Thursday, 16 January 2014

Luxe Snacks at the Christmas Village, Monaco Style

Now that the holidays are just a memory and a frightening number on the scale, I thought I'd tell you how, for us in Monaco, all those kilos got there in the first place.

Every December, Monaco's Port Hercule is transformed into a charming Christmas wonderland or a Village de Noël.  It's similar to those that pop up during the holidays in cities and towns all around France and it's quite pleasant to bundle up and stroll between the little wooden huts buying charming, inexpensive gifts and grabbing a snack al fresco. But that's where the similarity ends...

First of all, you'd never recognize it but Monaco's Village is in the exact same spot where the pits are set up in May of each year for the Formula 1 Grand Prix race.  Multi-million dollar race cars zoom around Monaco and end up here at the finish line where the Prince, along with anyone in the general vicinity, is doused with champagne by the driver of the winning car.

Mixed in with the traditional fare you'd find at any French VIllage, Monaco offers the sorts of food you're more likely to indulge in at a high-end gastronomy event than an outdoor Christmas Village...

There's champagne of the white or rosé variety served in flutes that are glass, not plastic.  There are a selection of fine red and white wines to wash down foie gras on toasted brioche and a variety of oysters.  Beside the oyster stand is one selling steaming plates of mussels and cold sea urchins with lemon wedges. Pinky wipes are kindly provided as needed. There's Bellota ham from Spain and Hungarian Goulash.  And if it's not luxurious, it's probably strange like giant marshmallows coated in chocolate called Têtes du Choco and on the savoury side of strange, "Cheese and Fries" and Badass Burgers from a "Secret Recipe transmitted from Biker to Biker." Looks to me like the Cheese and Fries were copied from Quebec and look a lot like Poutine to this Canadian girl!  

Monaco's Port Hercule.  A Christmas Fair in December, the Grand Prix pits in May

If you or the kiddies would like to munch on something more traditional, there are old standbys like Churros, waffles, or crêpes spread with Nutella or doused with Grand Marnier. There are entire booths devoted to cochonnerie, (I love that word) which is the French term for junk food like lollipops, candy apples, and cotton candy in your choice of 10 flavours.  Personally, I prefer a modest helping of yeast-raised, sugar coated doughnuts made à la minute while you watch and lick your chops. 

Apart from the food and gift stands, there's entertainment with daily puppet shows, karaoke, magicians, games, a Ferris wheel, a beautiful antique carousel, a skating rink, and sprinkled here and there, creepy looking sculptures. 

Good friends Christine and Geoff and I took a spin around the skating rink one fine and sunny day which was quite pleasant until a giant teenage girl careened into Christine and then took me out along with her.  After we pried our aching bums off the ice, we called it a day and fled to the safety of the Ferris wheel to take in the spectacular view.

One thing for certain, people in Monaco may not be skilled skaters but they're definitely skilled eaters.
Opposites attract:  foie gras to go and Têtes de Choco, giant chocolate covered marshmallows
The skating rink where the pool usually is

Decisions, decisions...

Your choice of 10 different oysters or sea urchins with 5 different wines.  This stand was very popular
Cheese and fries sounds a lot like Canada's Poutine.  Hamburgers are rare in these parts
Mmmm.  Doughnuts...

Creepy sculptures here and there

I love the bird's eye view from the Ferris wheel
One of the hand painted panels on the beautiful antique carousel
Maybe someone will drop some Foie Gras...
Bird's eye view from the Ferris wheel

See you next year!

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Sun Saves the Day at the Menton Market

Paysanne vendor Madame Francine and her wonderful mandarin oranges

I love visiting Menton's market any day of the week but around Christmas, I enjoy it even more because it's busier than usual and that makes for a lively and festive atmosphere.

This Christmas Eve though, it all went a bit pear shaped when it poured rain and the skies were heavy and grey making it seem more like a trumpet with a mute than the silver flute it usually is. Very few people had braved the rain and the vendors were worried because hardly anyone had come to buy all of their festive offerings.   

Rain doesn't bother me in the least so Hubby and I were two of the few who arrived and hustled here and there, gathering this and that, all the while juggling wallet and umbrella.  After shopping for an hour or so, the rain started coming down in buckets so we skedaddled back home, dragging our bulging and wet granny cart behind us.

Thank goodness New Year's Eve was a different story...

The skies were a clear bright blue, the sea was glistening, it was 10°c and the air was fresh with a breeze from the South and the market was happy and crowded.  Very crowded.

A brief break in the rain on Christmas Eve
I think Menton's buildings look better in the sun

The lines to buy oysters and bread were two and three deep, less so for vegetables, fruits and cheese.  Menton's luscious oranges, kumquats, and lemons were on sale here and there.  We waited patiently in the long lines like everyone else and when it was finally our turn at the front, we took the time to thank the vendors for all the wonderful things they produced for us throughout the year.

Traditionally it's bad luck to wish anyone "Bonne Année" before January 1st but we wiggled around that by saying, "Bonne fin d’Année" which seemed fine since anyone to whom we said it said the same back.

Mentonnaise author Jean-Claude Volpi
Passionate Mentonnaise author Jean-Claude Volpi set up a table where he was selling some of his well researched and wonderfully illustrated books about Menton.  He also had a huge selection of rare vintage postcards that he was selling for a song.  I scooped up quite a few of those.

A beggar brought his cat and dog with two adorable puppies that attracted as much attention as the oyster vendor.  In all, New Years Eve was a wonderful second chance at holiday cheer for vendors and customers alike.

Now that the holidays are drawing to an end, calm has once again descended upon us.

I'd like wish each and everyone of you who visit and follow my blog a Bonne Année, happiness and good health in the coming year and beyond.

May your soufflées always rise, may your pie crusts always flake and may all who sit at your dinner table arrive with a happy heart and a good appetite!

I bought one of Mr Volpis' postcards of Menton in the sun.  This one is from 1972
Mr Volpi was selling his vintage postcards of Menton

Everyone enjoyed the sunshine on New Year's Eve
Tagged tuna.  All that was left was the tail!

Big crowds to buy oysters and seafood

Seafood, oysters, moules were selling like hotcakes
Locally grown bananas, holly, mistletoe and fresh baby carrots