Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Languedoc - Narbonne

And to the market we shall go! Part of my excitement at visiting my friend, Anne, in the Languedoc was doing 'foodie' type things with her. Going to the local markets, food purveyors, and restaurants, as well as cooking with her. One of our most fun - and unusual - days was the day she took us to Narbonne. It was Saturday, the day before we were to leave, and Anne wanted to cook a simple seafood meal for our last dinner together. One of her favorite fishmongers is located in Les Halles, the main market in Narbonne. So off we set to Narbonne. We did a quick walking tour of the city to get a feel for it. It's now a city of 50,000 people, and is about twelve miles from the Mediterranean so it's a good city for seafood. It was originally founded as a Roman port, and was also the first Roman colony outside of Italy; in the town square you can still see a portion of the Roman road that connected Italy to Spain.

After our quick tour of the city center, we walked over to the market. It's one of those daily markets inside a large building with individual stalls selling all manner of food items: locally grown vegetables, meats, charcuterie, fish, cheese, pastries as well as a few locally produced wines. We stopped at a produce stand, one of Anne's favorites in the area, where we purchased asparagus, tomato tapenade, and one of my favorite new tastes: pickled garlic. This is very popular in the South of France; they take peeled whole garlic cloves and pickle them in vinegar, sugar and spices. The pickling process removes the bite from the garlic making it sweet but still leaves it crunchy like a pickle. They're delicious. Our next stop was the fishmonger where Anne bought bulots (sea snails), marinated fresh anchovies, and fresh sardines and mackerel. Our shopping was complete; we had our menu: bulots avec aïoli, marinated fresh anchovies, tomato tapenade, pickled garlic, grilled sardines and mackerel, and grilled asparagus.

By this time it was late morning and I was jonesing for my late morning café crème; a habit I started in Paris and took with me to Spain. A café crème (cafe con leche in Spain) in late morning, and often one in the late afternoon - just so I could keep going into the evening. We were busy travelers; we had a lot to see and do. And I just loved that there were so many places to stop - and to sit - to have a coffee, and that not once was I served coffee in a paper container. Always in a ceramic cup with a saucer and a metal spoon. It might have been more about the ceremony than needing caffeine. But I digress. There were several places to either eat, or get a coffee, or have a drink in the market. We found one and the four of us sat down at the counter. This was a tiny place. It was called Chez Bebelle. We sat on chairs that looked into the small space that was the kitchen. There were a few tables off to the side. That was it.

And this is when the fun began. It was just before noon and the staff was setting up for lunch. We ordered our drinks and watched as they began the lunch service. All the seats at the counter quickly filled up. I realized it was run by a family. I assumed they were the 'Bebelles'. But, as I found out by doing a little Internet sleuthing, they are the Belzons, a brother and sister. His name is Gilles, hers is Johanna. The little girl who looked to be around ten or eleven years old working alongside them remains nameless. Possibly either Gilles or Johanna's daughter? Robert still talks about the fact that the little girl was working at such a young age and that she was pouring wine. Not something we would see in the U.S. As we sat there I heard someone shout something but I didn't know who it was, or what they said. A few moments later, Gilles grabbed a megaphone, aimed it across the market, and spoke into it: "Michel, deux bavettes, s'il vous plait!" He was telling someone he wanted two cuts of beef, please.

I looked to see who he was addressing and before I could register who it was a white package came flying through the air and Gilles caught it. I suddenly understood. The restaurant was too small to store all of the meat, and other items it would need so they didn't. There was no reason to. When someone ordered something off his meat centric menu he simply had the butcher across the aisle put it together and send it over. We all watched joyfully as this little restaurant went about its business. Gilles placed several more orders using the megaphone as we sat there. Each time the item was delivered wrapped in white butcher paper either by hand or through the air. We had other plans for lunch but when I do go back to Narbonne I'll be going by the market to have lunch at Chez Bebelle.

We finished our outing by having lunch at Les Cusiniers Cavistes situated very near the market. The restaurant is one that Anne works with when she conducts her cooking classes and food tours of the Languedoc through her company Saveur Languedoc. The food at Les Cuisiniers was fresh, local and superbly prepared. An added feature is the artisanal bread they serve that is baked in a wood fire oven that has been operating for hundreds of years. The day ended with another amazing meal chez Anne that evening. To start we had les bulots, the marinated sardines, the tomatoe tapenade, and the pickled garlic; for the second course Anne grilled the sardines, mackerel and asparagus over les souches, uprooted grapevine trunks, giving the fish and asparagus a rich smoky flavor that was unique as well as perfect. A fitting last meal. Sadly, our time in the Languedoc was coming to an end.

Photos above, taken by Charles Thompson and Robert Guerrero, from top to bottom: the entrance to the Narbonne market; the Roman road in Narbonne; fish selections at the Narbonne market; spice selections at the Narbonne market; Chez Bebelle in the Narbonne market; Gilles placing an order with the butcher; sardines and mackerel grilling over les souches.

Check Out: my friend Jo's new site: Chef's Who Tweet, follow your favorite chef; add to her list of chefs who Twitter.

My Status: home, blogging, cooking, missing Paris, eating, blogging, missing France, dreaming of Barcelona...

Upcoming Posts: France and Spain: more detailed blogs about our food and travel adventures in France and Spain. The Wedge Salad: a recipe, the origins of the salad and of Iceberg lettuce. Review: 'The Barcelona Cookbook'.

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  1. The sardine dishes sound delicious! Really enjoying following your trip :)

  2. They were delicious. Thank you again, 5 Star! I'm glad to have you following along. More to come including Barcelona & Spain.

  3. That was wonderful. Interested to see that the Narbonne market Les Halles has the same name as the Beziers indoor market. I think I read that the Beziers market was designed by Eiffel, of tower fame.

    Can't wait to try all that fresh seafood, I'm a vegetarian that eats seafood. (Grows on shrubs under the sea you know.)Were the sardines and mackerel cooked whole, not gutted. That is how they are done in Portugal where you eat them with your fingers at the best restaurants and save a bit of your red wine to wash, de-grease, your fingers with.