Vegan south of France: a journey with challenges

Is it that easy to eat vegan food in France?  Our author finds out.

Is it that easy to eat vegan food in France? Our author finds out.Image: iStockphoto / RossHelen

Vegan column

Teresa Schwab

“As Vegan As Possible” – Watson’s column on vegetarian and vegan life

06/29/2022, 3:04 p.m06/29/2022, 3:46 p.m

I have two weeks of holiday in France behind me – one week in Provence, one on the Atlantic coast. Before, when I thought of France outside of Paris – and I thought about it often, having long been addicted to the language, lifestyle and taste of different regions – I thought of markets with olive paste, fresh salads for lunch and pretty manor houses with benches with ripe in the sun with vegetables.

The app helps you find vegan restaurants

I was convinced that both our destinations were vegan paradises. We planned to cook some dishes ourselves, and eat others in a restaurant. As a precaution, I downloaded the Happy Cow app, which searches for vegan restaurants around the world. You enter your current location and vegan options are displayed within a certain radius. At Happy Cow, you can choose between vegan, vegetarian and vegetarian options. The latter means that there is at least one vegan dish on the non-vegan menu. Thanks to the app, the celebration began in Gordes, a small mountain village in the Luberon, a mountain range in the south of France.

Of course, not every restaurant is included in this application, but the result surprised me. The only restaurant in this not-so-unknown neighborhood was a “vegetable option” with a note on the menu included a vegetarian dish that could be ordered vegan if desired – quinoa with ratatouille. “Un café et atelier culinaire vegan” 40 minutes away sounded great, but it was too far for me and two small children to go there alone.

A colorful variety awaits on the market

Instead we went to the market in Gorda and I was immersed in the wonderful fruit and vegetable stalls. I chose from at least ten different types of tomatoes that I bought based on color and shape. I was most impressed by the pink tomatoes, which tasted the same: delicate and at the same time aromatic. Southern advantage, because tomato salad requires nothing more than finely chopped onions, a little vinegar and olive oil. The same goes for the fruit that comes from this region and tastes like apricots, figs, peaches and the typical Cavaillon melons that should taste – juicy, sweet and like the sun.

If we choose mostly the same spreads for dinner at home, every southern French market offers a tasty alternative, especially olives in all their variations: In addition to olives preserved in herbs, I love various olive pastes, called tapenadesmade from green or black olives with olive oil, capers, garlic and herbs de Provence. Since it was the first time I took a closer look at the ingredients, I knew from this holiday that the classic product also contained anchovies. Thus, the vegan status will disappear if you do not prepare the pasta yourself. The pickled garlic cloves I also bought were definitely pure vegetables.

About the author

Vegan as possible is the best way to describe Teresa Schwab. In her column, the freelance journalist talks about positive ideas, efforts, and why it’s okay to sometimes fail in everyday life because of a non-animal lifestyle.

Of course, it didn’t escape me that along with all the vegan-vegetarian options, cheese and sausage were the busiest. Cured sausages, supplemented with truffles, nuts and herbs from Provence, are an integral part of this region. Just like ham, cut into thin slices, which is served as an aperitif.

Every menu shows that the French love sausage, meat and cheese. As soon as we visited a typical French restaurant, there appeared leg of lamb, casseroles or even tartar, raw beef. Vegan dishes could not be found. All I could ask is to leave the goat cheese out of the salad.

“The south of France lags far behind when it comes to vegan and vegetarian cuisine.”

One day we visited friends near Carpentres who had moved to Provence and now know the area well. I checked my app ahead of time and only found veggie options. A user-added description of one of the suggested restaurants read: “Generally a meat and seafood restaurant with traditional French cuisine. The chefs know how to prepare vegan food. Note that the restaurant also serves foie gras.” Whether a vegan wants to support a restaurant that has foie gras on the menu depends on his own attitude.

But back to our friends who confirmed my experience in 2022: The south of France lags far behind when it comes to vegan and vegetarian cuisine. In Paris, as in any metropolis, it looks different. However, the French capital does not appear in any annual ranking of vegan cities.

Anyone who lives here and – for the most part – wants to do without animal products cannot avoid cooking with available ingredients. French Classic: Take fresh artichokes, boil them in water for 20 minutes and serve with a vinaigrette of mustard, red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic. One by one, pinch off the sepals, dip the base in the vinaigrette and remove with your teeth.

On the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, fish and seafood prevail

A week later we traveled through France to the Atlantic coast, near Arcachon. On the way, I buy my favorite ready meal – one of the many varieties of tabbouleh that can be found at every fresh produce counter in a French supermarket, even at gas stations. Served with carrot salad dressed with vinegar and lemon. I have been wondering for years when these delicious vegan snacks will finally make their way to Germany?

“Ordering a latte instead of an espresso for dessert was strange. But then ask for soy milk? The waiter didn’t even understand the question.”

Then we finally got to the coast, where instead of meat, seafood dishes prevail in every restaurant: mussels, shrimp, and since we’re in an oyster growing area, of course, oysters. On the boat trip to Cap Ferre, we found ourselves in the only open restaurant. I realized that the name “Baraque à Huitres” (English: “oyster barracks”) was serious when I could only choose between oysters, shrimp and crab.

Ordering a latte instead of an espresso for dessert was a surprise. But then they still ask for soy milk? The waiter didn’t even understand the question. A vegan grill in a regular supermarket? there is no The French have traditions that they follow. Often this is what makes this country special. However, in this case I would like to be a little more predictable.

On the penultimate day when we wanted to eat out again, I open my vegan app and I can’t believe that France’s first vegan restaurant, Ona, by Michelin-starred chef Claire Vallée, is located in Ares, just 71 kilometers from our holiday destination. But then I read that the restaurant had to close temporarily during the pandemic. What a pity, but still: France, you always surprise me!

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