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  • A Vegan in Picardy

    Picardy, or Pas-de-Calais-Picardie as it is now classed, is a region of France often overlooked by the holidaying Brit. Campers, Tuggers and Gite-dwellers may stop off here on the way to Calais or Dieppe but don’t see it as holiday material. We only drove an hour out of Calais and half expected a flat landscape and industrial towns and instead we got a lush, rural countryside full of French holiday-makers enjoying seaside villages away from the tourists. If you want somewhere to practise your French without being spoken back to in fluent English, this is definitely the place to come. The only person who spoke English to us was an eccentric 70+ year old volunteer at the steam train depot.

    France is a beautiful country and a great holiday destination but driving through France in August can feel like one deserted ghost town after another. Apparently, they’re all at the seaside in Picardy. Everyone is French, stylish, even more so as they get older, local, Parisian? Food is important and taken very seriously, the pace of life is relaxed and the emphasis is on enjoyment; extended families stay up late, chilled rosé is enjoyed from lunchtime onwards, Europop plays everywhere and there’s always something going on. We came across karaoke, a triathlon, a folk band and dancing in the town square and droves of people young and old queueing up for Moules et Frites and drinking 25l pressions handed out by the local fire brigade.

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    Une salade végétalienne

    For the travelling vegan in France, however, I have to say it was a bit of a struggle. Even vegetarian food is hard to find on the menu. We spotted a ‘soja burger’ in one place and a vegan salad in another, although on further enquiry the tofu burger had milk in and the ‘vegan’ salad arrived with hard boiled eggs, coleslaw and little cubes of cheese.

    Do the French have a word for ‘vegan’? It strikes me that the first thing the French could do on the road to embracing a plant-based way of life is sort out their word for ‘vegan’ and then make it nationally recognised. The dictionary definition is, ‘végétalien(ne)’ but no one seemed to understand it, let alone use it. I tried, ‘Je suis végan’ which I think is theoretically acceptable but in practise was met with blank stares although this could have been partly due to my pronunciation.

    How to communicate your vegan-ness in French, and what vegan means, simple version:
    “Je suis végan” / “nous sommes végans” OR “Je suis végétalien(ne)”
    “Je ne mange pas de produit d’origine animale: pas de viande, de poisson et d’autres produits animaux comme lait, fromage, buerre, oeufs et miel.” (I don’t eat meat or fish or any animal products such as milk, cheese, butter, eggs and honey)

    We pilgrimaged to Amiens, Jules Verne’s old stomping ground and site of my University Erasmus Stage in an earlier life. Happy Cow suggested where the odd vegan options could be found but not, as it turned out, on a Sunday. A central Lebanese restaurant, Zahle (also shut) spoke of a set vegan menu and had various vegan options but you’d have to forgive them their Friday Vegan Special of rice and fish. In the end, a ‘no mozzeralla’ pizza doused in authentic chilli oil by the river in the shade of the enormous Gothic Cathedral was a pretty fantastic compromise.

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    Amien’s Gothic cathedral

    Vegan survival guide to Picardy:
    1. Take an avocado everywhere you go
    2. IF you find hummus in the supermarkets (which is unlikely) check the ingredients for signs of shellfish (I kid you not). Best bet is to take a tin of chickpeas, tahini, an emergency lemon, olive oil and a stolen sachet of salt and make your own in a cup with a splash of Evian.
    3. The bread is amazing, buy daily
    4. The tomatoes are delicious, all varieties
    5. Pizza! Opting for the vegetarian pizza but with, ‘pas de mozzarella’, is a safe bet as the French excel on the pizza front. Really thin, crispy bases, fresh toppings and the chilli oil actually tastes like chillis (Zizzi’s please take note)

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    Pas de mozzarella, s’il vous plait

    6. There is no such thing as a soya latte – or even a little jug of soya milk to go with your coffee. Bring your own or do without and ask for, ‘une grande café’ for a half-decent sized black coffee. And then add sugar.

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