Poitou-Charentes. Rolls of the tongue doesn’t it? Some say this region situated in the south-west of France is the prettiest region in the country. I don’t know if I could agree (Provence will always be in my heart!) but still, it seems to have bewitched me. Truly a windy land, where sea, rolling pastures and several swamps come together as one, Poitou-Charentes, which includes the port city of La Rochelle (where i’ve been studying for the past month as part of an exchange program), is most famous for it’s cognacs and wines. Since you don’t exactly drink aperitifs without something to nibble on, it’s easy to see why they’re famous for their food as well. To be blunt, it’s kind of a foodie paradise.
First of all, one should probably know that the region is one of France’s biggest producers of sea-salt and as such, the powdery white stuff is sprinkled on everything! whether it’s dinner or dessert, you can rest assured it’ll be salty (and delicious). And of course, where you have salt you have the ocean. In La Rochelle, i gorged myself (yes, gorged!) on mussels, specifically “moules a la mariniere”, which is simply mussels cooked in their own juices with a little wine, some butter and pepper. You can also get them “en mouclade”, or smothered in cream sauce with white pepper or even grilled and thrown into a salad.
Mussels aren’t the only delicacy however. Clams of all sorts, smaller fishes and even lobster are all eaten with abandon here.
Not a seafood person? no fear! since the region is hilly with hundreds of green pastures, it’s perfect for animals of all kinds and thus perfect for meat dishes as well. People in the region argue that their beef is the best meat in all of France and although I cant vouch for that myself, a friend of mine had recently told me she’d eaten the best steak of her life in La Rochelle, and trust me, that Albertan girl knows her meat! Here, beef is grilled, served as tartar with crostini and mustard and cooked in ragout. Lamb is also very popular, and is typically simmered with herbs and pepper, served with either potatoes or roasted vegetables. Rabbit is adored, as is duck, which is either made into confit or made into duck bacon! (hello!), typically thrown into a salad with just boiled potatoes, onions, a light vinaigrette and a handful of olives. My host family made this for me and to be honest, it was one of the best salads I had ever eaten!
Vegetarian? Don’t worry, the vegetables in this region are incredible!!! Most of the meals i’ve had in the past month have actually been salads and my favorite restaurant in La Rochelle – “Le soleil brille pour tout le monde”(13 Rue des Cloutiers 17000 Rochelle) has plenty of veggie, gluten-free and organic options that are all insanely good, all for under 10 euros. Case in point – this salad – “l’etoile”, which I could barely finish. Indescribably scrumptious, this salad had vegan sausage, chevre, avocado, marinated carrots, beets, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, quinoa and several types of lettuce.
And of course, where you have cows and goats, you have milk…and where you have milk you have dairy products, which in Poitou-Charantes usually take the form of either cheese, yogurt or most famously, butter, which is of course salty, golden colored and considered by almost everyone, even by Parisians, as the ‘best of the best’. Chevre, the supporting actor in this tale, is even more protected than that butter, as the goat cheese made in Poitou-Charantes represents half of the goat cheese eaten in France. How is it? delicious. I like to eat slices of it on toast with some french mustard, a drizzle of honey and a slice of perfectly ripe tomato. And of course, with a liberal sprinkling of salt, which brings me to the last topic, dessert. Is the region famous for desserts? no. Do they have delicious desserts? yes. Are they also salted? (do you even have to ask?) but of course!
Salted butter cookies, sea-salt caramel crepes and chocolate mouse with salty-sweet nougat are all typical regional desserts. I especially loved the sea-salt caramels sold in the city center of La Rochelle. Smooth, creamy, perfectly balanced perfection.
To put it short and sweet, come here. Come for the history, the scenery, the ocean and the people. Stay for the food. You won’t regret it!.