Escape to Provence: The Food

During our four-day trip around some of the villages of rural Provence, we made sure to eat at a variety of Bistrots de Pays. Often the only business left in a small village, the bistrot helps keep the village alive by offering food, drinks, and newspapers as well as serve as a meeting place to catch up on the village news.
There are 53 Bistrots de Pays in Provence and, like the meals they offer, they all have their special flavour. We didn’t get around to all 53 – but the three we did get to served up some memorable food.

Café des Poulivets in Oppède-les-Poulivets. Stopping in on a Friday afternoon, the outdoor terrace was filled with locals tucking into the café’s speciality: Aïoli Provençal. Aïoli is a sauce with the consistency of mayonnaise, made with garlic and olive oil, and is the star of the dish, not the condiment – everything else on your plate is there to dip into the aïoli. Served with a plate of boiled potatoes and carrots, perfectly poached cod, and a ladleful of escargots, we tucked in (well, okay, I’ll be honest, I didn’t have the stomach for escargots but I have it on good authority that they were delicious…), all washed down with a carafe of the local rosé wine. A simple, light and satisfying lunch for about €16.

Bistrot de Pierrerue in Pierrerue. Organic is the watchword for this bistrot and the décor is light and airy, with a wall full of old-fashioned postcards – just the right side of kitsch – varnished onto plaques of wood. The food was rich and flavourful and comes from a set menu – whatever’s available in the market is what goes on the plate. Our dinner consisted of tomato and goat’s cheese tartlet, duckling breast with cherries, finished with a slice of lemon-lime tart (the olive oil and spelt cake had been polished off by the family at the next table). Dinner is approx €24, excluding wine.

Chez Jules, Puimichel. Our last dinner at Provence was spent at Chez Jules in the tiny village of Puimichel. We were lucky enough to bag a table outside, as the evening was warm and balmy. The trees were strewn with coloured fairy lights and the church next to the bistrot would chime out the hour – this is what a French holiday is all about. It’s easy to gorge yourself in this place – I started with pâté with a broad bean salad before tackling the main dish of lamb shank flavoured with rosemary. Then out came the cheese platter – four different kinds of goat’s cheese and ample slices of blue cheese, served with a basket of fresh bread. Could I eat any more? Yes. I’d been sitting there for two hours, that takes a lot of energy – so to fortify myself, I had the rhubarb mousse. All this for about €30. Considering I was so full, I didn’t need to eat for a few days afterwards, pretty good value.

For more information on Bistrots de Pays, go to www.bistrotdepays.com.

Kathi Hall is the editor of Escape magazine for cottages4you. She loves travelling and being surprised by what she finds, she’s a fluent French speaker in her head but strangely mute when confronted with an opportunity to speak it out loud and she firmly believes in trying all local specialities – except for snails.

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