Bistrot de Pays

Helmer Otterman,  Friday, 26 June 2009

Aardappelen oogsten op het platteland 

I've only just started my journey through this endlessly varied land of dishes and wines when I see a side road that I can't ignore with any possibility. By the way, I think I'll be delighted if I turn left because there's a sign "Bistrot de Pays" there.

There are over 36,000 municipalities in this immense country. And many of them have only a few hundred - often even fewer - inhabitants. You know these kinds of villages: with a little luck there is still a cafe, perhaps a baker, but usually, there is little to do. It is extinct there; no shop or bar to be seen. The residents meet sporadically on the street or at the weekly market in the town further on, but no more around the clock of twelve with an aperitif while the daily business is discussed. In many villages, the permanent meeting place, the core of the social network, has unfortunately disappeared.

For some years now, however, there has been an organization whose aim has been to revitalize these vital meeting points in rural areas and thus indirectly to help slow down the exodus of rural France a little. The is an organization whose main objective is to contribute to maintaining "some economic and social life by maintaining (or restarting) the village cafe "multi-services" as it used to be."

Therefore, a Bistrot de Pays should (I quote):

  • be located in a rural municipality
  • be the last (or almost last) shop of the village
  • be open all year round
  • offer as many services as possible that have disappeared elsewhere in the village (e.g., take-away point for bread and newspapers, cigarettes, groceries)
  • have tourist leaflets of the area at their disposal
  • At least offer a simple cuisine (continuous casse-croûte with regional products)
  • if a real menu is used, regional recipes and products should play an important role.

Now I know some of these Bistrots pretty well, and I have to say: they amply meet the requirements! In my area, there is one where I often come for an excellent lunch of three courses. Everything is fresh and homemade, tasty, healthy and clearly prepared with attention and love. It is small, there is a loose and friendly atmosphere, and the audience is very mixed, sometimes from far outside the (tiny) municipality. The broad view (tens of kilometers away, on imposing mountains, lavender fields and olive groves) you will get as a present! In summer, of course, you can eat on the shady terrace in front of the door. There are plenty of local dishes from the season. Wild boar for example. I almost forget in my enthusiasm to say that such a memorable lunch is offered for 13.50 euros ........ In the weekend it is a bit more expensive, but then there are other people coming from the city .........

The rest of the above points are also correct. A village café, animated around noon, a shop with the most essential and even some delicious local products, such as olive oil from the village, the daily newspaper, in short: a perfect illustration of the term "Bistrot de Pays." And that in a village of 238 inhabitants, hidden in the Haute-Provence, where owner Christophe Israel in the kitchen and co-owner Emilie Clément together with Marie take care of the pleasant service. Actually, I should not reveal my secret address of course. I do like my rest. But for you I make an exception (but keep it a secret) : "Chez Jules," 04700 Puimichel (between Digne and Manosque, a stone's throw from the Gorges du Verdon). Tel: 04 92 74 98 10 or (Booking is very desirable, if not obligatory, because there are not many places).

French village in the countryside
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