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The Provence Culture

Provence is a historic province in southeastern France along the Mediterranean Sea. A hunting, fishing, gathering culture thrived in this area dating as far back as 30,000 BC. Soon, a Neolithic revolution in southwest Provence replaced hunting/gathering tribes with a pastoral culture, which coincided with the first domestication of wild animals in western Europe. This culture has been at the root of Provençal life ever since.

Today you can find wheat fields, rice fields, vineyards, olive tree groves, and sheep raised in the area. The area is close to Italy, so the food is very Mediterranean. Light, sunny, and bright flavors. A list of Provençal ingredients includes Garlic, olive oil, olives, goat cheese, tomatoes, anchovies, capers, Parmesan, eggplant, fennel, zucchini, lemons, and onions. Despite working with these familiar ingredients, Provençal cuisine is not Italian food. It has evolved into its own unique and delicious taste.

Summertime sun reigns in France's southern region, called the Midi. For most of the year you can find tourists, including the French, flocking to the Midi to drink pastis (an anise-flavored aperitif), play boules (a complicated ball-throwing game) and eat the food. Vast bouquets of fragrant basil, wild thyme and lavender perfume open-air markets. Lavender particularly defines Provence with its incredible aroma, which lends its scent to dishes from ice cream to roast chicken, and with the countryside covered in lavender fields that melt into the summer air.

Bouillabaise, the classic fish stew of Provence, is a big-event dish often
served as a celebratory or festive meal. Pounds and pounds of the freshest fish
and shellfish disappear into a simmering pot fragrant with tomatoes, fennel,
garlic, orange peel, saffron and thyme. The broth is served first, each bowl
topped with a crouton slathered with rouille, a garlicky mayonnaise with the bite of cayenne papper. 

As tomatoes, eggplant, red peppers and zucchini ripen in the Midi sun, Ratatouille, one of the best-known dishes of Provence, is made. fresh and tangy from the tomatoes, each vegetable a distinct flavor, and the whole dish permeated with fresh basil added at the last minute. Tourists and locals, both, delight in this and all the summer dishes to be found in Provence.

In the winter, however, the tourists leave, and the Provençal people are left alone withthe mistral winds of winter. This savage wind rules Provence through the winter and early spring. During this time of year, the foods are hot, rich and soothing, such as a hefty pot roast cooked with anchovies and capers, or a leg of lamb roasted with garlic and wild thyme. Winter daubes are long-simmered, thick stews, often of beef or lamb,
and frequently flavored with orange peel and black olives.

It's also the season for black truffles, which are ready for harvest starting in late December and January. These fragrant fungi often are called black diamonds, and not just because of their exotic, addictive flavor--retail prices begin at $300 per pound.

Life in Provence combines the earthiness of age-old Mediterranean ways with a very French sense of style and savoir vivre. Its cooking presents this same harmonious blending of country roots and creativity, but has many varieties. Families in this region still thrive around the table, where several generations may gather for an elaborate meal. So join us at Bistro Provence, be part of the family and enjoy good food.