Yesterday, we went to one of our favourite bistros to eat HAMBURGERS. Some of you, especially from across the pond, may be somewhat surprised to hear this. Is this not the land of milk and honey, known for its innovative but also traditional gastronomical extravagances ?
You need to understand where we are coming from, or rather, you need to take into account where we live. Deepest, rural France. We grew up with easy access to several different hamburger outlets within easy driving distance. We both have very strong ideas about how we like our hamburgers. Single or double, with or without chips, with or without cheese or bacon, what sauce is the best (for both the hamburger and the chips), what sort of bun we prefer…and of course we have expansive opinions about which outlet is the best, and for what : MacDonalds, Burger King, Wimpy etc etc etc.
So you may be able to imagine the extent of our disappointment when we realised that we now live somewhere where the nearest MacDonalds/Burger King is 50 minutes’ drive away, in a city (our closest city, for that matter). Not that we were ever MacDonanlds addicts, you understand, it’s just the thought. Being deprived of hamburgers. Sad, really. We did not even eat hamburgers that often, in the past. Once every six months or so, and then we chose a restaurant where the meat was organic and very good quality etc. etc. etc.
Suddenly the fact that we do not have easy access to good hamburgers started to annoy us. They must have some sort of burger on their menu’s here, non? This is Gascony after all, the home of demanding gourmets of all shapes and sizes, all walks of life and of all ages. We decided to investigate. Over an unspecified period of time, we visited several restaurants in our immediate vicinity, on a mission to try out their hamburgers, should they have them on the menu.
We were pleasantly surprised, at least by the fact that there were quite a few restaurants that did have hamburgers on the menu. Other surprises were less pleasant.
We were invariable asked how we wanted the meat cooked, and we made the mistake of thinking that all hamburger patties will, by definition, be fairly well cooked. No so. Unless you specifically specify « bien cuit », or let’s make it « très bien quit, s’il vous plait », you end up with a nearly raw, definitely bleeding hamburger.
There was also the fact that, as we were eating in restaurants, where they do NOT serve soft drinks, one had to make do with either a glass of water or a glass of wine. We are now experts on what sort of wine to choose when you are having a hamburger. We have tried out a variety of the wines of the region and have come to different conclusions (no surprise there). I prefer a dry Cotes de Gascogne or Saint Mont rosé and my other half a feisty Madiran.
There was also the little but non-negligible matter of ze bun. We like our hamburgers encased in hamburger buns with sesame seeds, not in white bread, not in a French stick, and no, toast will not do either. Arrrrgh !
And ze sauce. Because it would be good if there was a bit of sauce. As it is culturally unacceptable in any French restaurant to ask for ketchup, a hamburger without sauce can be a very dry, for-ever-sticking-to-the-palate experience. Cheese sauce would be good, or mushroom, if that is all you have. Cèpes ? Yes, very well, some cèpes. Raw egg ? Uhm, no, rather not. Nor your very best made-fresh-today Béarnaise sauce. Mayonnaise ? Also home-made ? Bon d’accord, we might as well try that.
It has been six years now since we have started our quest for the perfect and easy-to-reach hamburger and I suspect we were not the only ones, because the Gascons have caught on. You can now find excellent hamburgers in nearly all bistros, albeit often with a slight (or not so slight) French twist. They have even invented a Burger Gascon, which consists of a magret de canard with a slab of foie gras on top smothered in a sweet fig sauce.
When our Equine-guided Mindfulness Meditation retreat guests ask us where they should eat, we often recommend Chez Robert, a bistro not 5 minutes’ drive from us. At the moment, their burgers are our favourites, mostly due to the lavish application of their very secret sauce. This is what their burgers look like (might not look that spectacular, but I can guarantee the taste will be an unparalleled gastronomical adventure) :
If Chez Robert is closed, we send our Guests to Chez Quintin, in Nogaro, where they serve their hamburgers on wooden plateaus, with huge amounts of crisp-fresh salad. Remember to ask for « très bien cuit », unless you like Steak Tartare:
Another bistro that serve a great Hamburger is Comptoir de l’Adour in Aire-sur-l-Adour, right next to the mighty Adour river. They even have a choice of different flavours and sizes. You can get a Classical (with a sesame seed bun), a Complet or a Demi-Burger with either one or two or patties and you can choose between hard sheep’s cheese (Brébis) and softer goats cheese (Chèvre). Just be aware that all their burgers, except from the Classical, are served with white bread toast at both ends.
For those on a budget, there is the Kebab place, also in Aire-sur-l-Adour where you can eat a decent-sized burger with chips for 9 euros. We have been going there for years, mostly to support the young couple who run it. It is much more laid back than other local eateries, you can even order a soft drink to go with your hamburger (although they also serve a good dry rosé) and of course you can order all sort of take-aways.
At the bistros above, prices vary from 11-15 euros. All the places I have mentioned so far make their own patties with high-quality mince meat, bought from local farmers, that tastes quite different from those of the fast-food outlets. Most restaurants round here now specify exactly where their meat comes from.
Nearly lunch time here, so I’ll say « Bon Appetit » and leave you to it. As it is Sunday, this means I will be off-line now till 6pm. We don’t believe in rushing our Sunday lunch.
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