As part of my 2019 quest to take advantage of being based in Paris by exploring other parts of France, I spent last weekend in Bordeaux. I have actually been before, so it wasn’t exactly expanding my French horizons the way the “quest” is supposed to be, but my last (and only other) visit was six years ago, and it’s an absolutely stunning city. So I went back.
Despite the patchy weather, it was a lovely weekend, featuring the hallmark of any good trip: an abundance of delicious food and drink. It goes without saying that the wine was superb – although I wasn’t prepared for just how inexpensive it was, too.* And it turns out that Bordeaux also has a very varied and interesting eating scene, something I don’t remember from six years ago. In fairness, that could have just been because I was attempting the most stringent of shoestring trips, so had to blinker myself to anything that risked tempting my meagre funds from my purse… but I don’t know. Either way, the Bordeaux I had the joy of rediscovering last weekend is a foodie’s delight.
The first “meal” I had whilst I was there ticked something off my bucket list that I’ve been meaning to accomplish since I moved to France: trying oysters.
It was about 11:30am, I’d just dropped my bags off at the hotel, and the first place I happened across on my way to the city’s centre was a large indoor food market I remembered from my previous visit. I went in to investigate.
The stalls mostly seemed to be touting seafood or cheese, although there was also a good selection of meat, bread/pastries, and fruit and veg. It was fantastically busy, full of life and noise in the best possible way – and the smells were incredible.
Then, somewhere near the back, I suddenly realised that I recognised the little market bistrot I was standing in front of – although not from having seen it in person before. Actually, I’d read about it online. I always do extensive research before I visit a new (or nearly-new) place, cross-referencing blogs and articles and reviews to compile my own list of ‘best of’s. Yes, it’s nice to stumble across something incredible by accident, but when I haven’t got long in a place, I don’t like to leave finding those real gems to chance.** I hadn’t made an exception with Bordeaux.
This particular place was called Chez Jean-Mi and I’d found it whilst searching for the best place to try oysters. It didn’t seem particularly impressive – I would have walked past without pausing if I hadn’t already come across the place online – but the reviews were great, the prices were excellent, and the plates of assorted shellfish on display in their glass-fronted cabinet looked very tempting. I’d also read that it was a typical “bordelaise” thing to do, having oysters and wine for breakfast. I had been a bit sceptical about it initially… but to my surprise, Chez Jean-Mi was full of people doing just that. I decided to join them. Carpe diem and all that.
I had to cast more than a couple of furtive glances at the couple sat on the table next to mine to establish exactly what I was supposed to do with the oysters when they arrived, and I made a bit of a hash of my first attempt. I also nearly choked on the thing – I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so salty. My first impression was that it was literally like getting a mouthful of sea water. Chewy sea water. Doesn’t sound too appealing, does it? But it was oddly un-horrible and I found myself eagerly reaching for my second.
I was a bit more generous with the lemon juice this time, and between that, and the knowing what to expect, it was a significantly more enjoyable experience than my first. Although I’m sure it shouldn’t have been. Oysters are cold, slimy and wet. And then there’s the aforementioned saltiness. The shellfish taste itself I didn’t find to be that strong – they reminded me of something else I like, although I couldn’t (and still can’t) quite place it. So goodness knows why I liked them so much. It’s much easier for me to understand why someone would hate them. But there’s something inexplicable about the whole taste/sensation combination and whatever it is, it’s very, very good indeed.
Verdict: When can I have oysters again?
…I think I’m going to need a pay rise.
*A thoroughly dangerous combination.
** And I actually really enjoy the planning, too. Like, really enjoy it. Go ahead, judge me all you want.