Soul Food: Bliss in the South of France

Bliss in the South of France

michelleBy Michelle Doerr

If you want to get engaged (or trapped, depending on how you look at it) in a long, descriptive, passionate conversation sometime, ask a foodie what his or her favorite food experience has been. I thought I’d ask myself the same question for this post (mainly because I knew, selfishly, that reminiscing about it would be just plain fun for me). I tried my best to not fall into the cliché trap and write about a meal that I had while in France, but….there’s just some really good food there, if you didn’t know. It’s kind of difficult to ignore Her Highness, the City of Lights (and bread and pastries and cheese plates) when talking about food.

So, I proceeded to get out my journal that I took with me on my 2002 trip to France (traveling and eating while traveling is the only time I consistently journal) and took on the challenging task of narrowing down one “favorite” food experience I had while in France.

The reason this specific experience stood out to me is not so much about the actual food. I know; I’m being a renegade and going off-course. But, the eating experience involves so much more than just the food. Yes, the textures, the tastes, the presentation….it’s all so much fun to take in and savor. But, for me, all of the other elements – the atmosphere, the music, the hospitality, the conversation and company – really make the experience memorable and gratifying. And that is absolutely what happened in the south of France, in an idyllic walled-in city called St. Paul de Vence.

Now, Paris is fabulous, of course, but the South of France….Ohhhh my. It’s just unreal. And after the busyness and urban feel of Paris, the South is just refreshing in its quiet calm and its sense of coziness. The night that we pulled into the South of France, we found ourselves in St. Paul de Vence, watching old men smoking cigars and playing bocce ball as the sun was setting. As we meandered up and down cobblestone streets, we realized that if we didn’t already stand out as American tourists, we definitely would now that we were looking for a place to eat at the unreasonably early time of 5:30PM. But bless this sweet family’s hearts for taking pity on us and warmly welcoming us into their small, family-run Italian restaurant.

The evening was just full of the stuff you talk about after a trip to Europe; kind hosts, old wood everywhere, personal food and wine recommendations, delicious, fresh ingredients. We had penne with pesto, dried beef (famous thin slices of beef), olive oil and garlic on bread (not “garlic bread” of the frozen, salty variety), chicken with fresh, bursting tomatoes, melted mozzarella, olive tapenade and basil. The food was light, but satisfying and delicious. Again, what really “made” the whole experience for me was that sense of warmth and hominess: talking with the owners, watching a cat just lazily walk in and make himself at home, taking our time because we really had nowhere else to be. It was just….bliss.

So, that is just one of many (I’m blessed to say) favorite and lasting food experiences. Vive bouffe!

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