Memorable Meal Number Two – On the Edge of the Camargue
My brother and I were traveling in the South of France for a guidebook I was writing. We’d spent almost three weeks moving from one town to another, eating in cafes, bistros and stylish restaurants, trying something new every night.
© Ferne Arfin
* We’d dined beside the Rhone in an elegant room, all swags and furbellows. Can’t remember the food but I do remember it was drafty and filled with silver haired, nattily dressed diners. * We ate taureaux and wheat pilaf on a cobbled street, hard by the walls of a castle. * We sampled a salad of innards with hundreds of others under a festival tent. * We were surprised, after an exhausting day nursing an overheating car into Aix, by a perfectly dressed and arranged salade composée presented by an Algerian short order cook from a corner shop that was virtually a street stall. * I’m sure the meal was nice at le Petit Bru in Eygalières, but what I remember is the way a canvas sail was instantly unrolled, with a great thwup, at the first drop of rain and the way we watched a massive Provençale thunderstorm from under its shelter.
Everywhere we went we sampled rich foods, gorgeous wines, delicate patisseries. We even, once, had barbecued ribs and red wine for breakfast. Every meal confronted us with more choices, more wines, more regional specialties (I know, it’s a hard life, but…).
Finally, we arrived in Saliers, a name on a map that was nothing more than a crossroads with a simple motel, a few miles west of Arles. Tired and road sore, we were thankful that, on that particular night, we had no special appointment, no PR to meet, no destination restaurant to visit. But hunger is human and the motel had no food, not even a vending machine. So after clearing our heads in the motel’s swimming pool, surrounded by rice fields, we headed for the nearest village, Saint-Gilles, on the Canal du Rhòne a Sète, in search of a simple meal.
The restaurant we found was probably the first one we saw when we crossed the canal into the town. It had a sign that said pizza, which seemed like a good idea. It was a huge, half empty, yellow-tiled room, garishly lit with flickering fluorescent lights. The red, checked table cloths were plastic. The menus, already on the tables, tucked between the salt shakers and the glass dispensers of grated parmesan and hot pepper flakes, were vast. Once again, we were confronted with a myriad of choices – dozens of kinds of pizza, all kinds of salads, preparations of fish, chicken, meat, vegetables, the Italian dishes made mysterious by their French aliases.
That night, neither of us had the energy to be French about our food, to consider and discuss with each other and the waiter, to match the perfect wine with our choices, to make special requests. We both had plates of spaghetti bolognaise – probably because it was first on a massive list of pastas – with glasses of the house red. I think the pasta was a little overcooked but I still remember it as one of the most comforting, satisfying plates of spaghetti I’ve ever eaten.