Bulls, markets and Marc at 5am in St Remy

My first guest blogger on my new blog. Welcome Jan Orchard. She wrote about her visit to Arzak in San Sebastian for the previous, destroyed blog and I’m glad to say has agreed to making another appearance. And it’s a real goodie from the town of St Remy in Provence, France.

Visiting St Remy by Jan Orchard

If you ever have the urge to feel like a character in one of Peter Mayle’s novels, take yourself off to St Remy de Provence, sit in the Café Place and watch the passing scene. On market day, you’ll be serenaded by the sounds of Charles Trenet, Edith Piaf and less appealingly Johnny Hallyday from the vintage record stall.

If you want lunch, get there by 12,30 latest – the tables are occupied by robust Provencal types who want to tuck into the plat de jour before it all goes. The plat changes daily – while we were there the choices were moules mariniere featuring fat, juicy mussels from the beds at Sete and brandade de morue (salt cod) with mashed potato and a tomato stew.

This is just an ordinary café but the food is outstanding. We both had hand rolled trofi pasta served with creamy burrata. One dish came with pesto, the other with a rich, full tomato sauce, both were fabulous and over generous. As we ate, we watched a dead ringer for Carla Sarkosy, all pout, high voltage glamour and poker straight hair pick at a beef tartare between puffs on her cigarette (eating exterieur in the South of France means smoking is allowed – even if the exterieur is a veranda). The enfant with her was badly behaved for a French child. Usually when confronted with food, French children stay in their seats, eat up and from time to time comment on the menu. We’ve never recovered from seeing a five year old order and enjoy oysters!  I’ve also eaten salade chevre chaud at Café Place which instead of the usual grilled goats cheese on a croute is a toasted ham and goats cheese sandwich with bayonne ham, fig chutney, sun dried tomatoes and a large salad.

Trofi pasta with pesto and Burrata at Cafe Place
Salad chevre chaud with a difference

St Remy is set at the foot of the Alpilles and is a major area for olives, fruit, tomatoes and Mediterranean vegetables. The Wednesday market is a food lover’s heaven. The narrow streets are packed with stalls selling local olive oil, mountain cheeses, olives, little jewel like boxes of strawberries, redcurrants and other fruits, tomatoes in every colour imaginable, pesto, tapenade, pungent anchoiade, sun dried tomato paste, the ubiquitous Vietnamese nems you see in every French market (a relic of the Colonial past), saucissons, hams and more. The table setting isn’t neglected either – there are dozens of stalls laden with colourful salad bowls and dishes, table linen and the Opinel knives no French countryman can be without – so handy for cutting a piece off a passing cheese or saucisson!

This great olive stall also sells hummus, tapenade, pesto and sun dried tomatoes
Sun dried and fresh Provencal tomatoes with herbs. Heaven.
Cheese, glorious cheese from cows, sheep and goats.
You’re going to need something to carry all your food home in! Go on, buy a new basket.
The porchetta is sold by the glass at this stall

As you walk around the streets, you’ll see signs saying, danger, manifestation taureau. This refers to the annual bull festival  – a spectacular event where the gardien horsemen from the nearby Carmargue come into town with their little black bulls who run through the streets. They take part in a bullfight too – but not the Spanish corrida. The bull gets to chase unarmed young men around the bull ring. One event during the festival features a large pool in the centre of the ring – it is not unknown for the bulls to give up chasing and go and stand quietly in the water instead ! Posters around the town advertise that Ferdinando or wboever from a particular mas (farm) will be appearing – and lists his parents and his and their victories.

St Remy has tourists but is still very much a Provencal town. Get up at 5am and you’ll see workers sitting at the Café Marche with a glass of Marc and a strong coffee. There are designer shops and galleries – but also many beautiful patisseries and delicatessens. On the drive into town there are farms advertising wine, honey or olive oil tastings – well worth a stop.

Stay at Hotel Gounod, right on the main square. Ask for a garden room. Eccentric in the extreme with religious statues and clutter of various sorts everywhere – but very convenient and with parking. For a treat, head to Mas de Carassin which is about a mile outside town. Dinner is a wonderful experience here – there is no menu, everyone has the same four courses but it is delicious – and advertised in the morning so changes can be made if there is something you don’t eat.

Thanks Jan! How amazing does St Remy sound and look? I’m totally sold on the place! The closest big town is Avignon where you can catch a bus there. Oh and Marc is a fearsome spirit made from squashed grapes and stalks after the wine is pressed – a real firewater officially called Pommace Brandy! Who’d have thought I’d learn about a new liquor I hadn’t heard of.

Do you have something you want to share on my blog? I’m always keen to have you help me cover the world of food…so get in touch if you have something to say.

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