“I like my gingerbread covered with pâté de foie gras, accompanied by a nice white wine.” As Philippe sighed with pleasure at the memory, I thought: “I will never get this town.”
Dijon was the 36th city we’d stayed in during the last five months. Our Mediterranean Comfort Food Tour has taken us through Greece, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Italy, and now France. It’s been tremendous fun, but there have been challenges, too. I’ve had to learn to read bus schedules in the Cyrillic and Greek alphabets. We’ve stayed in so many places with hazardous stairs that it’s a wonder all our limbs are still intact. And while generally the food has ranged from good to fabulous, we’ve eaten a few dishes that we didn’t find easy, most especially the traditional raw horse meat served during race week in Asti, Italy.
None of that put me off my stride. But I have finally met my match in Dijon.
Everyone assured us we’d love the food here, and Rich and I were eager to find a congenial spot to sample such local specialties as boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, and escargots de Bourgogne. On Day One, we set off at 12:30 in search of these culinary marvels, but every eatery we passed was either utterly lacking in charm or bore a hand-written sign informing us they were closed for vacation. After wandering around for more than an hour, we finally stumbled into a place that looked promising, but the staff reacted with stares of incomprehension, gallic shrugs, and shooing motions encouraging us to leave at once. This little scene was replicated in three other restaurants, leaving us as bewildered as we were famished.
It turns out that on weekdays in Dijon le déjeuner (lunch) is invariably served from 12:00 noon to 1:30 pm. Period. Who knew?
If it wasn’t for a large supermarket in a downtown department store and a really excellent all-hours kabob house around the corner, we would have starved to death.
When we weren’t out grubbing around for food, we tried to take in the sights, but a remarkable amount of our time in Dijon was spent staring at locked doors and signs reading fermé (closed). Take Saturday, for instance. Philippe, our guide on a very entertaining food tour, told us how lucky we were to be there during European Heritage Days to enjoy free admission to all the museums, palaces, and historic monuments — plus there was a second-hand market. What fun! However, by the time the tour was over and we’d stopped back at the apartment for a short rest, we returned to the city center only discover the market dismantled and every one of the museums, palaces, and monuments closed and locked.
Despite such setbacks, we’ve managed to visit quite a few of the city’s most famous landmarks and enjoyed the city itself, especially the half-timbered houses, churches, and magnificent palaces built while the Dukes of Burgundy reigned there from the 9th century until 1477.
On the food tour, Philippe introduced us to the city’s iconic mustard, its famous gingerbread, and the tradition of the 11:00 am aperitif, an alcoholic version of elevenses that included gougères (cheese puffs) and kir, a popular French cocktail of crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) and white wine. At the colorful 19th century Les Halles Market, he showed us mouthwatering produce, cheese, meat, and poultry, including the famous blue-legged Bresse chickens sold with their heads still attached, a sign of quality intended to make it easier for you to fork over 28€ ($30) a kilo for what's said to be the most pricey chicken in Europe.
“Yes they are expensive. But if you eat this, you really taste chicken,” Philippe assured us.
The market’s central café, La Buvette, was jammed, yet Philippe somehow contrived to find us seats and produce platters of Beaufort cheese, salami, ham, bread, pickles, and a glass of delicious Macon chardonnay.
On the tour, we’d learned that in Dijon one sits down to dinner between 7:00 and 7:30 pm. Armed with a recommendation from Philipe, Rich and I presented ourselves at an eatery called Dr. Wine promptly at 7:00. All the tables were reserved, the headwaiter informed us, but we could eat in the garden if we promised to leave before a late booking got there at 9:00. Wait, what? You could eat at 9:00 in this town?
I have to admit, Dr. Wine’s food was very good indeed, served in small plates like the heartier kind of Spanish tapas. We started with escargots de Bourgogne, the famous Burgundy snails cooked with garlic, butter, and herbs. Our appetizer included six jumbo snails, a complicated metal grasping tool, and a delicate fork. It was all going well (by which I mean we hadn’t disgraced ourselves by sending any snails flying onto nearby tables) until I tried to eat my last escargot. I could see it, huddled in the inner depths of the shell, but the combined efforts of Rich, a passing waiter, and myself weren’t sufficient to winkle out the little critter.
“Maybe the hour for eating snails has expired,” Rich suggested. No doubt that was the case. I let it rest in peace.
Next we ate slivers of bread topped with two kinds of heavenly cheese, fresh apricots, and a bit of apricot preserve. This was followed by the famous boeuf bourguignon, a hearty beef stew simmered in the region’s trademark red wine. I’ve had this dish before, and Dr. Wine’s was by far the smoothest, richest version I’d ever tasted.
“OK, I'm finally beginning to warm to this town,” I told Rich.
“Don’t get attached,” he said. “We’re off to Paris in a few days.”
Yes, time is getting short. We’re now on the final leg of our long journey, and after a whirlwind visit to the City of Lights, we’ll head south to Spain by rail. Due to the fast pace of the days ahead, I'm posting this earlier in the week than usual. We arrive in Seville on Saturday, which happens to be the day before my birthday.
Whew! It’s been quite a ride.
Once we’re home, I’m planning some serious down time, so don’t expect another post next week, or possibly the week after. Rich and I want to thank all of you so very much for joining us on the journey. Knowing you’re out there enjoying the stories and the recipes has inspired us every step of the way.
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I'm an American travel writer living in Seville, Spain and my home state of California. I travel the world seeking eccentric people, quirky places, and wacky food so I can have the fun of writing about them here.
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Winner of the 2023 Firebird Book Award for Travel
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