Travel

Eating our way through La Rochelle

Contrary to the boring nothingness that our lack of updates has suggested, this last weekend found the Ninja Turtle and GodzillaPin running loose in the west. GodzillaPin was sent to La Rochelle for a business trip, and the lucky little Ninja Turtle got to tag along. In fact, they were having so much fun that they didn’t get around to blogging (that and the terrible internet connection in their accommodation places). Here are the highlights.

As La Rochelle overlooks the Atlantic, the duo took the opportunity to enjoy everything that has been beyond their reach in Metz. As they were staying in an apartment-style residence, it was far easier (and cheaper) to buy things in a supermarket and rustle it up, than to pay for it in a restaurant.

The only thing better than dining on oysters and champagne, is dining on oysters and champagne in pyjamas. Try it.

The only thing better than dining on oysters and champagne, is dining on oysters and champagne in pyjamas. Try it.

Oysters, especially the #1 from Oleron, cost a fortune back in Metz. In La Rochelle and Marans, where they stayed, it was obviously the chance to go nuts. Also, there is simply no comparison for that straight-out-of-the-water freshness when dining on seafood close to the ocean.

The effort involved in getting to the food is often directly proportional to the tastiness of the food. Hard work = Immense pleasure.

The effort involved in getting to the food is often directly proportional to the tastiness of the food. Hard work = Immense pleasure.

Of course, the Ninja Turtle and GodzillaPin did eat out occasionally, since it was meant to be a sort of holiday, and the Turtle refused to cook when someone else could do it for her.

Irish pub meal of fish and chips. Nothing beats a decent beer-battered cod. Nothing.

Irish pub meal of fish and chips. Nothing beats a decent beer-battered cod. Nothing.

The only thing they like better than eating, is perhaps shopping for food. In the early days, the Ninja Turtle was horrified by how GodzillaPin would seem to lose all self-control in the supermarket, and buy everything in sight. For those unacquainted, France has got the little epiceries, and then it’s got what is termed a hypermarché – which is probably like WalMart x 10. Walking around one adds to your daily quota of cardio activity, and shopping with GodzillaPin in one is officially classed as an extreme sport. He picks three of the same thing up, and one has to hunt the correct aisle, look up the price and put two of them back.

Anyway.

Times have changed, and so has the Ninja Turtle. Now, instead of fighting GodzillaPin’s urge to stockpile on edibles (no doubt a result of being born in Verdun, possibly the worst frontier during the WWI, where food insecurity was very real), she just goes with the flow and tries to rearrange the apartment cupboards so the shelves hopefully don’t break under all that weight. And it’s hardly a joke, as their suitcases were laden from merely two shopping sessions on this trip.

The first stop was the Comptoir Charentais, which specializes in regional products. La Rochelle is beautifully located, that it benefits from the dairy products of Normandy (think butter biscuits and caramels), the amazing produces of the sea (sea salt, fish soups, canned fish of every variety and seaweeds), the artisan skills of cured meats and foie gras in south-western France, and of course, all that amazing wine. Specifically, the area is known for two types of fortified wines – the Pineau, which is a sweet aperitif somewhat resembling a port wine, and of course, the famous Cognac.

In the Comptoir Charentais, we were very quickly greeted by the salesperson, who enquired if we were interested in sampling the pineau. The Ninja Turtle and GodzillaPin have a never-say-no policy on samples. Later on, the lady very kindly acquiesced to the Ninja Turtle’s request of trying some cognac too. She was very well-versed in her knowledge of the regions, their produce, the flavours and the method of production. They carry a huge selection of cognacs and pineaus, and the price range varied enough that everyone could easily find something within their budget. We were very impressed.

GodzillaPin looking very thrilled with his tipple.

GodzillaPin looking very thrilled with his tipple.

Having purchased a good few bottles of alcohol, and a few more bottles of fish soup and terrines, we were very kindly gifted with a bag of caramels, and a pamphlet of cocktail recipes for cognac. Of course, we weren’t going to be mixing the bottle we bought with any juice or soda, but perhaps with a cheaper bottle, we might try something fancy.

The other shopping trip happened quite by chance, as a sort of time-filler as the hotel checkout at Marans was early in the morning, and the train they were catching was a good few hours later. So, with time to spare, they decided to take a look at this:

As if the name alone isn't enough to entice you to come...

As if the name alone isn’t enough to entice you to come…

It was great. Back in another lifetime, the Ninja Turtle did her studies in tourism, and expositions was one of her favourite topics. She had the chance to attend a few as work experience, and loved the experience of wandering around the hall, looking at the set-up of each booth, admiring the displays, and most of all, chatting with the sellers, who are very often the producers of the products.

There was everything in this exposition. Everything. From wine to soaps, seaweed to sausages, goji berries(?!) to caramel cakes, it was overwhelming. Perhaps the most exciting exhibitor they found was this:

The Ninja Turtle finally standing on a podium, with the champions of the world.

The Ninja Turtle finally standing on a podium, with the champions of the world.

M. and Mdm Beylard, from La P’tite Confiote, are award-winning jam producers. One little taste of their produce was all it took to understand, as the taste transports you to another universe. GodzillaPin is a huge jam consumer – in fact, the Ninja Turtle is convinced that he’s really a bag of yeast, given how much sugar he seems capable of consuming within a very short period of time. GodzillaPin is also very proud of the jams that his grandmothers make, but he declared that the raspberry jam by these guys were simply the best he’s tasted in his life. On her part, the Ninja Turtle loved their wine and Russian tea confiture, because this:

Yep, you're not imagining it. There are flecks of gold in them.

Yep, you’re not imagining it. There are flecks of gold in them.

These lovely jam makers made a serving suggestion of using these confiture as a topping on foie gras served on pain d’epice, but the Ninja Turtle has other ideas. She’s just going to lie in bed, and let the golden rays of sun wash over her as she stuffs her face with spoonful upon spoonful of golden tea jam while reflecting on how golden life can be.

OK, maybe not.

The other impressive find in the exposition was the collective producers of vignerons (winemakers) from the Île de Ré. The Ninja Turtle and GodzillaPin were on the island only the previous day, and having seen all the vineyards, they were delighted to finally taste the yields. Although GodzillaPin didn’t find anything particularly special about the wines, the Ninja Turtle absolutely loved the fact that both the reds and whites tasted very much like the wines she used to drink back in Adelaide.

M. Brullon, one of the several winemakers in the collective, standing beside the collection of wines produced on the island.

M. Brullon, one of the several winemakers in the collective, standing beside the collection of wines, pineau and cognac produced on the island.

The place is open for visits in July and August, although group visits can be arranged in other seasons (05 46 09 71 60). Île de Ré is also renown for artisan craftsmen who work with glass, silk, and soap produced from the milk of donkeys. We kid you not.

As before, we wish to declare that we have not been paid in any manner for what we have written above. We chose these particular enterprises to write about, simply because we marvel their produce, and feel that they offer some of the best gastronomic experiences France has to offer. These are merely opinions, completely relative, and perhaps made a bit more objective by these guys being prize winners of course.

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