Of course that my main reason to visit Colmar and Mulhouse was the discovery of unexpected cultural heritage but I also had another intention for being there: having a look and more than a bit at its foodie treasures.
As many other border regions, Alsace succeeded to mix pretty well the best of French and German cuisine, with a lot of cheese variations - did you know that cheese can be addictive too? - accompanied by equally rich range of beers and wines.
My visit was too short, but I did my best to have as many tasty treats as possible for having a better gourmet idea about what this special region can offer. Here are my main experiences:
French pastry is delicate, filled with soft layers of delicious. In between them you can eventually find some caramelized fruits, with scents of cinnamon or cloves. Cheers to the French tartes, s'il vous plaît! You can eventually accompany it with a glass of Liness, a moderately gas-lemonade, with waters from Soultzmatt.
I am a friend of the usual German bretzel, and during my travels through the country, especially in the South, I noticed a much better dough, more consistent and flour-less than my usual provider from the Zoologische Garten kiosk - yes, sometimes I am as anti-sophisticated as that. The Alsacian bretzel is bigger, softer, golden on the outside and mouse-wathering on the inside. Should I connect the secret of the dough with the consistency of the everyday French bread - baguette included?
Especially during the winter season, Alsace and particularly Colmar, are a favorite destination for winter markets lovers. The usual street food menu includes the mulled wine and many meaty take away delicacies - meaty lovers will be delighted to discover that many local plates do include a mixture of at least three separate kinds of meat - on the savory side. The sweets can be as simple as a gingerbread, preferably generously and colourfully decorated.
I love food markets, in Berlin and elsewhere, because it shows the local diversity and specific food customs, in addition to the chance of grabbing some cheap treats, enough to keep you filled until your next destination. The covered market in Colmar looks very clean and quiet, compared with my experience in Nantes and other places in France. However, if you are looking for more action, you can go to Mulhouse where in the weekends near the Cathedral there are open air food markets with even more local products.
But there is a special food which I can never have enough: cheese. My passion brought me as far as going to a German dairy farm or spending some quality time learning about cheese at Le Gruyère cheese farms in Switzerland. You can always find in my fridge some special sortiment, the stinkier the better, trying at least once the week to offer myself some special cheesy treat. At Romantica Hotel-Restaurant in Colmar I ordered a special cheese plate, featuring a local Gorgonzola production - on the top, two slices of Emmentaler, bottom, and the new for me Munster - or Menschterkaas. Produced in the town of Munster, from special milk of the cows in the Vosges area, this cheese is a strong tasting but soft, with a high and heavy milk consistency.
Tarte à l'oignon - onion tart - is another Alsacian specialty, served with some fresh veggies on the side. The perfect one has confits onions and also some traces of mild cheese, which made it a perfect rich breakfast to inaugurate a day full of travels.
I am rather a tea sniffer than a tea drinker, as I am always happy to smell new fragrances, which I rarely find satisfatory when served in a taste. At Palais des Thés in Colmar I've spent some perfumed time learning to discern between various fragrances and combinations from all over the world. I particularly loved the mixture between roses and green tea.
Talking about unique combinations, the nearby Comptoir de Mathilde offers the saucy variant with pastis and mojito - strongly alcoholized - mustard. Not sure how to combine them with real food, but it sounded exotic enough to catch my attention and foodie curiosity.
Maintaining the same register of food curiosities, the next stop was at Jacques Bochel Confisserie, serving chocolate, many of them real piece of art - such as the flowers shaped ones. There are also exquisite unique tastes, such as the cactus-based pencils from the image or even some sake chocolate. Pas mal, pas mal du tout...
I assure you that in fact, most of the time was well spent tasting 'normal' bites of food, such as the small Kougelhopf - a German inspired brioche with dried raisins.
Gouffres - the local variant of waffles - and crepes are one of the most popular street foods here, and at one of the stalls, I had a bit of a savory crepe, filled with...surprise, surprise...cheese. The dough of both the gouffre and the crepe were so consistent and thick, impossible to compare with the similar street treats I had in Germany though.
In Alsace people happily drink as much beer as they do wine. The good waters of the Bas-Rhin river allows to follow the usual purity laws applicable in Germany. The beer I had was moderately strong and with a mild beer taste. Perfect match for some cheese, isn't it?
Talking about cheese - never enough words for such a love story - my last meal in Colmar was at Koifhus-Winstub, a relatively touristic destination, close to the Little Venice where I tried some mozzarella with pesto and olive oil, served on a bed of fresh tomatoes. Well portioned and deeply satisfying.
Unfortunately, my trip in this part of France time was relatively short this time - my previous visits always covered more than three days and included at least one wine tasting at one of the many wineries part of the Alsace Wine Route. However, it was intense enough to give me a sweet taste of what I need to think about for returning soon. If not for their delicious honey, and wines, at least for the cheese.