I had never believed that Camargue was really such an enchanting and magic place. White horses, pink flamingos, wild sea coasts and remote lagoons. It all sounded too much as coming out of a Duran, Duran song. But last time I was down there I had to bite my tongue. Camargue, the land of olives.
Camargue is not only the land of olives, but also of any delicacies you could ever imagine. Split between petite and grande Camargue, it covers a region mainly made of lakes and sand stretches. Apparently it is also a bird heaven (waterfowls, birds of prey...never heard before!) but, as I don't really care about les oiseux, I didn't even notice them.
What impressed me were the herds of pure white horses. Wild, free. Sauvage. It seems that the local white horses are the oldest breeds on earth. And for those of you who know very little about horses, the whiter the younger. They gradually become grey or "dirt white" as they grow older. I have always dreamt of riding a white horse.
What made me happy were the cute little streets, the lively squares packed with local and tourists suckling their oysters and mussels, the umbrellas, and lamps. Sitting at cafes, strolling leisurely around the narrow alleys, and simply warming up at the pleasent sun was a joy in itself. The same question comes back to me "why on earth don't I move there?!?"...good question.
And the one other thing. Food. Food, food, every where....
Food in the form of biscuits, olives, potato chocolate, focaccia (or fougasse as they call it - flavoured with orange water and sprinkled with sugar to leave your fingers sweet and sticky), sausages, oysters, mussels, rice....
True, France is famous for being a gourmet place. But I find traditional French cuisine quite heavy overall. Southern French cuisine on the contrary - and it might be because it used to belong to Italy...or simply because naturally is in a much warmer part of the country - is so much lighter, fresher and with a strong use of olive oil, fresh vegetables, and herbs.
Camargue is also home of a number of recognized products or geographical indication - with no surprise France and then Italy are the countries with the highest number of GIs...
Fleur de Sel de Camargue is one of the most expensive salts I have ever known. Not sure how much of it will be used - probably in an English fashion... It is understandable though why it is that pricey. The salt gets formed over the surface of the lagoon only at certain times of the years to a thick layer which slowly sinks to the bottom of the water. So it is essential to be quick and catch it in time to then break it into small grains. And that is why it is also often grey in colour - not been rescued in time!
And then of course the other great dish to not forget: Tapenade. Originally from its neighbour Provence, it has expanded to the entire southern region, effectively to every place where capers can grow and be found easily. Tapenade in fact means tapeo or caper. And no surprise that one of the main ingredients of this wonderful nibble are capers.
And olives, anchovies, garlic.
All you have to do is to crush the ingredients (I would say for 100g olives - ideally green, but black will do as well mix half a garlic clove and 3-4 anchovies, and a table spoon of capers in salt) in a mortar or a blender until they form a pulp. And voila! Easy.
I was almost about to forget. Red rice (slightly chewy) and bull meat. Camargue is covered with black bulls, either for fights or for steaks and sausages - I would say, probably in exactly this order....
Unless you are vegetarian, I would recommend you try it. It is so much leaner and tastier than pork sausage. Saucisson de tureau - to be tried to believe it.