by Anthony Peregrine, The Telegraph, September 28, 2018
Continuing our culinary series, Anthony Peregrine offers a guide to the 10 dishes all visitors to France must find time for.
What makes it great: The fishiest fish dish in the world started out, like most French classics, as a poor man's platter. Marseille fishermen boiled up for themselves the items they couldn't sell. Hence qualification for inclusion in this scrum of fish is extreme ugliness. (Take a close look at a scorpion fish; you'll understand.) These days, bouillabaisse has tipped over into top-end dining: beware versions under £30 a throw.
It generally comes in two servings - first the broth as soup, with croutons and a spicy rouille sauce, then the plateful of five different sorts of fish. This is southern feistiness in fish stew form, allowing Marseillais to consume in one go as much fish as possible before, as local tradition demands, they get shot.
Where to try it: Marseille, obviously. Excellent versions may be had at Le Miramar ( lemiramar.fr ; £61) on the Vieux Port and Chez Fonfon in the little inner city port of the Vallon-des-Auffes ( chez-fonfon.com ; £47).
What makes it great: Here's the super-sustaining Savoyard dish - potatoes, bacon and onions covered in Reblochon cheese - to send you hurtling up the Alps. A couple of helpings and you're lapping wild goats on Mont Blanc. The item - irresistible comfort food, really - comes on all traditional but was, in truth, invented in the 1980s as a way to flog more Reblochon cheese. A wonderful wheeze.
Where to try it: In the Alps. The über-rustic La Calèche in Chamonix does it well ( restaurant-caleche.com ; £17) as, especially, does the spectacularly-sited Chalet La Pricaz on the Forclaz pass overlooking Lake Annecy ( sav.org/pricaz.html ; £16).
Europe's best dishes | A country-by-country guide 3. Cassoulet
What makes it great: I say to you: "Stewed white beans, sausage, pork confit, crisp on top, succulent below" - and you can turn away? Obviously not. The speciality of the French south-west between Toulouse and Carcassonne has a mellow meatfulness appealing to all sane people. But you can argue endlessly. Locals do. Should the recipe permit tomatoes? Mutton? Duck confit? Orthodoxies multiply. In living memory, grandmas bunged in magpies. Toulouse, Carcassonne and Castelnaudary regularly come to blows on the subject. Don't join in. Keep your head down, stay schtum and eat.
Where to try it: They serve a cracking version at the Restaurant Emile on the Place St Georges in Toulouse ( restaurant-emile.com ; £21).
France's 20 most beautiful villages 4. Beef bourguignonne
What makes it great: After centuries of European eminence - political and religious - the Burgundians retired from the international scene to play to their real strengths: eating, drinking and growing a little flushed in the face. This unbeatable, wine-rich beef dish (bourguignonne = burgundian, incidentally) is a key element in keeping locals plumply replete. It will work for you, too. Just don't spend more than three days eating in the region, or they'll need to take down the wall to get you out of the hotel.
Where to try it: In Dijon, D'Zenvies is a restaurant of reference ( dzenvies.com ; £15). Meanwhile, the Beursaudière - wood, stone, the rural works - at Nitry, just off the A6 motorway after Auxerre, does terrific trad Burgundian cooking. They don't always have beef bourguignonne on, but will make it for you if you ask nicely when booking ( beursaudiere.com ).
What makes it great: Onions, anchovies and olives, in short. The ridiculous name heralds a toothsome dish, evidence of the Riviera taste for giving fish and veg a cutting edge. You might call it a savoury onion tart, or a sort of pizza. You might call it a 10-ton truck, for all I care. The essence is a quintessentially more-ish Med mouthful. With a green salad, it's a snack lunch to beat off all-comers.
Where to try it: Best in my experience (which is profound) is made by Jean-Paul Veziano at the long-established Veziano family bakery tucked away on Rue de la Pompe in Antibes ( lepain-jpv.com ).
What makes it great: Northern France powered French industry (mining, steel, textiles) with a raft of substantial dishes - but this is among the most distinctive: essentially, four white meats - veal, pork, rabbit, chicken - plus bits of veg, in jelly. Served with gherkins, salad, and chips. Oh, the chips. First time I ordered the dish, they brought a bowl the size of a paddling pool. Clearly, they'd made a mistake. This was for the table of four next door. No. Each of them had a similar-sized bowl of frites. Such an abundance of meat and chips needs working off with a month down the mine. Or you might more simply adjust your wardrobe.
Where to try it: A-l'Potée d'Léandre at Souchez, below the Great War cemetery of Notre-Dame de Lorette will see you right ( www.alpotee.fr/en/ ; £13).
France's 21 most beautiful beaches 7. Potée auvergnate
What makes it so great: Simple. It's the thought of pork and sausage, bacon, veg and cabbage simmering together which keeps you humming and yomping over the Massif Central mountains all day. It's lovely along the way, there's a song in your heart - and the prospect of a potée as night falls just puts the cap on it. Brilliant times are guaranteed.
Where to try it: Lots of good examples across the Auvergne, though few are better than that at l'Alambic in Clermont-Ferrand ( www.alambic-restaurant.com ; £15).
What makes it great: Everything. You may eat sparingly in Alsace but, as I've mentioned before, it's a lonely endeavour. There are reasons for this. Alsaciens have been kicked about whenever Latin and Germanic worlds came to blows. Which has been often. So they took refuge in epic domesticity: great half-timbered homes, beflowered villages, and mighty dishes like choucroute, with its fermented cabbage ("sauerkraut" across the border in Germany) and attendant cardiac-arrest festival of sausages and fatty pork. It's a brass band dish bringing forth atavistic roars of anticipation, yet nothing but peace afterwards: eat a proper plateful and you can't move, let alone fight.
Where to try it: Two spots in Strasbourg: Chez Yvonne is the classic alsacien brasserie, where Jacques Chirac hosted Helmut Kohl ( restaurant-chez-yvonne.net). Maison Kammerzell has memories of the 15th-century ( maison-kammerzell.com ; £20).
9. Grand aïoli
What makes it so great: As everyone knows, "aïoli" is garlic mayonnaise. The "grand aïoli" is garlic mayonnaise turned into a meal, a spread for a sunny Provençal lunchtime - comprising warm salt cod, carrots, spuds, shellfish, beans, onions, artichokes and conceivably beetroot. And any other veg to hand. Plus the essential garlic mayonnaise. Add in the correct number of condensation-beaded bottles of rosé wine and you have the most seductive midday meal known to man. Later, a siesta beckons, not necessarily taken alone.
Where to try it: Chez Dédé, or the Maurin des Maures, high above the Med at Rayol-Canadel has the dish on Friday lunchtimes ( maurin-des-maures.com ), as do the Restaurant Balthazar ( www.bistrot-balthazar.fr ) and Le Petit Chaudron ( restaurantlepetitchaudron.fr ) in Avignon.
10. Grilled oysters with champagne and saffron
What makes it great: Shellfish need mentioning in any list of French dishes if only because the natives are obsessive about them. Especially oysters, Everyman's luxury. That said, many Britons recoil from the classically raw bivalve. So, to satisfy all-comers, Normans cook them, and nowhere better than on the Cotentin peninsular, where locally-produced molluscs (from, say, Portbail) are flattered with champagne and saffron. It's a terrific starter, luxury to the power of three.
Where to try it: Les Ormes at Barneville-Carteret ( hotel-restaurant-les-ormes.fr ; £11).