After a 19 hour bus ride through the French countryside (which was appreciated for a total of 3 hours until I began to question my sanity), I entered the French side of the Basque country. I say Basque country because really it is a land of its own, split by the country borders of France and Spain, the Basque people speak their own language (Euskara) and are considered an individualized people both govermentally, culturally, and traditionally.
Beginning in Bordeaux and the surrounding cities, we were graced with the pleasure of visiting vineyards in the famous wine country of Margaux including Chateau Rauzan-Segla, a beautifully secluded French Chateaux situated quaintly in fields of Cabernet grape vines that reached the horizon, not to mention the property was later purchased by Coco Chanel, that is to say, the quality of the product was nothing short of spectacular.
I was then given the opportunity to break one of my many gastronomic milestones on this trip, Oysters. Having worked in seafood restaurants in California, I always cringed when customers ordered the towering platters of freshly shucked oysters on ice. Amorphous amoeba-like creatures, eating them straight from the shell was never something I found incredibly appetizing. Nonetheless, in the French city of Arachon, I bit the bullet, grabbed a freshly cracked, still pulsing oyster from its crate and sucked it down with a squeeze of lemon. The saltwater and gooey texture overwhelmed my palate while my brain wasn’t sure whether to chew or just swallow the thing whole. Needless to say, it wasn’t my favorite, but appreciating the valor of the delicacy, I watched my other classmates around me slurp these little treats down with ease. Nonetheless, the location and our hosts were unforgettable.
The following day, departing from our airport-side resort (obvious euphemism) in Biarritz, we took another one of many bus rides to the small French town of Peyrehorade to eat one of the town’s famous delicacies, boiled and seasoned Pig Feet….at 9’O CLOCK IN THE MORNING!!!! ah, the torturous life of a gastronome and yet another culinary milestone for yours truly. Entering the restaurant, I felt like I walked into another world, a parallel universe rather, where everyone enjoyed drinking vinegar wine in the early hours of the day, accompanied by scary and unidentifiable cuts of meat. That is to say, we weren’t the only people privileged enough to dine on this treat, in fact these pig feet were flying out of the kitchen. (When pigs fly….)
To wash down my light breakfast, we took a quick walk through the morning outdoor market, and then without a moment to spare we went to an artisanal Foie Gras producer to taste and truly experience the product that has become so internationally controversial. Foie Gras, literally “Fat Liver” in French, is a product made by force feeding either duck or goose to fatten and enlarge their liver, making the product incredibly rich and buttery. Coming from California, this has always been a big no-no in our liberally influenced restaurants, and seeing the production, I quickly understood why. Though I tried the product, which tasted like liver flavored butter, I found it hard to disregard the somewhat inhumane way it was produced. We were assured that allegations of mistreatment by animal rights activists are based upon misunderstanding and ignorance, but nonetheless, I saw the farm and feeding machines with my own eyes, and I was still a bit skeptical.
After days of dining with live Oysters, Pig Feet, Fatty duck Liver, and Pate, I was more than ready to cross the border into the Spanish side of the Basque lands, to see not only how the Spanish territory influenced the cuisine, but also in hopes of escaping the products that were just a bit too adventurous even for someone with a bottomless stomach like me.