Sunday, February 23, 2014

France: Exploring Lille and Keeping It Simple

     Yes, it was time for a small adventure.  While I cannot say that Dear Daughter was happy about getting up early (8am) yesterday morning, she managed to rally.  Our destination was once again France, to Lille, the 4th largest city in France and only a short hour drive away.  I had recently learned of their indoor food market and was eager to visit.  I love food markets.  With every visit, I want to purchase nearly everything.  While outdoor markets are great, I really like the indoor ones.  These seem to be more authentic to me and I think you tend to see more regulars.  The vendors are more likely to strike up a conversation (not with me of course, because I can't converse with them!!!).  

     We arrived mid-morning and I was surprised at how quiet the market was for a Saturday morning. Although the parking lot was nearly full, the market was quiet and peaceful.  It was a lot smaller in size than what I had expected or hoped for but once I walked around for a few minutes, I realized that this place had a lot to offer.  I just tend to go a little crazy...wanting everything I see.  There were two fishmongers selling anything from oysters to large crabs and lobsters to whole fish.  Our favorite, scallops, are still in season and I was itching to buy a few...perhaps we could have them as an appetizer?  Dear Husband just shook his head.  No, scallops...then how about some oysters.  They are from Brittany and the price is really good.  He shook his head again.

     We did have an idea for dinner that night so I quickly headed for the butcher.  I suddenly panicked as I remembered that I did not know the French word for the cut of meat that we wanted.  We wanted to make Osso Bucco and needed to find veal shank.  How do you say Veal Shank in French?  I searched one butcher and did not see a cut resembling the shank.  I headed to the other butcher and there it was... and it was labeled as "Osso Bucco".  Really???  Yes, it was that easy.  However, the butcher did not have enough.  So, we went back to the first butcher where I asked in my expert French....Avez-vous osso bucco de veau?  No, he did not.  

     We ended up purchasing two pounds of hanger steak...our favorite cut of beef.  If you haven't had it before, you need to try it.  Super flavorful and easy to cook.  Several minutes later, I had all kinds of goodies packed in my bag.  Three types of cheese; an 18-month reserve comte and two goat cheeses.  The cheese lady also sold fresh farm eggs so I had to get a dozen.  We passed on the fish but could not resist getting a few appetizers from the Oriental shop.  We decided to check out another butcher across the street from the market - just in case.

     I love these little neighborhood stores.  While the focus is on meats, normally these shops sell all kinds of homemade goodies.   This one was no exception.  Without looking at what they had, I found my place in line.  I figured that by the time it was my turn, I would have decided what to buy...and I have to buy something.  But what?  It all looked so good.  A menu started forming in my mind, not only for dinner that evening but also for brunch the next day.  Why make it complicated - just enjoy the simplicity of it all.

The Market in Lille

     In the end, dinner consisted of delicious hanger steak, cooked to a perfect medium rare and topped with a classic shallot/red wine sauce.  Accompanying it was a gallette de pomme de terre - otherwise known as a potato pancake made by the butcher.  While I wish I could say that we made a nice vegetable to go along with it...we did not.  The steak and the potato were enough.  Our dessert consisted of our three cheeses along with a small winter salad.

     Late this morning, we had our brunch - again with the simple items purchased at the butcher.   First, was an absolutely delicious smoked salmon.  We followed that with a fabulous onion tart and a variety of sausages.  Brunch was leisurely and relaxing...and more importantly...really tasty.

     I am normally not such a big fan of prepared foods and our debate at brunch was whether or not we could get such delicious food back in the States.  I am sure that it is available but I just love the experience here.  The small stores or the indoor markets...the way that the old lady just asks for a cut of meat and trusts that the butcher will know how much to give her after he learns how many people she is feeding.  I love how the vendors really want to talk to you...they want to talk to you about food.  They want to give you hints on how to prepare what you buy.  I love that one vendor only sold boudin blanc (a white sausage)...fifteen different varieties and the name of his business was Le Roi de Boudin, the King of Boudin.  I love the community of it all.

     We did manage to head into the old part of Lille and it was quite a treat - beautiful architecture and  definitely a place we will want to visit again.

The Grand Place in Lille

The Lille Opera House

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