Vive la France

Vive la France

Somewhere in the bowels of this blog is a piece about a meal of ‘Boeuf de Tartare avec un oeuf’ (beef tartar), I was unwittingly exposed to while in France. It was in the city of Montpelier to be precise… It caused some hilarity when my ignorance about the world of ‘gastronomigue de France’ was so mercilessly and brutally shown up.

A few weeks before this momentous and shameful event we had flown into Marseille only to be marooned at the airport. The French farmers were angry again and had surrounded the airport with their tractors, sharpened scythes and red faces.

No one could get in or out. We had organized a French Citroen to be rented some weeks before in Australia. We were given the keys at the Marseille Hire-car desk but apart from opening the doors and sitting in the car, we could not drive anywhere thanks to the boycott. I turned the key and tried the engine. A few times going brrrm, brrrrrooom, but that’s about all. The car was brand new and had just done a few hundred meters. It was also the smallest car we had ever sat in, more like putting on a jacket than stepping in a car, but it was automatic. For me having to change driving on the right, automatic was tres important.

One farmer took pity on us. Nothing has ever beaten the sheer friendliness and French ‘fraternite and egalite’ of that farmer ever since. Perhaps he recognized the farmer in me? Anyway, he moved his tractor and beckoned a friend of his to lead us to freedom. Alors, alors he kept saying. We drove over a small kerb and along the edge of the runways passing countless stranded planes, followed by a dirt track and voila, we were near the highway towards Montpellier. He waved goodbye and we shouted ‘merci beaucoup’, followed by a heartfelt ‘au revoir. I had exhausted just about all my French.

A few weeks after:

We were seated in a below footpath restaurant on a cobbled stone narrow street in Montpellier. The atmosphere was muted as were the lights. Couples were holding hands and whispering sweet nothingness while picking at their greens and patate de frites… Helvi ordered a sensible filet mignon done rare, and I softly asked for a beef tartar done ‘medium’ s’il vous plait. The Garcon laughed heartily. I did not think it was that funny.

Helvi, ‘why do you always play the fool? Pardonez moi, I asked? She answered me, ‘beef tartar is raw meat’. No, it’s not. It is beef very rare and tenderized as it used to traditionally done under the horse saddles of wild Mongolian Tartars in pursuit of Cossacks deep inside the Crimea. It is the rarest of meat but only just cooked for a minute or so.

The horrible truth was soon delivered to our table. Helvi was right. A massive blob of raw mince and a raw quivering egg on top was facing me across from a triumphant Helvi. I told you, she sweetly smiled. I don’t know why I thought it was tender steak, but we all sometimes carry lifelong misconceptions, don’t we? I genuinely thought the term ‘beef tartar’ came from an historical fact.

Helvi also drove home another truth about those wild Tartars riding on horses and saddles laden with steaks underneath. “They ride their horses bareback, no saddles.” Can you even imagine riding a horse that way sitting bare-bum on your steak tenderizing it all day? They eat a lot of cabbage as well, she added mischievously?

It just never stops.

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18 Responses to “Vive la France”

  1. Lottie Nevin Says:

    Fabulous Gerard! I have to admit that for many years I really loved steak tartare. Adored it in fact. Adored it until on my last visit to Paris I ate some and it gave me…I can’t bring myself to write the word but the clue is in ‘Internal parasitic infestation caused by eating raw or under cooked meat. That’s probably way too much information….


  2. solidgoldcreativity Says:

    haha! Great post, Gerard.


  3. phildange Says:

    I appreciate you try to use some French but ehm … why on earth do Anglophones always make mistakes even in three words ? That’s one of the mysteries of the Creation …
    The universal one is this “Viva” . Viva is Spanish . In French it’s “Vive”, Vive la France . But as I said you’re just one the dozens who write that . Then tartare needs a final “e”, and it is called “steak tartare”, no need for a “de” . ( Note the use of the English “steak” in the French name of this dish ) .
    Well, have a good wind for your journey and have a good time .


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, thanks for the French lesson. I changed it to ‘vive’.
      Now, what did you think of the piece?
      Perhaps, just to be equally rigid, should it not also be “one of the dozens?”
      As for tartare or tartar, spell check kept ‘tartare’ underlining it with red.
      Thanks again.


  4. Andrew Says:

    The French do have a tendency to be patronising over food, especially to the British I might add. Take solace in the fact that Australia now produces wines on a par with those from La belle France. You should have wound him up and insisted on a decent glass from the Margaret River region to go with your raw boeuf. Vive la France? Non! Vive L’Australie!!


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, Australia is teaching the French to make better wines. I know that Cullen’s Estate from Western Australia went to France to help introduce modern winemaking.
      The Languedoc area that we visited is one of the largest red winemaker regions in the world. Our car tires were red from the must flowing into the roadside-kerbs in almost every village and town.


  5. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    Another great blog Gerard. Helvi has a marvelous sense of humor! I’m so glad the Mongolians don’t sit on their meat. So unsanitary.
    salmon gravlax is the closest I want to get to raw meat.


  6. hilarycustancegreen Says:

    Really enjoyed this piece, particularly the descriptions of the French farmers and the Citroen fitting like a jacket. I rather like Boeuf Tartar (well spiced) but agree that the raw egg would be a step too far.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      I have learned to accept the boeuf tartar but, like you, struggle with a raw egg. After the war, the doctor suggested to my mum to give me raw egg to try and put weight on me. She, (I think) used to beat a couple of eggs and mixed it with a bit of cream and some sugar.
      She put the lot in a beaker and stuck a biscuit on top inside the mixture. I still did not put weight on.


  7. petspeopleandlife Says:

    Oh my goodness. I am of French and German heritage and not once have my now deceased kin cooked or even suggested eating any of the food they had eaten after being Americanized- don’t know if that is a word or not.

    The only hint of being French was that my Grandpa made his own wine and gee was that good wine made from wild mustang grapes in central Texas. He was second generation French though so I reckon he had no inkling of eating raw meat.

    The French eat horse meat, do they not? I can not “stomach” the thought.

    Anyhow, this is one funny post, Gerard. By the way- your wife has a keen sense of humour and the two of you are a good match.

    I am still smiling at how you made it from the airport and out to the countryside. French farmers to the rescue! Your writing of this post was superb.


  8. gerard oosterman Says:
    Thank you for the encouragement to keep going. You write very well yourself. There’s been a lot of commotion about ‘free range’ lately and a large producer was fined for advertising ‘free range’ when in fact the chickens were packed together like sardines.


  9. petspeopleandlife Says:

    Gee whiz. The crooks never stop. Yes, I question if the eggs that I buy are really free range. We are at the mercy of money grabbers and deceit.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      In Australia buying free range chooks and eggs is a con;


      • petspeopleandlife Says:

        Too many crooks in the pies of government, The same thing here in the states. These people have no scruples. I stopped eating store bought eggs a year or so ago.Now drive to the country to buy eggs from a husband and wife team who are retired and raise chickens for eggs just to have something to do. I see the chickens of about 50 or so and these are healthy and happy chick-er-roos. The eggs are brown, large, and have a deep yellow colored yolk. The eggs do not get better than these. I pay around $4.50 per dozen but these last a long time when I am the only one eating them.

        I signed the petition.


  10. roughseasinthemed Says:

    I used to like steak tartare (yes I agree with phildange). But not with raw egg, with hard boiled egg and capers. But when it was cooked it used to eat it blue anyway so not really much difference.

    I would also eat raw finely sliced bacon (my parents sold bacon), oysters obviously and pretty much anything. I am however an extremely strict veggie these days (ie for more than 20 years).

    I’ve never heard the Mongolian story. The first I knew about steak tartare was that it was prime fillet minced up and raw. I thought it was good at the time.

    I don’t agree with Andrew about Aus wine and I’ve probably spent longer living there than him (says the woman who spent her honeymoon in the Hunter Valley). Free range eggs are a whole nother story. Which is why I’m glad I have my own chickens, even if they don’t lay!


  11. gerard oosterman Says:

    The legend goes that Tartare tribes when fighting in the past didn’t even have time to stop and cook their food. They are said to have kept the meat underneath their saddles and mince it in this way. There are many variants on Tartare legends and their dietary habits. We had our own eggs from chickens roaming on our farm. Sadly, the naughty fox soon made us keep them in runs with chicken wire right around the top as well. Foxes were starting to climb up over the wire fence, amazing those Australian foxes.
    We bought a fox trap and enticed the fox with a dead wild duck inside. The fox was too cunning but what did we find one afternoon after coming home from shopping?. Our dear Jack Russell ‘Milo’ inside the trap looking a bit sheepish. (He never touched the dead duck)
    We could never eat our own chickens. They were our pets.


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