Hairy Bikers' Mediterranean Adventure: Mainland France
Series 1, Episode 4
Hairy Bikers' Mediterranean AdventureSeries 1: 4. Mainland France
The Hairy Bikers are in mainland France, in Provence. They begin in Marseille, one of the largest ports in the Mediterranean, where the population is as diverse as the Mediterranean itself. They meet Moroccan-born Fatima, who runs a welcome centre where recent immigrants can cook and eat together. The bikers taste her bourride, a fish stew - bouillabaisse's younger sibling. She has been awarded the Legion d'Honneur for her services to France.
The quality of the light in this part of France is such that it has always attracted artists. Dave is a keen artist and knowledgeable too. He is keen to follow in the footsteps of the impressionists, so the bikers take a local ferry across the bay to L'Estaque, a charming waterside community where the seaside snacks are legend. The panisse, legacy of Italian workers who migrated here in the 1930s, and the chichi fregi, a sausage-shaped doughnut, both reflect the links that Provence has with the wider Mediterranean.
As they travel westwards, it becomes clear that one of the biggest influences here is that of the Romans, who conquered great swathes of Europe 2,000 years ago and left their mark on the culture and the landscape. This is true even in the remote and little-explored region of the Camargue. Here the bikers find untamed white horses and wild bulls, distant descendants of animals used for the Roman army. They meet a family that has been here for generations and taste the local beef stew, gardiane de taureau. This encounter inspires their first dish, daube de boeuf.
Back on the trail of the Romans, the bikers explore the ancient, double-height aqueduct of the Pont du Gard, built to bring water to Nimes. In the shadow of the bridge, they create a roadside snack in the shape of an olive tapenade two-ways.
Their next stop on the old Roman road of the Via Domitia is the city of Nimes, where they have arranged to meet a local food historian and enthusiast for Roman cuisine to find out what constituted Roman-style gastronomy. One of the elements essential to the success of the Roman Empire was their ability to feed large numbers of people throughout the year, and that is
where another gift of the Mediterranean comes into play - salt. The bikers explore this landscape of flat, pink, salt ponds to find out what makes the salt produced here so sought after. This visit inspires their second dish, brandade de morue (salt cod and mash). After an overnight stop in Sete, their traditional breakfast of tielle (a pastry filled with spicy octopus) points towards a Catalan influence in the cuisine. First, it's the artisan production of an exquisite wine vinegar and then the abundance of fruit that flourishes in this benign climate - apricots, cherries and peaches. Over the centuries, the orchards of Ceret have been a traditional employer of migrant labour and seasonal workers were often gypsies... which leads to the story behind a local cake, the bras de gitan (gypsy's arm), a delicious jam and cream-filled swiss roll.
All over this region, the bikers have been welcomed by the locals. Their last night in France is no different, as a Catalan fruit farmer invites them to a family gathering where they dine on the regional specialty, cargolade, barbequed snails.
Featured recipes include daube de boeuf, tapenade, brandade de morue and bras de gitan cake.