Le Auto Boutique
The French predilection of blowing things out of proportion is nowhere more evident than in the highly detailed, extraordinary Michelin maps, which cover every nook, cranny, crevice and petit village in France. And like many things French, once you figure out how to work within the ‘system’, in this case an unwieldingly large map that’s impossible to unfurl in the car, it works better than anything else it the world.
(Unless you’re trying to renew your French visa. Then you realize there’s absolutely no system to work within…)
But even the most astute scholar of la langue française would have trouble giving concise verbal directions to his French driver navigating the villages of Brittany. Most have the disturbing habit of names that have been roughly translated from an ancient, almost-forgotten language.
Try reeling off these names while giving directions…
….Ploudaniel, Plougastel, Plougerneau, Plouneour-Trez, Plougasnou, and Ploubezre, Ploubazenec, Ploumillau…
Still, for me, driving gives me the opportunity to visit my favorite food hot-spots in France. And in case you think all the food in France is ‘gourmet’, it ain’t.
(So please don’t ask me anymore about that silliness Why French Women Don’t Get Fat, since it will soon become obvious to you that ‘French Women Don’t Do Any Driving On les Autoroutes‘.)
So before I write beautiful, poetic essays accompanied by lavish photos of rich, buttery, golden desserts from Brittany, I thought I’d share my absolute favorite food destinations in France with you: Le Auto Boutique.
And the best of the worst is found at the Auto Boutique, inviting, ultra-modern structures that line the autoroutes of France, where you can refuel your car, and refuel yourself.
Each Auto Boutique is like a mini-village. Some sell fleur de sel and foie gras (imagine finding those at your local 7-11!), other times I’ve seen local saucisson and regional wines amongst the offerings.
Although the majority of drivers stop for a cigarette and café, there’s plenty of other options beside vending machine café express and soupe de legumes.
But I first fell in love with les Auto Boutiques when I spotted this:
The ouef dur mayonnaise.
It’s one of the classic bistro entrées. Here it’s been reduced to its most simple, most minimalist elements: just an egg, just a packet of mayonnaise.
It reminds me of something that you might be served at El Bulli, but here you can have it for the astonishingly low-price of only 1.80€.
Remember you saw it here first.
And of course, you’ll be able to choose something from the staggering display of Les sandwiches.
Once again, don’t let the fancy packaging fool you. Oh-la-la!…Le jambon fromage? That’s ham & cheese, pal.
But every once in a while, you’ll find something exotic, something wild and Provençal, like a Tapenade sandwich…
Ok, that plastic-wrapped triangle is about as authentic and ‘wild and Provençal’ as a Peter Mayle novel-ette about some dreary English bloke who leads a dreary life of corporate drudgery in London but receives a mysterious inheritance of a house in Provence so he moves to Provence, learns to make wine, befriends his charming neighbor and has hilarious adventures borrowing his tractor, and watches sunsets daily with a glass of rosé and a game of boules…and of course, further hi-jinks ensue when he finds a local, rosy-cheeked contractor to…blah blah blah….
Before you toss your nose up in the air, for the more sophisticated amongst yourselves, you’ll find les tartes, including the people-pleasin’ Quiche Lorraine.
So it’s 5am, and I’m fueled up on café express (the French say, “It’s not the coffee you take after dinner that keeps you awake, it’s the one you have at 5 o’clock”…and I have to admit, they’re right.)
Onward through Brittany….