Camargue Stories and Tips

Adventures in Dining: In Which artsnletters Tries to Find a Decent Budget Meal in Stes-Maries, and Largely Fails

Spit-roasted chicken, Provencal style - Yummm! Photo, Camargue, France

Oh good, I thought as I pulled up to Place des Gitans, a market! I love Provençal markets, and I’d arrived at the tail end of one, just before noon. After a wander around looking at the usual displays of crafts, cheeses, sausages, and so forth, I salivated at the tantalizing aroma beckoning from a rotisserie trailer. Several beautiful brown chickens were turning on spits, dripping their juices over a tray of potato and onion chunks. I didn’t resist; for about €6 I got half a chicken and a generous serving of the potatoes, fragrant with garlic and herbs. Yummmm!


Yummm! Spit-roasted chicken

It was a different story that night, when I started looking for dinner. Many restaurants had large lit menu boards in three languages (French, German, Spanish), usually not a good sign. One had translations into English, too; among the more intriguing selections were "paved beef" and "apple doormats". Well, I wasn’t going to eat there! For my first dinner, I ended up having a pizza at Côté-Jardin, across rue Frédéric Mistral from my hotel. French pizza isn’t American pizza, and it isn’t Italian pizza either; but this wasn’t good pizza: overdone crust, zingless sauce, limp toppings. I should have known better than to order cheap Italian food in France.

The next day at lunch, I considered the offerings of the open-air patisseries along rue Victor Hugo, but the wares were displayed unshaded from the sun, glistening with exuded butter and danced upon by the occasional fly. Instead, I chose a restaurant right across rue de la République from place des Gitans. OK, I knew it was a touristy location, but there was a €10 menu of fish with lemon sauce and rice, how bad could that be? Pretty bad, as it turned out: the fish came with a scum of curdled orange sauce, crunchy yellow rice, and overcooked (gasp! in France!) vegetables. I don’t think I ate a third of it. If I was going to suffer, I should at least have eaten at the place next door, where a nine-year-old boy with a remarkable voice was singing in Spanish, "¿A Donde Vas?" ("Where Are You Going?") to the guitar accompaniment of his father. And to think, I’d passed up that restaurant because I figured the entertainment was compensation for bad food!

That evening I had my dinner at Le Provençal, on place Esprit Pioch. I ordered fish again—I’m on the Mediterranean, right, that means the seafood should be good?—and was served a thoroughly mediocre white fillet under a dollop of sauce of the same cheery but off-putting orange color as the previous day’s. At least the accompanying potatoes and vegetables were adequately prepared. It was a disappointing meal, but at least it was edible.

I’ve always believed that it isn’t difficult to find a good meal anywhere in France, even if you haven’t much money to spend. I stand corrected.

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