Monthly Archives: September 2010
Ever since I first set eyes on an image of Mont Saint Michel in a school French textbook I’ve dreamed of visiting the famed island abbey and recently that dream came true. At last Monsieur and I were able to see Mont Saint Michel for ourselves, but that experience is a whole different blog post. First, I have a rant just BURSTING to get out.
Most readers of Epicurienne will know by now that I like to accentuate the positive in this blog, but sometimes the negative will rise to the surface, bubbling like an angry little New Zealand mud pool. Today I am that mud pool.
It’s a sad fact of life that popular tourist sites often become overrun with mediocre eateries and tacky souvenir stalls purveying their wares various at premium prices. All’s fair in love and commerce, as they say, but what really irks me is when a little premium becomes mass extortion. That’s when a sightseeing experience with great memory-making potential runs the risk of being badly tarnished. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the sort of experience we had at Mont Saint Michel.
After a long drive across Britanny, Monsieur and I decided that doing the abbey on an empty stomach simply would not do, so we made lunch our priority. We’d heard of a place called La Mère Poulard, long-established on the mount and renowned for its omelettes, but I’d been put off by internet reviews saying that the Poulard establishment charged €20.00 for one omelette.Outrageous. Wary, as ever, of tourist traps, and admittedly not a huge fan of omelettes unless cooked by my brother, I wasn’t that keen to dine at La Mere Poulard, but Monsieur changed my mind by pointing at the menu hung on the outer restaurant wall. It showed a set menu for €15.00 and it wouldn’t be necessary to eat omelette. I could have galettes, peut être. The menu sounded like good value so we waited for a table, watching the theatre of the kitchen, open for the benefit of the passing public. Before too long, we were ushered to a table and presented with a different sort of menu, consisting of omelette, omelette or omelette. The price per omelette was no longer €20.00; it had escalated to €28.00. I was not impressed.
“They’ve probably just given us the expensive menu so we should ask for the one we saw outside,” I suggested to Monsieur, who was sitting in stunned silence, staring at the menu in front of him. Meanwhile, I tried to remember how much we pay for our eggs at home, and how many of those eggs I could buy with €28.00. (The result was 112, to be precise, which would make 37 three-egg omelettes.)
When the waiter returned we asked for the €15.00 menu.
“I’m sorry, but it is not served at this time. Only omelettes are served after 2.30pm.” It was 2.35pm. Nowhere on the outdoor menus had it stated time restrictions and by keeping us waiting for a table, we’d missed our chance at dining reasonably. I wanted to leave, but Monsieur just wanted to have lunch and get on with our visit, so we stayed. I didn’t really want to eat omelette, so asked if there was a more extensive menu. The answer was a definitive “Non.” So now we’d be paying a ridiculous price for eating something I didn’t even particularly like. What a pair of idiots. Mr T would rightly call me a foo’.
So, stuck with the expensive menu, we surveyed our options. The choice was
- Omelette with tomatoes
- Omelette with ham
- Omelette with smoked salmon.
Monsieur had a 2 and I had a 3. I expected the omelette to have the smoked salmon whisked through it, forming part of the overall whole. Instead, the smoked salmon was served in a little bowl to the side of a gigantic, foaming hemisphere of omelette. The smoked salmon was far from the best, which one really should expect when dining in an omelette house so ancient that the walls were hung with dozens of pictures of politicians and actors chowing down on the world’s most expensive chicken eggs. At least the omelette looked sizeable,(not that I cared because in case you don’t remember me saying, I. DON’T. LIKE. OMELETTE.) but on cutting into it, air escaped, the formerly fat half-moon deflated and in spite of not being the number one fan of omelettes, even mine disappeared in a jiffy. So in essence, not only had we just paid €56.00 for 2 omelettes, they were so insubstantial that eating them took a mere 5 minutes. That’s €11.20 per munching minute per pair of omelettes. If that’s not extortion, I don’t know what is. Shame on you, La Mère Poulard. You make my mud bubble.
Annoyed with ourselves for having been suckered into a tourist trap so soon after arriving at Mont Saint Michel, we grumbled our way up the path to the abbey, a well-trodden way lined with store after store of souvenirs, Norman biscuits and (strangely enough) replica swords – something to do with Saint Michael’s skill at slaying demons. The queue for entry tickets was quite long, but moved at a reasonable pace. Soon enough we were paying for our tickets. At €8.50 each, the total was €17.00. Now, I’m no banker, but I do know that when you hand over €20.00 note for something that costs €17.00, you should expect €3.00 in change. I received tickets and a receipt but no Euros. So I said to the ticket man “you owe me €3.00. I gave you a twenty.” And he glared at me as if I were a thief and thrusts coins into my hand in a rough manner before stalking away from his booth in a dark mood, probably because (a) the tourist could count and (b) the tourist spoke French.
By this time, the story of Christ and the money lenders was foremost in my mind. The irony of visiting a religious site, built in honour of The Archangel Michael, and being ripped off IN the abbey itself by a ticket salesperson was not lost on me. Sadly, the rip-off culture of Mont Saint Michel was to continue.
After our visit to the abbey, Monsieur and I were understandably thirsty, so we returned to the busy shopping street and found a little terrace bar looking out at the coast from the island. An ice cold soft drink was just what the abbot ordered, so we asked for 2 LARGE cokes. What we received was 2 teeny weeny pepsi colas, not at all cold and able to be swallowed in about 2 gulps each. The bill when it came was for a whopping €8.00. We did NOT leave a tip.
TIPS TO ENSURE YOUR TRIP TO MONT SAINT MICHEL GOES SMOOTHLY:
- Avoid La Mère Poulard at all costs unless you like to pay a fortune for a few whisked up eggs or are curious to dine at a place which has an impressive list of patrons, from Edward VII and François Mitterand to Claude Monet and Woody Allen. There are more affordable places to eat further up the path, but the best thing would be to dine away from the Mont and it’s money-grabbing ways. As we later realised there are some great meal deals to be had just the other end of the causeway, on the mainland, and a few of those eateries have stunning views of the Mont.
- Stop off at a shop or supermarket on your way to the Mont and buy water bottles to take with you. On a warm day the hike up to the Abbey is thirsty work. This will also save you a small fortune which is what all drinks on the Mont will cost you if you wait to purchase them there.
- Note that parking a regular car for the day will cost a flat fee of €5.00 – about the only thing at Mont Saint Michel that seems reasonable.
- When you arrive at the car park, check the signs which state when the tide will come in and flood certain areas of the car park, otherwise your visit to the Mont could become a lot more expensive than just a couple of overpriced omelettes and cola drinks.
The irony is that the most amazing aspect of the visit to Mont Saint Michel is the view – both of the Mont as you approach it and from the Mont looking out at the coast and sea. It’s really quite magical. And a view, like a smile, costs nothing.
All the talk about beans on the London Bloggers network recently made me do some odd things. Well, odd for most people but probably quite normal for me. This includes taking photographs of BEANS in a French supermarket, planning extra beans into our weekly diet (they’re very good for you – slow energy release), checking the glycemic index of beans (mostly somewhere in the 30s but BROAD beans are naughty with 79) and opening a certain kitchen cupboard door to gaze longingly at our emergency stash of ready-to-go French flageolets…
The bean talk also brought to mind a little Epicurienne anecdote, which hopefully will amuse.
It’s no secret that the French love to believe that English food is little better than pig swill. In fact, I recently fought hard to defend the cuisine of Old Blighty in a family ‘discussion’ in France. Contrary to French belief, England’s positive attitude to food has skyrocketed since I moved here 16 years ago. We have fantastic ingredients at our disposal, the media has helped increase public interest in what they’re cooking and eating, we can enjoy a different ethnic cuisine every night of the month if we feel like it and regional flavours are enjoying the support of increasing numbers of farmers’ markets and eateries that favour local produce. Certainly, it’s still easy to find pork pies filled with more gelatine than pork, and if you’re not careful, you’ll come home from the supermarket with a bag full of tomatoes that taste of cardboard (that’s why you’ll find me sniffing tomatoes in the aisles – more perfume equals more flavour), but it really isn’t fair to say that the English don’t know how to eat and in my experience it remains hard work trying to convince the French otherwise.
So when I was stopped at the X-ray machine at Eurostar in the Gare du Nord I was interested to see which product from a French supermarket shopping binge had piqued the interest of the two uniformed guards now glaring at me with suspicion. You see, there really wasn’t much in my suitcase apart from food and on unzipping the case it was obvious that Monsieur and I had enjoyed our recent trip to the supermarket. Out spilled our favourite soaps and packs of spaetzle, half a dozen bottles of persillade, delicious wine vinegars and various other items that are either hard to find (albeit not impossible) or over-the-top expensive to buy on the other side of the channel. Then they spotted the food criminal that had caused them concern.
“Qu’est-ce que c’est?” asked one, rattling a box of mogettes – a white bean which is popular in the Vendée region of France.
“They’re mogettes.” I replied
“What?” asked the uniform,
“Mogettes,” I answered.
Uniform 1 turned to Uniform 2.
“Do you know zese sings?” he asked his colleague.
“Yes, zey’re delicious. Some of ze best beans in France.” he said, nodding sagely. Then the uniforms turned back to me.
“What we want to know is ‘ow YOU English know about zese beans.” Ah. So I’d confused them. I wasn’t French yet I knew more about a regional French bean than a certain uniformed Frenchman. What an enigma. Perhaps now they’d realise that Anglo Saxon(e)s CAN cook and DO care about their food. Then again, perhaps they were going to arrest me for attempting to remove a French food treasure from their country. Two pairs of eyes narrowed as they focussed on me. It was obvious that they were confused to find that someone living in England actually liked to cook.
“My father-in-law is French and he introduced me to them. I saw them in the supermarket and thought I’d take some home.”
“Ah, yes. Of course. Because in England ze food is so bad.” Uniform 2 was laughing now. “So you have to come to France to buy REAL food. Hahaha.” That wasn’t quite accurate, although I wasn’t about to argue with two men carrying guns.
During the course of the examination of my mogettes quite a queue had built up behind us, but the uniforms didn’t care. They were now interested in how I was going to cook my mogettes.
“My father-in-law said I should soak them overnight and then cook them with a bouquet garni, a little onion and some carrots. I’ll probably serve them with chicken or duck.”
“Ah, yes.” Uniform 2 was practically dribbling. “I love ze mogettes.”
“So why ‘ave I not ‘eard of zem?” asked Uniform 1. “You say you can buy zem in ze supermarket?” he asked me. Suddenly, the ‘ENGLISH’ was the expert on French beans instead of a suspected terrorist with explosive in her shopping.
“Yes,” I said, trying to zip up my bag and make way for the grumbling travellers behind me, “You can buy them in the supermarket.”
As I walked away from the Uniforms, they were still discussing mogettes, which just goes to show that even though the prevalent French attitude to English eating habits needs some correcting, it’s true when they say that if you want to enjoy a really passionate discussion in France, just start talking about food. And hopefully now there exist at least two more Frenchmen who know that sometimes, just sometimes, those folk across La Manche might know a bit more than just their onions when it comes to food.