Authentic Provence: genuine, real, veritable share the sense of actuality and lack of falsehood or misrepresentation
The above could be a definition of “Authentic”. So if we talk about an “authentic bistro”, what would we be talking about?
Let’s go back to the “Belle Epoque” (literally means the “Beautiful Age”) – the time in France from the end of 1871 to 1914 (basically the end of the Franco-Prussian War to the beginning of WWI.
This was a time of entertainment, quality food and artistic detail. Not everybody had money but those who did desired entertainment (The Moulin Rouge with its French Can-Can dance first appeared on stage in 1893).
The term “Belle Epoque” was applied after the WWI contrasting it with the more difficult lifestyle that followed the war.
In Provence, the “café” has always been the center of any village of Provence. A “Village in the Vaucluse” by American anthropologist Laurence Wylie describes the café in Roussillon during his year long stay in 1950-51.
It was the place of neutral ground where people would meet. Movie night would occasionally take place with a sheet up for the screen. Children would bring empty wine bottles to fill up with more wine as one of their after school chores. This was also the place where the village loner spent his day. The “café” was more than a place for a drink, it was in institution.
Over time, some of these cafés were transformed into a bistrot setting, offering home-made meals to the villagers and passers-bye. You can imagine the menu was limited to local produce and the “menu of the day”. Going to the local bistro was for socializing.
Authentic Provence today doesn’t give us many bistrots with a feel from the past. If “authentic” is what you search for on vacation, look for the Bistrot du Pays signs found in many small rural Provencal villages. They offer home-made food in a café/bistrots setting that are, more often than not, family owned. Their best family recipes and authentic ambience take you back to a Provence that is, at the heart, simple, family-style, and anything but super luxury – that’s all the charm.
Le Bistrot du Paradou, located in a very small village (Paradou) just outside of Les Baux-de-Provence, is full of authentic Provence ambience. A unique menu that changes based on the day of the week is all you have – but why would you want anything more than their best? Actually, you can choose your dessert – Mousse au Chocolat, s’il vous plait!
When I went there this last September, they were serving roasted chicken – simple yet succulent and nothing like the roasted chickens that you can pick-up at any market in Provence today.
Some foreigners reserve a table here thinking that this is a high gastronomic experience not to be missed in Provence. It’s nothing sophisticated despite its talk and visits from famous people like Patricia Wells, Caroline of Monaco, Serge Gainsbourg and Jean-Louis Pons. Do not go here thinking that you will have a Michelin star experience. Go here for the laid back atmosphere of a Provencal bistrot meal to share with many other locals and foreigners. Do reserve a few days in advance.
Regarding the price, well, it’s not in tradition with what a traditional bistrot would be back in the good old days (count around 50€ per person). Some things do change but on the flip side, it’s practically unheard of today to walk into a bistrot with quality wine already corked and waiting for you on the table (more bottles come as you finish). You also get cheese (no supplement) before your dessert. Come hungry as you will be leaving more than satisfied.