I had to. There are things like that… places like that… food like that, even drinks… well, of course there are food and drinks like that!
I had to go and eat a choucroute at “La maison de la choucroute” in Strasbourg, Alsace, France. Since 2006 when I had my first taste of their choucroute (quite by mistake, or rather randomly) I kept on telling some anecdote or another about this place to all who wanted to hear about it and to all who did not care (more often the latter, true.) It became some sort of a Holy Grail to me. Difficult then not to go back about 7 years later, even if disappointment could very well be at the end of the road. However, I had to know, I had to go, I had to have choucroute at “La maison de la choucroute” again…
French Food Roadtrip 8 – La Maison de la Choucroute
So why is a choucroute so enjoyable, apart from the presence of a lot of sausages in it? Jeez, I’d be damned if I can give a straight answer to that. That is probably a combination of geographically atavistic taste, melancholic musing about one’s youth (linked to geography, indeed), love for the art of sausage making and consuming, a recent interest in salt and brine and things related to… and because it is very good.
Choucroute is sauerkraut for you all in Northern America I guess… It literally means, sour cabbage and it is indeed some pretty sour cabbage. The way it is prepared, before the cooking, is fermented in brine. Thinly cut pieces are layered up with salt (about 2.5 to 3% of the vegetable’s weight) in a wooden barrel resulting in lacto-fermentation (a bit like kimchi). Then one has to drop a stone on top of a well adjusted lid and let the whole thing rest… It can take from 6 to 8 weeks. Of course historically it was all for shelf-life, to be able to get food all over the year as preservation was a big deal before the days of the fridge and other modern gimmicks to make man’s life easy. There are many legends and theories about where and when this was actually invented, from China to Korea to Alsace via Attila the Hun (yeah, I know it sounds far fetched but why not, after all everybody accepts the legend of Marco Polo and his bringing pasta to Italy from China…)
In France the term choucroute derives directly from the Alsatian dialect and refers to the actual full dish with sausages, various pork bits and potatoes. The one is was so keen on feasting on again… The choucroute is cooked in white wine or beer depending if one wants to eat it in a restaurant or in a brewery. At home you can do whatever you want but it will undoubtedly lead to some feud between people with different opinions about that. I know it for a fact as I often enters arguments over that matter with one friends whose origin are supposedly from Alsace and take it as an insult to use beer. Then one adds the sausages and the meat parts, some of it is boiled before, some of it is directly cooked with the cabbage, it all depends… There are as many ways to do it as there are cooks to do it.
In this particular restaurant your choucroute is introduced to you before the maître d’ serves it into your plate on a separate table. It makes one feel important. I have no idea whether the choucroute also feels important.
It was awesome. Enough said…
And Rowena had a coq au Reistling. I mean, she tasted the choucroute, but I think I failed to transmit my infatuation to the dish, but that’s ok. Better men than me tried to infatuate people to choucroute and failed. Maybe. The coq au Reistling (Rooster cooked in local white wine) is also a local speciality. I have no anecdote about it though, a rare thing…
Another local speciality is the kouglof, some sort of brioche with a very strange shape. The making of the special pan is said to be an art form in Alsace, they come in various material and some of them are, er, very heavily decorated. The cake itself has a soft texture, includes raisins and almonds and is often flavoured with kirschwasser, an alcohol made out of cherry. My grandma (the next step in the food roadtrip) then enjoyed a kouglof as a present from our (too) short passage in Strasbourg. It was delicious with coffee at breakfast next morning…
I wonder if it is only me or if a pilgrimage to “La maison de la choucroute” is necessary… However, the city of Krautergersheim apparently branded itself “capitale de la choucroute” (choucroute capital of the world, or something) which may very well be worth the trip. Why not?
Read the Entire French Food Roadtrip
After a couple of train rides we will arrive at our second stop: Txot Sidreria in Figueras, city of Salvator Dalí for the ones amongst you readership with a fancy for psychedelic painting. To be noted that this rather small Catalan town sports the world famous Dalí museum (yes, the one with the bathroom sculpted on the ceiling of some room, go figure…) However we were there to catch a car ride to the South of France but not before stopping for some new-school tapas and Basque Cider! Basque Country cider in Catalunya, you got to be kidding me!
After dragging ourselves out of the Cider-induced madhouse of Dali’s Figueres,we venture to the third stop on the French Food Roadtrip: a small house in the Pyrénées.
What could be better than that – A small house in the mountains? Oh yes, stop 4 on the French Food Roadtrip: Roussillon and the Sea.
After refreshing ourselves at Roussillon and the seaside, now it is time to move on and jump in the mix of French Food Roadtrip 5 – Center of la France!
Once you have a taste of the city, nothing but the best will do. This is where we take the French Food Roadtrip 6 – to Lyon & Grenoble.
This is getting intense people & I think you can feel it. Now that we survived Lyon by protecting ourselves with some of the best local cuisine, wine and beer we venture to French Food Roadtrip 7 – le Buget and Montbéliard in le Jura.
And finally–though this is not the end–we must finish our French Food Roadtrip 9 – En passant par la Lorraine.