Uzès, Gard / Arles and Le Puy-Sainte-Reparade, Bouches-du-Rhône, France
June 13 – 15, 2019
I love escargot. There is a very good sauce. This is like burgundy sauce; it’s with garlic and herbs, and escargots are very, very, very good with this sauce. I love it.Iris Mittenaere
Even before I heard that sound bite from my French muse, former Miss Universe Iris Mittenaere, escargot (snail in Wordle) was my word association for French cuisine. As I had never tried the Filipino version – kuhol, my first taste of snail meat took place at Restaurant Pépette in Arles. The dish may not have been drenched in red wine as Iris preferred, but it was typically seasoned in garlic butter – escargots au beurre d’ail – that came in a very Van Gogh brightly colored sauté pan.
My family and I simply walked in, drawn as we were to this charming little restaurant. But actually, most restaurants in Arles were similarly quaint. Sheer chance led us to Pépette, known for Provençal tripe, as proclaimed in the front signage. My taste buds were set on my first escargot (for 10 €), though, but it was listed under entrée. I paired it with tête de veau, sauce ravigote (calf’s head for 16 €) as my plat principal. The typically minimalist French portions surprisingly satiated my hungry tummy.
Deshelled escargot was not as funky as I had feared. The strong garlic sauce gave the supposedly strange meat, so tender it melted in the mouth, a reassuringly familiar pesto flavor. The soft consistency was as memorable as the taste. I should try our own kuhol for comparison.
Wandering around Uzès the next day, we spotted Le Bananier Crêperie Locavore, a crêperie that opened to the cobbled, tree-canopied town square. Memories of Café Breton’s dessert crêpes back home made my mouth water. I imagined downing it with a cup of hot coffee while shooting the breeze al fresco, exactly the stuff French fantasies were made of.
It turned out I was lost in translation. Crêperie meant sweet crêpes for me; instead I was served a savory, crispy galette complète, a kind of Breton galette (the name adding to my confusion). It was my first to see one so big the plate could not completely contain it. This serving was not very French. Far from sweet and syrupy, the filling was a full meal in itself: ham and sunny side with a generous side of salad. The galette complète was worth the wait, which took quite a while. If not for the elegant fountain and square to look at, we would have crossed the line from hunger to anger.
In just two meals, this non-foodie was schooled on French cuisine, at least on the iconic escargot and the traditional galette. We clinked our glasses of champagne rosé to that at the chic l’Orangerie du Château de Fonscolombe, no less. Each tangy sip was a taste of the fruit of sunny vineyards in the South of France where this philistine finally had a taste of the finer, or Frenchy, things in life.
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