Memorable Meals: Episode 2, Marché des Producteurs in Soumensac

I have a soft spot for Le Sud-Ouest. The beautifully authentic bastides, the blue skies and the breathtaking sceneries, the amazing food (I could literally eat confit de canard for breakfast!) and the relaxed way of life make this particular area one of my favorite vacation destinations. Of course, the wines from this region just happen to be liquid for the gods- rich, mysterious wines from Saint-Émilion, Pomerol and Médoc, to name a few, and sweet, delicate dessert wines from Sauternes or Monbazillac. The region is a true playground for the senses so it isn?t surprising that some of my most memorable meals have taken place there.
I vividly remember walking through the quaint little town of Soumensac on a warm Sunday afternoon a few years ago and suddenly finding myself amidst a feast of color and laughter. There were many picnic tables on that sunny hillside, most of them covered with bright tablecloths. People were wearing their Sunday best and having lunch on their own plates and with their own utensils. It seemed as though most of them knew each other as they joyfully ate.
I felt slightly intimidated at first, a bit like an intruder walking into a family affair, but I decided to play it cool and put on a cheerful smile as I walked past the various vendors. There were different stands on which regional foods and classics of French cuisine were freshly being made and bountifully displayed. One of the first stands I encountered was run by a friendly couple who was preparing simple plates of salads composed of rounds of cucumbers, ripe Marmande tomatoes, finely sliced sweet onions and thin slivers of bell peppers. The salads were dressed with nothing more than a little olive oil and some salt so that the summery tastes and aromas of the vegetables deliciously shone through. Another stand was selling warm crêpes with granulated sugar. Their sweet, buttery smell had Kirstie begging me to let her forget the healthy stuff for just this time. All she wanted was these crêpes! Then there were the grilling stands where almost everything was being barbecued right on the spot- fat duck sausages, tournedos with hearts of foie gras, chicken pieces and skewers of various meats and seasonal vegetables. The lines there were the longest, probably not just because the French are such meat eaters, but because the robust aroma of anything grilled is one which is very hard to resist. Right across from the grilling area was a lady who was frying fresh chips, one of the most popular choices of carbs to accompany the feasting. It was interesting to note that those who were eating bread had apparently brought it themselves. I reckoned this was a sign of the quality of those chips and told Hans he would be ordering them while I ordered our meats. Seeing how busy it was, it didn't make any sense to stand on line together.
Those who had enough room for a little dessert could opt for a squidgy-centered clafoutis dotted with halved Agen prunes or a refreshing glass composed of layers of fromage blanc, tart berries and coulis. With the various wine stands selling bottles of regional wines or wine by the cup (yes, a plastic cup) there was plenty to drink. The kids were not forgotten either. There were fresh fruit juices being offered by a cheerful gentleman next to the salad couple.
We were lucky enough to find a spot on one of the tables where we could enjoy our sausages, tournedos, salad and fries. We didn?t mind that we were one of the few using plastic utensils and army knives or that we were not wearing interesting hats. The obvious fact that we were tourists did not seem to bother anyone either. We felt welcomed as we ate between the locals and enjoyed the warmth of the southern French sunshine.
A year later we returned, hungry and very excited about being able to take part in this joyful French feast once again. The first thing that caught my eye this time was the lady who was ladling up portions of escargots à la Bordelaise. As I fished each succulent snail from its little house and slurped up the fragrant, meaty juices, I blissfully looked around me and felt a great sense of gratitude for this wonderful, delicious moment.

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