Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dijon II

21 August 

After a slow morning in the hotel room getting ready, I headed out around 10 am to begin my second and final day in Dijon.  It was Saturday, which means everyone and their brother heads to the markets.  The main market in Dijon is les Halles, and after having visited a number of cities where I hadn't seen any market to speak of (Strasbourg and Colmar, I'm looking at you), I was excited to find the Halles of Dijon were an excellent spot for my favorite French pastime, soaking in the sights and smells and sounds of a market.


Many of the Halles that I visited around France were impressive structures, and the Dijon Halles were no exception.  The building was designed by a man born in Dijon, maybe you've heard of him - Gustav Eiffel?


Within les Halles were rows upon rows of vendors selling fruits and vegetables, breads and pastries, cheeses and dairy products, fish and shellfish, fresh meats and charcuterie, herbs and spices, even prepared dishes: so much to feast your eyes and nose - and eventually your mouth - on.  On Saturdays, the streets around les Halles are filled with vendors, too: some selling more alimentary products, and others with books, clothes, or brocante - second hand items too nice to be considered junk, exactly, but too young to qualify as "antiques."

I bought myself brunch - a crisp baguette, a couple of nectarines and apricots, a pot or two of yogurt, and a wedge of époisse cuvée, a local favorite cheese:


I headed out to a nearby bench in a small park to eat my brunch.  Though I asked the fruit vendor for the fruits to be "bien mûres" (very ripe), they were just a shade past hard and something of a disappointment.  The époisse was fermented (that's what cuvée means), and rather pungent.  Not being a huge fan of stinky cheese, it was a little too strong for me, even with the bread to mellow it out a little.

Now I have a confession to make.  This weekend marked the half-way point for my trip, and after three weeks I was starting to get a little worn down.  It's quite the dilemma, going on a long adventure and visiting a new place every few days.  There's so much ground to cover, and so many things to see, that you feel guilty taking time to relax and not run off for your next once-in-a-lifetime experience.  By the time I finished my meal, I was feeling rather hot and cranky.  I probably should have gone back to the hotel to take a nap, but this was my last day in Dijon, and mon Dieu, I was going to see as much of the city as I could if it killed me.

Thank goodness for the église Saint-Benigne, which offered me shelter from the heat under its intricate tiled roof so prevalent in the region:


When I couldn't take the Adventuring, any more, I ducked inside the church to write some postcards and get up to date with my journal.  The church was almost empty, with just the occasional quiet tourist sauntering around.  As I sat writing in the simple Gothic interior, from some hidden recess the church was filled with the sweet harmonies of a men's choir practicing their hymns.  Their somber melodies reverberated off the stone walls and sent chills up my spine.  To think how many thousands of singers have been singing there for how many hundreds of years... it was a pretty powerful moment.

When the singing stopped, and I finally decided it was time to head out, the first order of business was to get myself un café to wake me up, and then, clearly, to get myself some glace (ice cream) to cool me down after drinking the hot coffee.  I chose a flavor called Bulgare-groseille:


I'm not sure what makes Bulgarian currants more special than any other variety, but I can tell you this was kind of an unusual ice cream.  Rather than the tangy, fruity, currant-y flavor I might have expected, instead it tasted more like raw sugary pie dough with just a hint of fruitiness.  Either way, it was refreshing!

Sufficiently revived with café and refreshed with glace, I decided to head to the Musée des Beaux Arts.  Admittance to the museum was free - pretty unusual in France, so definitely something to take advantage of.  It was kind of an unusual collection - a smattering of Renaissance paintings from Italy, Germany, and France; a very strange collection of donated twentieth century works; and the crowning glory of the museum, rather literally, the tombs of Jean sans Peur and Philippe le Hardi (John the Fearless and Philip the Bold, if you prefer their English names), two Dukes of Bourgogne during the fifteenth century.  Their tombs really give a sense of how great their material wealth and power must have been:

Jean sans Peur, resting eternally with Margaret of Bavaria
Around the bottom of Philippe's tomb was a whole entourage of marble pleurants (mourners, or literally, criers), each around 15 inches tall, to weep with sorrow at the loss of the Duke's life for eternity.  There were mourners around the base of Jean's tomb as well, but they are currently on loan to another museum.

So small yet so detailed!
After leaving the museum, I had a little time to kill before dinner, which I spent in the lovely jardin Darcy, but sadly there were no impromptu spectacles to entertain me.  Around seven, I headed back into town to eat.

Now, I am sorry to tell you this was not my best meal in France.  I was really excited to eat at this restaurant - as I was going around, I found this little hole in the wall with lots of Routard recommendation stickers in the windows, just a little ways off of the Place de la Libération, the large plaza with the fountains in front of the former Ducal palace.  It fit all of my criteria for choosing a great restaurant, including the added bonus of offering the classic local dishes as well as something a little more esoteric.  I still want to believe it's a great restaurant, but I made the terrible mistake of ordering tripe for both the entrée and plat.

I had read a fair amount about tripe before coming to France.  My first introduction was probably reading Rabelais's Gargantua my senior year of college in a class about dinners and banquets in French literature.  Tripe must have been one of the favorites of Rabelais (noted himself as quite the gastronome) because as I recall, his characters are always eating tripe, especially for special occasions.  After being pleasantly surprised by maatche and pig's feet, I wanted to try tripe and see what all the fuss was about - and this was one of the first restaurants I noticed with tripe on the menu.

This was another small restaurant with a very genial plainclothes waiter, who went to great trouble to make sure I understood everything on the menu, explaining each item one by one if I didn't know what it was.  Too bad I still managed to order something without knowing exactly what it was - but that was my mistake for making a faulty assumption.  I started off with another kir - again, it was super fruity and sweet, almost like a cherry wine but sweeter.  Quite delicious.  To go with the meal, I had a glass of Domaine de la Cras 2002, which the waiter explained, if I understood him correctly, was the last vineyard still a part of Dijon proper, so it's about the local-est wine I could get.  It was a pinot noir with a very deep, almost purple color (what a contrast from the brighter, redder pinot in Alsace!).  The nose was, according to my notes, "deep," with notes of dark chocolate and blackberry.  The flavor had a little acid that built over time, reminiscent of rhubarb or green apple, but it wasn't overly tannic.  A nice, full-bodied wine.

Note that once again in Dijon, there's no mustard pot on the dinner table
The first dish I ordered was the cassolette de pieds et tripe de veau à la tomate:


In English, the dish would be called something like "Casserole of veal tripe and feet in a tomato sauce."  The sauce was thick, and tasted a little like... barnyard.  That's probably the most appetizing way I can describe it.  The tripe itself was a little chewy and kind of melted on the tongue, with a serious barnyard aftertaste.  The waiter told me that veal tripe is a little more delicate than that of a full grown cow... I'm just as glad I got the lighter version.  After finishing the small casserole, I was glad to be done with my tripe experiment and move on to a better main course.

But then, I had ordered the andouillette:


Andouillette (pronounced on-doo-ee-yet) is a sausage that, when qualified with the addition of de Mâcon at the end (meaning 'from Mâcon,' a nearby town), is made of pork and typically served with a creamy mustard sauce, at least according to my French food guidebook.  However, just plain andouillette is a sausage stuffed with... tripe. This was served with shallots and mustard.  In this case, the tangy, bitter mustard seed masked the barnyardiness a little, but it was definitely still there. The dish also came with scalloped potatoes under a cheesy sauce.

While most of the foods I tried for the first time on this trip were excellent, tripe was definitely not for me.  But that's okay, it leaves more for Rabelais and his tripe-ingurgitating buddies.  I didn't order a dessert, but they offered me a digestif of Crème de cassis (the classic blackberry eau de vie) and liqueur de Marne (a plum based liqueur).  It was strong but not unpleasant with a definite kick in the back of the throat.  The pruny flavor was definitely there - it helped me identify the flavor I had tasted the night before in my coupe Bourguinonne.

The walk back to the hotel as the sun was setting on the city was pretty magical, once again:


But I didn't linger.  I had to get back to my room to pack up and get ready to trek to the opposite end of the country the next day.

Coming soon: The day I saw all of France in under 10 hours!

A bientôt,

1 comment:

I need orange said...

A very cool moment, when you least expected it, in the church.....

And ... one meal I'm not sorry to have missed.

Into each trip some tripe must fall?

:-)