With a lot more to offer than just mustard, Dijon’s food scene presents fans of French cuisine with a plethora of options. I visited Dijon for four days, and in my opinion, Saturday was the best of these for food related activity. My day began with a mandatory coffee and pastry in our very French shuttered apartment, a stone’s throw from the city centre. Although I am usually against an early rise at the weekend, it was necessary this particular Saturday. Awoken by my coffee fix, my editor and I made our way into the morning sunshine, destined for Dijon’s infamous covered market.
Four days each week Les Halles market, designed by Dijon born Gustave Eiffel, lures in devout fans of food. Countless stalls selling typical produce of the Burgundy region exude sumptuous smells, from freshly baked bread and pastries to wafts of garlic from La Buvette du Marché, a micro-eatery in the centre of the iron-framed structure. It was here we began our journey, with a glass of Petit Chablis and six escargots, drenched in melted butter, garlic and parsley accompanied by a few slices of rustic baguette from a nearby boulanger. Regardless of the fact it was not even 11am, they were well received. To absorb the wine and garlic butter we opted for a madeleine baked by a sour-faced elderly lady; her cakes, however, were sweet, soft and an utter delight. Suitably fuelled, we ambled aimlessly about the market finding ourselves drawn to each stall. Finally, after much deliberating, we picked out some tantalising treats; fresh mussels from a smiling monger who channelled the energy of the market, a granary loaf still warm from the oven, dozens of garlic olives, a rich and gamey duck saucisson and an enormous slice of Emmental. With bountiful haul safely stashed in canvas bag, we made haste to the kitchen.
Unlike Troyes, we were blessed with a very cosy studio apartment, equipped with a small kitchenette. On the menu, Moule marinière; into the pan went shallots and garlic, finely diced and fried until the onions were translucent and soft. In a separate pot, a healthy glass of white wine, Bordeaux in this instance. Once the wine started to simmer I threw in the fresh de-bearded mussels for around five minutes. Once the molluscs had opened I swiftly drained them, careful to save the intense wine broth. Next, I added the mussels to the onion pan along with at least a cup of the mussel bisque. To finish, a large handful of chopped parsley. Not out of the pan for ten minutes, we had inhaled the mussels and soaked up the sauce with our granary loaf. It was a nice change to prepare our own food, especially with such luxury ingredients. From the market to the eating, the entire experience was a pleasure.
When, eventually, we had some more room for supper, we called upon Frederic, our host, to recommend a restaurant. Keen not to disappoint, he suggested an array of options. Overwhelmed by the choice available we asked of his favourite. Without hesitation he replied, ‘Dents de Loup’. With glad rags adorned we tottered into Dijon centre, through the rain and into the restaurant. We were met by young, smiling faces and eclectic décor. Danish light fittings hung low from the ceiling, psychedelic cloths dressed the tables and animal skins draped the seats, nothing quite matched but the clean finish, relaxed ambience and friendly service, strangely, made it work. The food, however, was far from odd. An excellent ham hock terrine was the perfect combination of meat, fat and salt, carefully balanced on a thinly sliced baguette and smeared in mustard of the region. We could only share an entrée after our day of gluttony. To follow, my editor opted for a second helping of pig. Her Côte de Porc was sumptuously tender, sheltered by a snappy crackling layer. Served with the creamiest of mascarpone potatoes, I was envious of her well-ordered main. Nevertheless, my steak bavette was nothing to be scoffed at. Attempting to ask for it ‘bleu’, I could only communicate my request by simply moo’ing at the waitress. At this she and my editor both attempted to stifle sniggers and with an affirmative nod she was gone. The beef proved to be a fantastic way to really sample some Edmond Fallot mustard, one of the major producers in Dijon. Satisfied, we opted out of dessert and instead nursed our Côte de Rhône.
Full but not finished, we staggered to Dijon’s Liberation Square. Overlooked by the grand Palais des Ducs, this was a befitting spot to sip a digestif. We ordered a Kir and a Kir Royale, made with locally produced Cassis. Usually drunk as an apéritif, these drinks were delicious but a little too sweet and sickly after our monstrous day of gorging. We did drain both glasses, and then two more, they clearly were not a step too far. As we watched the purple-lit fountains dance, which I felt cheapened the beautiful scenery, we discussed how fortunate we are. Beyond the food, which was exemplary, its history, the pace of life and friendly residents force me to recommend this city to you. Perhaps it was the euphoria of the Cassis, but in that moment Dijon was a dream.