French" was so terrible that by the end of the night I was saying grazie (I don't speak Italian) and Charleen was mumbling words reminiscent of Spanish (no alcohol was involved).

That night a storm erupted like I have never heard, thunder, lighting, the whole bit. We experienced intermediate spurts of varying degrees of rain and even hail at one point for the rest of the trip. However, Charleen and I were not going to let the discomfort of wet shoes stop us from exploring the city. We even braved the beach on Sunday. On Saturday morning, we went to the fish market. I have never seen fresher fish on display and of such variety, a lot of them were still alive in the containers. The fishermen and women cleaned the fish right there and then for you. It was pretty amazing.
To commemorate our adventure to the fish market, we ate Marseille's national dish, bouillabaisse, a rich fish stew served with rouille (a thick sauce made with garlic and saffron) and croutons. This was the reason I came to Marseille, just to try this stew. Is that crazy? Absolutely but definitely essential for my gourmet growth. The broth was a rich fish stock with 4 different kinds of local fish. You could taste the freshness of the fish which I was not expecting. The traditional way to eat the soup is to put the rouille on the crouton and let it soak up all that borthy goodness. Eat a piece of the crouton with a piece of fish and by ready for an explosion of flavor in your mouth. No wonder its so famous, everyone was eating the same thing in the restaurant. That's when you know it's good.
And how can I forget the lovely pastries. On every corner instead of a liquor store you find a patisserie. All I can say is that it was a good thing I was walking so much because I was eating way too many sweets. If Marseille was bad, I can't imagine how Paris will be when I go in January. Every pastry was so beautiful, a small piece of edible art.  Eating for research is the best job in the world.
Whenever I arrive home from my trips, I am always reflective of my experience. This time I felt that I was born in the wrong time period. That maybe I should have been a child of the 50's so that I could have been a key player in the American food revolution of the 70's. Maybe it is my own fault because I have been reading books from the "Greats" in the food industry telling tales of when being a foodie or a gourmand was a budding concept; envying the ease with which connections and lifetime friendships were made. France was still the culinary mecca of the world at this time and we (Americans) had yet to discover the spicy pleasures of Chinese and Thai food or the majesty of hand made pasta. The culinary community was small and interconnected (compared to now). How is it possible that Julia Child and James Beard became the best of friends until the end of their days? That Craig Claiborne and Gael Greene shared so many intimate dinners together? Or how did Ruth Reichl have not one but three coveted positions in the food world, LA times food critic, NY times food critic, and Gourmet editor in chief? I mean, it seems that they have earned their jobs without a hiccup, is it coincidence, hardwork, sheer luck, a combination of all three? I want to read about the hardships, about the difficulties you experienced getting to the top of the food pyramid. It shows you are human and gives me hope that I too will make it, even if the industry is flooded. I can only hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel, a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day, that I can make an impact and be remembered.

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