France is a moveable feast

FOOD FOR THOUGHT - Millie & Karla Reyes (The Philippine Star) - August 5, 2015 - 10:00am

MILLIE: On a recent trip to France, Karla and I had originally intended to stay in Paris and try restaurants on a long list we had gathered from foodie friends both here and abroad. But my friend Bernard Douchet who happened to be in Paris at that time insisted on taking us to Le Touquet. I hesitated at first, thinking that Karla might prefer staying in Paris to enjoy the nightlife in the City of Lights. To my surprise, she agreed to Bernard’s invitation.

We drove from Paris to Le Touquet, which is a fishing village near the sea where Bernard and his twin brother Philip each have a beautiful home. On a clear day, you can see England, which is only about 20 kms away by ferry from Le Touquet. The place reminded me of Baguio because of the many pine trees and the beautiful flowers in bloom. As soon as we were settled at home, we went for a stroll by the quaint town admiring village shops, which had high-end boutiques.

KARLA: My favorite part of town was the small shops on the walkway going towards the beach. I found a candy store that served different kinds of nougats. As I got into talking with the owner, he asked if I was Filipina. Apparently he had spent some time in Cebu looking for a supplier of dried mangoes. He had even picked up some Tagalog and Bisaya words. He now imports Philippine mangoes to France and sells them in his shop. Near it was a crepe place, which I was dying to go to since it was on my when-in-France list. But since we were about to have dinner, I was only able to take a photo.

 MILLIE: We walked along the beach but it was a bit chilly to try to even go for a swim. It was after seven in the evening but the sun was still up as we walked to the Westminster Hotel where Bernard had made reservations for a sumptuous dinner at 8 p.m.

The buffet spread included an impressive selection of cold dishes such as beef carpaccio, salmon gravlax, homemade patés, herring rollmops, fresh boiled shrimp, couscous and an assortment of salads and mixed greens, potato, red beets, including my favorite celeriac, which I hadn’t had in quite a while. The main entree was a choice of sea bass with pumpkin sauce, eggplant mousse and zucchini and carrots or slices of roast veal with red carrots and French beans.

As Bernard and Karla went for the main dishes, I stayed with the salads and cold appetizers and had my eyes on the luscious dessert spread.

KARLA: “Uncle” Bernard was up early the next morning and prepared breakfast with freshly baked croissants, pain au chocolat, French baguette and a special bread called faluche, a traditional bread from the Pas-de-Calais region of Northern France. It is a soft and pale white bread, not crusty, made with flour, oil, a pinch of salt, yeast and water and is said to be baked in the oven just when the oven is being pre-heated. Bernard served it with fresh salted butter called La Baratte du Crémier, which he bought in Paris and served with an assortment of his favorite cheeses — Reblochon, Chevre Sec, St. Marcellin, Brie de Meaux and bleu Roquefort. 

After breakfast we went to the Poisonnerie d’Etaples where the little fishing boats dock and sell their fresh catch, but it was late in the morning and there wasn’t much of a choice left so Uncle Bernard bought fresh giant scallops. Uncle Bernard called his friend Dominic, a fish wholesaler who buys directly from fishermen as they unloaded their fishing boats. We went to the Place du Marche, a covered marketplace, to Dominic’s store La Criee and bought fresh sole and cabillaud (cod). At Dominic’s son’s store Goelette Touquettoise we found live lobsters and could not resist buying a few.

While Uncle Bernard was getting things for our lunch, I made myself busy going around the market and taking photos of things I wouldn’t normally see in our markets here. I saw giant scallops almost as big as my palm, ostrich eggs, small native potatoes called ratte du touquet, jumbo asparagus, and tri-colored cherry tomatoes, which I wanted to buy just to make into a pretty salad. But my favorites were the sausage, charcuterie and cheese stalls that were giving away free tasting portions of their products.

MILLIE: A quick look at what was on sale in the market made my mouth really water. There were different varieties of fresh oysters and I thought of my dad and how he would have loved this. I found crevette grise, tiny gray shrimp from the cold sea, which is simply boiled with a handful of rock salt. There was fresh jumbo white asparagus, which was in season, salad greens like pommee or butterhead lettuce, oak leaf and feuille de Chene. Like Karla, I stayed a while in the charcuterie station and found ham cooked with herbes de Provence and jambonneau coated in breadcrumbs.

KARLA: Uncle Bernard himself cooked and prepared our lunch of lobsters with a pommee lettuce salad with a special red wine vinaigrette dressing he himself whipped up. Lobster and salad was so good. After lunch, we drove to Amiens to see the Notre Dame cathedral, a UNESCO world heritage site. Heading towards St. Omar, we dropped by the car shop where Uncle Bernard’s car was being repaired. When we got there, they said that the car was ready — guess who got to drive the car back to Le Touquet? Me! It was a little over an hour’s drive. Mom was talking to me the entire time because she was worried I would fall asleep but I was so excited since it was like an adventure for me. 

Uncle Bernard cooked dinner was fresh giant scallops cooked in salted butter La Baratte du Crémier, which Bernard brought from Paris. He says that the secret to cooking scallops is butter, butter, butter! The butter he used was extra creamy and had salt crystals in it. It made it all the more special to cook with an added flavor with breads as well. I don’t know what it is with the butter in Europe but it’s just so much creamier than what we have out here. To go with the scallops, Uncle Bernard also cooked for us sole meuniere, which was one of my lolo’s favorite dishes. Lolo even asked uncle Bernard to cook for him one time when Uncle Bernard us in the Philippines.

MILLIE: The next day, Bernard cooked the cabillaud boiled in a simple broth with leeks, carrots, chopped parsley and whole peppercorns and I was again reminded of one of my dad’s favorite dishes, pesang isda which would be served with a tomato salsa on the side.

After three days in Le Touquet, we decided to move on toward Reims in the Champagne region where we visited the famous Reims cathedral in which most of the French kings were crowned. We also visited Taittinger champagne, a 290-hectare estate, and got a taste of the bubbly, making our toast to the good life. We were so happy we came!

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Send e-mail to milliereyes.foodforthought@gmail.com and karla@swizzlemobilebar.com. Find us on Facebook: Food for Thought by Millie & Karla Reyes.


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