“The sun rises twice in Provence-once in the morning and once after the siesta!” -said once Yvan Audouard and I had to go along with him because on my two weeks holiday in Provence I experienced that life in there has become an art form, cultivated with great seriousness.
Held every day or weekly on village squares, shady avenues or ports, the local markets are friendly places where chatting is a must while you fill your basket. A paradise of sunblessed fruits of the soil, lovingly nurtured by the local producers, Provence offers up its heady fragrances and tastes to visitors. And nearly every village has its own specialities and know-how. Beside of this Provence also has a particular talent for interior decoration, drawing its inspiration from a long tradition with a worldwide reputation. Whether your preference goes to fabrics, furniture or earthenware, you will always find an exciting new place to shop.
I smelled it
Head off in the early morning to one of our local market that was my every day duty in two weeks. The choice was vast, the atmosphere was unbeatable and the scents and colours were simply stunning. The taste of the ripe red tomatoes, (bouches-du rhone is france’s leading producer) the shiny aubergines, varied courgettes, sweet and sunny peppers, fresh cucumbers, crunchy fennels, small violet artichokes and plump marrows were totally different from the vegetables come from the not Mediterranean’s countries. And the fruit stalls were simply an enchantment overflowing with sweet scented- garriguette-strawberries, juicy apricots, peaches, nectarines, melons, then figs. The almond was an other treasure thanks to the Alpilles. And since there was already September there were many varied of apples, pears, and grapes on the market.
Of course I didn’t miss the fish market in Provence as well, which was held every morning on the quaysides in Marseille, Cassis, Carry-Le Rouet, La Ciotat, Fos-sur Mer, Martigues, Port-Saint-Louis-du Rhone and Saus-Set-les-Pins etc, offering a delightful show of the famous sardines, scorpion fish, anchovies, red mullet, sea bass, sea breams, urchins, astonishing violets, tiny tellin clams, and Spanish lobsters and octopuses.
I savoured it
Garlic, herbs including basil, and the Herbes de Provence, were the essential basics combined with the queen of Provencal gastronomy-olive oil. In Cassis (a small picturesque city near Toulon) at lunch time I was hesitating between of a soupe au pistou (scented with garlic, basil, olive oil an artichoke stewed with lardons, or a ratatouille rich in aubergines, courgettes, sweet peppers, tomatoes, onions, olive oil and garlic) or the nourishing-aigo boulido-a garlic and sage soup. On the other hand my beef lover husband enjoyed very much the daube, (which is a stew, scented with thyme and rosemary).
Fish and shell fish were also available, served grilled with herbs, in soups or in bouillabaisse. By the way bouillabaisse, or rather –Boui-abaisso-I tried it first time in France. In connection with the soup let me tell you what I had learned from our waiter: according to the strict rules of Marseille, a bouillabaisse can only be served to at least 7 or 8 guests. And this is why: as it is made with many types of so called rock fish, it has to be made in large quantities to incorporate as many varieties as possible. The ideal ingredients are spiny lobster, scorpion fish, conger eel, hake, sea bass and crabs. The firm-fleshed fish is cooked on a bed of onions, tomatoes and herbs sprinkled with olive oil. Water is then poured over the top and brought to the boil, after which the softer fish are added. The bouillabaisse should be cooked over high heat so that the oil and juices form a smooth gravy.
Friday was the aioli day
In Provence many restaurants served the aioli at the end of the week but it was worth knowing how to make it yourself. Here comes the cooking instructions (I got from our waiter): Crush a dozen cloves of garlic in a mortar. Add two egg yolks and some lemon juice. Season with salt and make the mayonnaise by trickling in some good quality olive oil, always stirring in the same direction. And the aioli is ready and the best with cooked vegetables and unsalted cods!