I Needed a Burger, in France

Thirty six years ago this month I went on a date with the lady who would become my love, the mother of our wonderful daughter, my best friend, as well as my travel and food buddy. We have made it through the ups and downs of any relationship yet we still love to eat and travel together. Today I had my first real hamburger in over 16 months – before we moved to France.

When we moved to France we did so with the intention of embracing the culture, and we have done so quite well. Our UK friends still have people bring them beans and brown sauce from the UK, we have only asked for red pepper flakes and Panko. We strive to eat what is here, though we do make nachos at home now and then. But we live in another country, one that is known for its food, which we accept and enjoy.

One of the challenges of living as rural as we do is that the variety of famous French foods is limited. At even the smallest of cafes the food is done quite well but often without variety. It is the same if you live in rural USA, all the restaurants have similar food, I know as I have traveled there. So we do at times crave different tastes. We go to Mayenne to have Indian food, we get to Paris as often as practical to visit wonderful cafes. But every now and then a food from the past gets into my brain as a craving – a hamburger.

Early in our relationship Tricia, who has a degree in nutrition and food science, told me, “If you are going to have a burger then have the juiciest greasiest one you want, enjoy it, but just don’t do it everyday.” Some folks, when they learn that she has a degree in nutrition, give me their sympathy, thinking we must have an austere diet, au contraire, we eat most everything, but with a bit of balance – frites don’t count of course. So it made sense that when I began to vocalize my craving for a burger she was completely supportive.

The French do eat hamburgers, it is common to see them on menus, even at rather upscale restaurants. McDonalds are relatively common, and it is not because McD has forced themselves on the French. McDonalds is a big business, they would not stay in France if the French were not patronizing their restaurants, the French eat hamburgers.

BUT… Often the burgers I see on the plates of other diners do not look much like what the burgers in the US look like. I did order a burger last summer, the bun was black, not gray, not burned from grilling, but black. I have no idea what kind of flour or process made it that way, I have seen the same at other restaurants. It’s texture was like a macaroon, almost like eating air; defiantly not a genuine burger in my book.

The other interesting difference is that when you see a person eat a burger in France it is almost always with a knife and fork, not picking it up and eating it with your hands. In France most everything is eaten with a knife and fork, even pizza.

There is a chain of restaurants here in western France that promotes itself as American food, Buffalo Grill. We have driven by them over the year but never stopped, well today we did, in Le Mans.

They have burgers, ribs, chili, even buffalo. So the time and place was right to fill my craving.

I ordered the Extra Cheeseburger – here is the menu description: Steak haché de bœuf façon bouchère ou galette végétale façon chili, cheddar, sauce cheddar, sauce premium, oignon, salade, cornichon. Or, thanks to Google Translate: ground beef steak or vegetable patty chili style, cheddar, cheddar sauce, premium sauce, onion, salad, pickle.

Confusing description aside, it was a genuine American style cheeseburger and I enjoyed every bite – and of course I picked up and ate it properly, with my hands. Tricia had fish and chips, again quite good. So my hamburger craving is satiated for now, and we discovered a place that will work well if we want a taste of non-French cuisine.

I started this blog yesterday, today we are in Montmorillon in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of France. We had lunch with friends at a crêperie where I had a galette with chicken and curry sauce, so delicious. French food is great, but every now and then a bit of home comfort is required. We will visit Buffalo Grill again, there is one just 30 minutes away in Flers.

Shoots Out of a Dry Stump

This old tree witnessed history – seasons of plenty and of want, Napoleon’s armies, two world wars, and generations of farmers – only to be felled one day by a chainsaw – its majesty sacrificed for firewood.

It’s glory may gone but not its will to live – new shoots are testimony to spring and the hope of life to come.

Waiting in France

“Waiting time is not wasting time. Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life.” Henri J.M. Nouwen

If Nouwen is correct then France is a good place to develop your spiritual life for this culture has waiting woven into its very fiber. At times I welcome the lessons waiting teaches, other times lack of patience and uncertainty rear their unspiritual heads.

The ubiquitous drive-up service in the US is pretty much non-existant here in France. Starbucks has drive-through and of course you can order on your phone so as to not be inconvenienced by waiting in a line to place your order then waiting again while your order is prepared – no chance of prompting Nouwen’s spiritual life here.

In France you sit in a delightful café and wait patiently for the server, which will most always take much longer than any place you go in the US. Yet you don’t see people looking around trying to catch the eye of the server or overtly flagging them down as would be common back in Seattle. Or compare Japan where many restaurants have a button on the table for the sole purpose of summoning someone, nothing like that here.

Knowing how important un café is, it is usually brought out relatively quickly. However if you are sitting down to lunch minutes will go by between being seated and someone coming to take your aperitif order, and more minutes until it comes – so it goes all through the meal. Wait times between courses would earn even the best establishment poor reviews outside of France.

Yet the French take it in stride, just as they do waiting in a line at the supermarche. Just this morning we waited for a few minutes while the couple in front of us carefully bagged and stacked their groceries into their cart, then engaged with the also patient checker to pay, which was slow as the shopper methodically entered numbers into a keypad. There were at least three more folks with carts behind us, no one was impatiently glaring, they, like us, chatted, knowing their turn was coming.

One does learn to flow with the waiting pace as it applies to shop hours. Yes, many shops close at about noon only to re-open at 2.00pm. Many are closed on both Sunday and Monday. And it is not uncommon to find a place you were intent on going to, which you expected to be open, be closed with little explanation. The only explanation of course is C’est la France!

The most challenging waiting comes from anything associated with the government. France is famous for their bureaucracy and its associated paperwork, something that even my best pre-moving mind preparation did not grasp. No matter what it is you want to do there is a dossier involved and it is impossible to get all of the documents correct the first time.

In June of 2022 we submitted a 1.5cm thick packet of documents to get our Carte Vitale, healthcare card. So far it has been returned, yes the whole packet, four or five times requesting additional information. We last returned it with a letter two months ago, our relocation consultant says that since we have heard nothing from them that is good news, yet we check the mail daily.

Car insurance requires more than just a call with the VIN number and your drivers licence number as it does in the US. All of that for sure, but copies of your visa and all the accompanying docs get sent in. I am enrolled in a French Driving school to get my French licence, the paperwork for that was about the same as getting our visa. You submit it all and days or weeks go by until you hear.

We renewed our visas, starting in January, and of course received multiple requests for more info. We are all set, we have our provisional visa renewal yet are still waiting for the final card, or actually the notification that we can make an appointment with the prefecture to go an pick up our card.

The aspect of waiting that Nouwen does not mention is the uncertainty that waiting can produce. Since he is a man of God he would probably advise that uncertainty is an opportunity to express faith, and I am sure he is correct. BUT when you are waiting for a visa to see if you can stay in the country, car insurance to allow you to drive, etc. it can be a bit stressful as well.

Yet we are getting pretty good at it, or at least used to it. As I finish this blog I realize I get to face the uncertainty of what will happen when I attempt to uploaded it since we have painfully slow internet service out in rural France. So I will hit publish, refill my d’eau minérale gazeuse and hope you get to read it. In the end my goal is to be more like Neville, he has this down perfectly.

A Bistro, an Auberge, or Both – You Choose

Should you ever get near enough to meet-up with us in our rural part of Normandie for lunch we would recommend a choice between two places: Le Bistrot Saint Julien or Auberge de la Source. Both are about 15 minutes away.

The first restaurant we went to after moving into La Thebauderie was Le Bistrot Saint Julien. In another blog soon I will address the different terms for eating establishments here in France: Bistro, brasserie, auberge, café, bar, restaurant. We chose Saint Julien for the same reason we would take a visitor there, it is next door to the ruins of Château de Domfront, a place we were anxious to see. We have also discovered that in the Michelin Travel Guide for Normandie it is one of only two restaurants listed for Domfront.

A bistrot (bistro in English) is usually a smaller more casual place with a local feel about it. Most will have a menu du jour, which is always the best value. Bistrots usually follow the traditional opening hours of 12h00 to 14h00, though keep in mind that does not mean they accept seating until 14h00, we have been to many places that stopped seating at 12h30 – 13h00. Many reopen later for dinner, Saint Juliens re-opens at 19h00.

This is where we go most often for lunch, we rarely, well I guess never, go out for dinner in Normandie. You know when you have become a regular when instead of au revoir (good bye) when you leave, the owner says à bientôt (see you soon). We have been on à bientôt terms for some time now.

In addition to a changing menu du jour, which at any restaurant in France will have fish on Fridays, Julien’s has a menu of local specialities. One of our favorites are the many tartins. Here is one Tricia had, as always thanks for the photo.

Look at that wonderful chèvre! One of my favorite tartins is chorizo. When our friend Tim visited he was daring enough to try the andouillette, an acquired regional taste; as I remember he quite enjoyed it.

Here is another dish that Tricia had, cod on black rice, and one of my plates.

Auberge de la Source is located in the tiny village of Saint-Cyr-du-Bailleul.

Auberge translates into English as “inn” or “hostel.” Some do have rooms as well as a restaurant. Most tend to be a bit upscale from a bistro but not always – traditional and local products are the norm.

During the week Auberge de la Source only has a menu du jour, while on Friday and Saturday they have quite an extensive menu and no menu du jour, though they do have prix fix options. Like Saint Juliens it is operated by a husband and wife team, something that is quite common here in rural France. The chef at la Source is classically trained and it is evident as soon as you see the first dish, even if it is the apero.

We have had many great meals there, and will have more. Here are a few more photos, thanks again to Tricia for almost all of these in the blog, check other photos out on her blog.

There are plenty of places we go to eat, but these tend to be our most frequent stops. It is a pleasant characteristic of rural France that in some of the most out-of-the-way villages you discover a bistro or auberge, that may be quite plain in its exterior appearance, yet the food and experience is truly memorable. For Tricia and me that is one of the joys of travel, whether it is around where we live or in another country, we do love food – and of course we love it when friends join us.