I spent my week off traveling along the Côte d’Azur with three friends. Not only is it breathtakingly beautiful, but it’s bustling with a different type of French culture than you typically see in Paris.We started in Nice, where we stayed for three days. Even in March with 50-ish degree temperatures, the Mediterranean waters sparkled and the sun warmed us up.
Craving an authentic and delicious meal on the cheap, we headed over to Chez Pipo on our first night to get a taste of traditional socca, a crepe-like pancake made from chickpeas. Between the four of us, we shared multiple plates of socca (five euro for a double order) and tartinades, or dips, served with toasted baguette. For three euro, we sampled eggplant and sundried tomato, pepper and tomato, artichoke and olive tapenade tartinade. With a couple of bottles of rosé (famous in the Provence region), and it was a perfect meal!
Ah, if only the next evening went as smoothly. Rarely do I blog about food I don’t like, but I have to take a moment to share one of my most daunting dining experiences. It had nothing to do with the restaurant, but rather my stupidity and inability to say no…
We popped into La Merenda early in the afternoon to make a reservation for dinner that night (you must reserve in person). Owner and chef Dominique Le Stanc left his position at the acclaimed Hotel Negresco 15+ years ago to open up the charming 20-seat eatery and has been serving no frills, market-fresh Niçois classics ever since. With so many great reviews, we couldn’t resist trying it out.
The small menu was presented to us on a giant blackboard. Since we were seaside, I was craving fish. I decided to order the tripe provençale, mistaking it for fish. Now for those familiar with tripe, you know that it’s not fish. If you are like me and confused, scroll down further to find out what is actually is.
This is how the ordering process went (complete with multiple red flags):
- First, the waiter gave me an odd look when I so confidently ordered. He alarmingly asked, Vous êtes sûr, madame? (Are you sure?) And feeling insecure, I blushed and looked up saying, Oui, oui, bien sûr! (Yes, of course!) He did the quintessential French “pfff” and returned to the kitchen.
- A few minutes later, he came to the table with a small tasting plate of tripe. How thoughtful? The texture and color of the tripe looked more like fish guts than an elegant filet. I didn’t even enjoy this free sample, but felt compelled to stick to my adventurous guns and continue with my order. Whyyyy?
- Minutes after that, a huge plate filled with the white, shiny “parts” came out. I don’t know how I was able to scarf down more than a forkful, but I did to be polite. It was disgusting. DISGUSTING. No offense, La Merenda, but EW.
As I mentioned before, the restaurant shouldn’t be punished for experience. It actually says a lot about the place that our waiter tried to warn me against my order and even let me try it first. Thankfully our salad and polenta were delicious and the bites I had of everyone’s beef and lentils were great as well. For all I know, I could have ordered some of the best tripe in the world! But honestly, I don’t want to know.
It wasn’t until we were sitting at a bar with wifi hours later that I looked up tripe online. As much as it pains me to reread this, Wikipedia read to me, Tripe (from French tripe which is from Italian trippa) is a type of edible offal from the stomachs of various farm animals.
Needless to say, “Caroline eating tripe” became the butt of all jokes for the rest of the trip. I actually feel nauseous just reflecting on the experience. But don’t let my mistake deter you from dining at La Merenda. Don’t order the tripe and you’ll fully appreciate this local experience!