Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Real Food Tour of France and Spain


I recently had the pleasure of driving through France and Spain on holiday with Mum and Dad. My parents are just as obsessed with food as I am, so it quickly turned into eight days of driving, eating, drinking and sleeping - with a strong emphasis on eating! 

Starting from Paris we meandered our way down to Burgandy, staying at a friend of a friend's Chateaux/winery where our gracious hosts cooked us an incredible, locally influenced four-course meal - matched with the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay of our lives.

We then switched direction and made our way west across France to Bordeaux, stopping in many small villages along the way. After visiting the Bordeaux wine country we crossed the border into Spain and spent a couple of days in San Sebastian and the surprisingly charming Bilbao, where I left my parents to fly back to New York. 

It became immediately apparent that the French love and respect for food at least rivals - and possibly even surpasses - that of the Italians (my heritage). We were utterly impressed and amazed at the quality of the local fare and the exquisiteness (and affordability) of the restaurant cuisine, even in the smallest of small towns. 

Needless to say we stuffed ourselves like hedonists at an Ancient Roman banquet. And damn was it good! I totally broke Paleo once or twice.

This is a pictorial post of some of the food highlights of the trip. But before sharing those let me first ruminate on a few observations about the French approach to food. 

Firstly, you may think that French food is at odds with the Paleo diet. You would be wrong. Yes they love their bread, cheese and heavy sauces. But for the most part the focus is on real foods - fresh, local (dare I say organic) meat, vegetables, fruit and artisanal produce of the highest quality. 

In France they are not afraid of fat - particularly saturated fat. They consume prodigious amounts of butter, cream, liver pâté, duck, fatty cuts of meat... and wine. Aside from some toast or a croissant in the morning they didn't seem to eat too many "healthy whole grains", especially at night. 

Overall the emphasis was on simple ingredients, prepared at home: slow food. I scarcely saw any obesity, take away joints or fast food trash in the small villages of regional France. 

For me there is no "French Paradox". They eat real, whole, unprocessed food - typically high fat, lowish carb, moderate protein... and not too much. Of course they aren't fat!

If anything French food is far more congruent with basic Paleo principals than the average fare in America or Australia - where refined carbs, sugar, processed meat and other convenience foods overshadow real produce - especially in regional centers or lower socio-economic areas where low income equates to poor diet and poor health.  

The only paradox that I could surmise is that the French seem to lack the neurotic obsession with diet and exercise that has overcome America in the last few decades - the very period over which obesity and diabetes have gripped the nation. And this relaxed attitude towards exercise and wholesome approach to food seems to serve the French very well indeed. 

Herein lies the real paradox or irony: skinny French men and women who shun the gym and eat foie-gras, double brie and drink wine every day while their fat American counterparts eat no-fat yoghurt, drink Diet Coke and hit spin class four times a week only to suffer far higher rates heart disease and diabetes. Clearly we've got it wrong on this side of the Atlantic! 

So let's take some inspiration from the French and the Spanish and see what delicious fare we needn't be missing out on! Dare I say it again? Eat more fat! 

Buon appetite.

Strawberries at a street stall in Bordeaux

A 1kg (2.2lb) T-bone steak at a famous restaurant in the old town of San Sebastian

A cheese stall in Sarlat-la-Caneda market

Grilled duck breast, carrot Purée and herbed potatoes and onion

Heirloom tomatoes at the local farmers' market in Sarlat-la-Caneda

Grilled local white fish with ratatouille and fresh salsa

Roast green peppers with olive oil and sea salt (served with the steak above)

Our Chateaux DeMessey host Marc carves a guinea fowl raised by their neighboring farm

A fresh soft-boiled egg laid by our hosts' own free-roaming chickens that very morning

Buying an assortment of artisan pork salami (made with nuts, figs, duck) - 4 for €9 

Local Poultry - duck, guinea fowl, chicken, pigeon

All the foie-grois you could ever want...

At least two days supply of dark chocolate...

Mum trying the local honey... raw of course!

Spanish dry-cured 'Jamon' ham

Appetizers in a Bilbao restaurant - grilled king prawns / grilled vegetable salad

Local slow-cooked roast suckling pig with herbed potatoes

I hope you enjoyed my real food tour of French and Spain. Please subscribe by email to receive these posts straight in your inbox... Au revoir!

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