I think one of my favorite things about living in La Rochelle is the food. Before I returned to France after the Christmas break in Ohio, I read Julia Child’s “My Life in France,” a memoire that chronicles her discovery of France, her discovery of its food, which eventually resulted in her discovery of the love of cooking and an iconic career in the culinary world. Upon my return to La Rochelle, I was ready to dive into the gastronomy of my new residence.
Because La Rochelle is a port-town on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, fruits de mer (literally translated: fruit of the sea) or seafood reigns as king in the ultimate culinary experience. My first fruit de mer experience was in October after I first arrived and involved the not-so-scary, first-baby-steps dish of moules-frites, or mussels and fries. Usually steamed and small, its easy to avoid dwelling on the slight rubbery texture in order to appreciate their light freshness. Juxtaposed with the crispy fries, its really quite wonderful. The mussels can be prepared in an infinate amount of ways –I’ve counted a total of nine at one small bistro!
For the more adventuresome, La Rochelle boasts to have the best huitres, or oysters, in the world. Now, the verdict is out on how amazing these huitres really are. To be completely honest, I’ve yet to try them (although, hopefully this weekend I’ll remedy that!), but I’ve heard stories that run the full gamat, from horror to elation. My friend Lee had his first (and last) huitres in the Fall. What makes them tricky is that because they are so fresh and naturally delicious, huitres are eaten raw, straigh from the shell, with only a little lemon juice. Lee insists that the little guy winced at the lemon juice. And while he also declared that it tasted like salt-water, I’m convinced that there’s a reason why this city has based a huge portion of their tourist industry on the illustrious ‘huitre.’
The daily market, in addition to its beautiful display of fresh produce and flowers, has stand after stand of fish, oysters, and shrimp. Its actually when I see these stands in particular that I become inspired to learn how to become a culinary master in the French tradition, and who knows, maybe one day I’ll become brave enough to buy a bucket of huitres on my own (although I have heard stories of people nearly slicing off their fingers trying to pry open the shell). For now? I’ve budgeted my modest salary so I can enjoy the cooking skills of the professionals, which has resulted in the latest of my culinary adventures: sting ray! And its delicious ☺