Welcome to my tales of cookery school, food and travel

The first 30+ posts of this blog describe my experiences as I complete a nine month cooking course - the City and Guilds Diploma in Food Preparation and Culinary Art. I did this after I moved out of full time employment and it was purely selfish - I love food, cooking, eating and drinking. Subsequent posts are about, food, travel and adventures.

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Friday, 15 June 2012

The Camargue: black bulls, white horses

At Arles, the  Rhône  forks into two branches and flows into the Mediterranean. The 930 square kilometres sandwiched between the Petit  Rhône  and the Grand Rhône  forms the river delta that is the Camargue. It is very flat marshland yet produces products you may not expect. 

It comes as a surprise to learn rice draws salt from the ground making it available for cereal crops, so there is an annual rotation of rice and cereals.  This makes the Camargue the most northern rice growing area in Europe, a speciality being red rice.  It is a short grain and unmilled, tastes nutty and has a chewy texture.  Just the thing to soak up the rich meaty juices of the most famous Camargue dish, Gardianne de Taureau.  This is the beef stew traditionally eaten by the bullherds, those looking after the black bulls that graze the marshes of the region.  The meat comes from two breeds of bull: the Camargue bull which is related to the Spanish fighting bull, and the ‘brave’ breed.  Their meat gives quite a strong flavour to the local dish.  As an aside, the bullfights in this region are not fights, but games.  The aim of the game is for the razeteurs, or competitors, to remove a red rosette from between the horns of the bull.  Much more danger for the razeteur than the bull.

moules frites
The Camargue is also an excellent centre for coquillage - shellfish. Oysters and mussels are cultivated in the shallow lagoons on the coastal strip. The mussels are nothing like the NZ green lipped of course, but are the small tasty black ones.  The hunter-gatherer is thrilled they are served with frites (chips). Where we stay, in Les Saintes-Maries de la Mer, there are innumerable restaurants serving fish and shellfish: sea bass, tuna, sardines, fish stews, and so on.  (For a complete contrast to the view from our apartment in Cap d'Ail, see the photo at the end of this post).
Purple garlic, 5 Euro for 3  

We are there for market day and I see the largest cloves of garlic.  Mine never grow this big!  I found a wonderful recommendation for eating lots of garlic. A 104 year old from Marseille maintained that it was by eating garlic daily that he kept his “youth” and brilliance. When his 80 year old son died, the father mourned: “ I always told him he wouldn’t live long, poor boy. He ate too little garlic!”

Vin des Sables
Being early summer, it is all new season produce, along with other local products such as lavender, olive oil soaps, Vin des Sables, so called because the vines grow in sand. The "sand" wines we try are thin and insipid, but perhaps that's just the ones we sampled.

Stand by for more little know facts. The other big attraction of the Camargue is pink flamingoes.  I jest not. The river delta (Europe's largest) means there is a huge wetland and a good part of it is an ornithological park.  More info coming...Flamingoes eat mainly plankton; they suck water in through their bills and expel it over fine filters in their mouths straining the plankton. It is plankton that is responsible for the flamingo's pink plumage.  I know! Who'd have guessed?

So an interesting sojourn in a little corner of France about which, prior to our visit, we knew little.  Here's some good travel advice at no charge -  I may not be the first person to say it, but it is true - there are treasures to find on the road less travelled.

The view from our room in Les Saintes-Maries de la Mer
Where are the super-yachts??

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