It’s a beautiful October morning in Nice, our last day after a week of traveling around the small villages of the magical French Riviera. The brilliant sun breaks through the clouds after a long rain. Suddenly, it feels like summer again. I jump around small puddles as we walk on the narrow, winding cobblestone streets of the old town, trying not to wet my delicate new shoes (everyone knows you can’t leave France without a new pair of shoes!).
I am determined to find the best restaurant in Nice before we get on the plane back to America.
“Let’s just walk around, and we’ll find something,” my husband says. He balances me well by being easy going about food.
I don’t give up easily. “Wait, the last time I was in Nice, I remember loving this hole in the wall that served French peasant food. What was the name of it?” Oh, I will never remember.
Back at the hotel, I open my computer and enter my search: “Nice” and “organic,” but almost nothing comes up! When I enter “Nice” and “best restaurants,” I get too many choices. I read as many reviews as I can, but I still can’t make up my mind. Then, one restaurant catches my eye. It has a red awning and a handwritten note on the window, “No phone, no credit cards, no reservations,” and a simple handwritten menu was proudly displayed on the blackboard. The head chef formerly worked for the only two Michelin-starred restaurants in Nice. “Cool place, but not organic,” I think to myself as I continue to look for my perfect lunch.
In America, I have been trained to look at food through the “organic vs. nonorganic” lens. The French, in general, don’t care about organic labels, or what they call “bio.” It is not popular in France, and most restaurants don’t advertise it even if they use all local and organic ingredients. Small, marginal health-food stores that sell bio foods are meant mostly for tourists like myself who seek familiar comfort anywhere they go.
We once asked for organic wine in a nice restaurant, and the waiter frowned at us. “You don’t really want organic,” he said with his thick French accent. Maybe something got lost in translation.
“We don’t?” both my husband and I asked, surprised. “What do we want?”
“You want this,” answered the waiter, as he whipped out a bottle of a pinot with a black and white, homemade label. “This guy grows his grapes down the road. He would rather poison his grandmother than poison his grapes!”
Back to looking for the restaurant. “You win,” I tell my husband as I give up my search for the perfect organic meal. “Let’s just walk the streets and see if we find anything that catches our eye.”
Suddenly, from the corner of my eye, I see the same red awning I saw during my Internet search. “Wait!” my heart sings with joy. “This is the hole in the wall I loved so much during my last trip to Nice, and this is the place I liked online!” I leap across the street.
We squeeze into a dimly lit room densely populated by tables. People’s backs are touching and elbows are rubbing as they sit on small stools and happily dig into their plates. The chef, leaping across a small, open kitchen, looks more like a magician, setting cast-iron pans on fire and quickly putting them out. We are guests at his home, not visitors at his restaurant. The people next to us are sharing a plate of fried zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta cheese. They speak a language we don’t understand, but we can see by their facial expressions that they love their meal.
My husband orders lentil soup, and I order ratatouille. Half an hour later, our plates appear. After a short prayer of gratitude, marveling at bright colors and inhaling the smoky aroma, we dig in. “Mmmmmmm. Yum!!!” We’ve arrived. The waiter comes back and asks, “How did you like your food?” “Well,” we say, “this is the best food we have had so far in France.” The waiter’s expression softened into a huge smile.
How wonderful it feels to trust my instinct and intuition and follow signs instead of trusting labels and recommendations. I would take this vibrant, home-cooked meal made with love any day over one with the right organic label.