Strasbourg in the Alsace Region of France
When the region of Alsace is referred, what is really spoken about is the city of Strasbourg. This town was circled on our map during a road trip we took in France a few years back. After parking our car at the Airbnb in which we were staying, we took a stroll to the center of town.
I looked at my wife and daughter and quipped, “Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore”. Like Dorothy, in the “Wizard of Oz”, I knew we were somewhere a bit left of center and magical at the same time. We were technically still in France, but what we heard and saw otherwise, did not reflect as such.
The locals spoke German. The architecture was more akin to what we saw in Munich versus other towns we had visited in France. Lastly, the food offerings reflected cuisine from countries that were part of the old Prussian Empire.
A Short History of Strasbourg in France
Here’s the long and short on the history of Strasbourg. Back in the 13th century, it was part of the German Holy Roman Empire. In the late 17th century, under Louis XV, it was annexed by France. After the Franco-Prussian War in 1872, Strasbourg was annexed under what was called the New German Empire. Then it was returned to France after WWI; just to be annexed once again in 1940 by the Germans. But this time, it was only for 4 years and given back to France as a symbol of reconciliation at the end of the second world war.
Choucroute Garnie, pork and sauerkraut dish
Politics and wars aside, just as the Rhine River passes right through Strasbourg, the blood that runs through its vein is that of Germanic heritage. For me, this is best exemplified by a dish that is ubiquitous in these parts, Choucroute Garnie. If you haven’t had or seen this dish, it’s a vegan’s nightmare. Not being vegan, or a vegetarian, it’s a heavenly dish for me. This dish can simply be called, a feast of pork and sauerkraut.
No strict recipe as to what type of pork product there is to use. However, there is almost always one or two types of smoked sausages, a smoked fatback of sorts, and a fresh ham. Some places do venture off pork and add frankfurters made with beef or veal.
There are also different ways in which to prepare the dish. Some simply boil the meats. Other methods include steaming and broiling, and or a combination of the three. The most popular being the boil.
Dinner at Petite France in Strasbourg
The cold and humid temperature made for a bone-chilling stroll. We headed to find dinner at Petite France, the historical center of town. It was worth the chill as this part of Strasbourg is simply breathtaking. Hansel and Gretel illustrations kind of breathtaking.
Considering that Strasbourg was heavily bombed during both World Wars, Petite France seemed to have been able to preserve some of its original characters through a combination of sheer luck and great restoration.
Au Petit Bois Vert Brasserie in Strasbourg
There are a series of channels which hover over them, beautiful old bridges, connecting small patches of land or neighborhoods together. On one of these patches, where the channel narrows, is a brasserie named, Au Petit Bois Vert.Yes, French in name, but the menu Alsatian through and through. Here's the address:
2, quai de la Bruche - Strasbourg
03 88 32 66 32
It must have been that our cheeks were red, and we couldn’t speak immediately, but we somehow managed to look like typical Asian tourists. Seeming at a lost, and a camera hanging on Brenda’s neck. We weren’t acknowledged by the host as we stood there waiting to be attended (who, to his defense, was also playing waiter). He finally came over, stern-faced, and looking very much like Siegfried, sans Roy, circa 1985, and asked us if we wanted to eat.
The three of us were seated and handed menus quickly after we responded, yes. As I opened the menu, there it was, the real reason I circled Strasbourg on the map, Choucroute Garnie.
When the host/waiter; who was probably the owner, came to the table, Flammekueche (tarte flambée), their version of pizza, and the favored order by most American tourists was what he assumed was going to come out of my mouth, but instead, I ordered a local favorite.
He explained to me what it was, without me asking. Probably assuming I misread the menu to mean different. I don’t blame the man, I’m sure many tourists have, in fact, thought it to be something different. I nodded at him and told him that I knew what it was and that was what I wanted.
He seemed to warm up a tad after my slight display of firmness but still showed me who was the boss, and told me that I should have a Gruner with the dish. I liked the idea and happily obliged.
After a few minutes brought to our table was a dish, with a mound of sauerkraut, beautiful boiled potatoes sprinkled with chives, and an assortment of boiled meats. There were two types of sausage that were in the bratwurst category, a couple of links of veal frankfurters, and three cuts of pork, two smoked, one fresh; and a veal meatball for good measure.
The dish, in some way, looked bland, but upon first taste of the sauerkraut and a slice of the smoked ham, I knew we were in for a treat. After a while, it was hard to tell what cut of meat or sausage we were having, but each carried a unique flavor all to themselves. The dry Gruner, by the way, was an excellent pairing.
The dish was something special. It did not disappoint. This was no simple boiled meat platter. These were no ordinary sausages. Most of all, there was an unseen way in which they executed the dish in the kitchen that can only be attained by cooks who make it day in and day out.
I must have been emanating such great satisfaction, that it brought a smile to “Siegfried’s” face. Bellies full, the walk back seemed much warmer.
The Next Day, We drove to Lyon, France
The next day, we were on our way to Lyon. This town is referred to in reverential tones by lovers of food. Everything in this gastronomic paradise is excellent. Whether you are at a Paul Bocuse Michelin star restaurant or a family owned Bouchon.
However, if you were to ask me where the best place to get a taste of Lyon would be, I’d say the day market. Our favorite is the one that sets up in the 1st Arrondissement, The Croix-Rousse. Here you’ll find vegetables, fish, meat, eggs, spices, fruit, bread, etc.
People do their daily groceries, so if you are looking to live like a local, just follow one of the elderly and see from which stalls they decide to buy. For me, it’s the ready to eat food that is the diamond here. Offerings range from the ubiquitous roasted chicken to all sorts of dried sausages, cheeses, and pickled items.
There was one stall that caught my eye. For one, the vendors were pretty women; Secondly, they were doling out Choucroute by the kilo. You can pick from the bevy of meat displayed beautifully on a large steamer. I chose to have a little of everything.
Almost ready to pay, a gentleman came from the back, possibly the father, who wanted me to taste the pig ears for consideration. I’ve had pig ears before, but never in the smoked than steamed variety. It had that strange, sinewy texture and almost alkaline finish. It was strangely addicting. I had to have more.
Luckily, Lyon is a town with many steep stairs to go from one neighborhood to the next. It took some effort to get around the city. Not sure however it was enough to burn off all that fatty meats because the belt seemed to have moved up a notch.
Worth every pound gained. In short, few dishes taste of history as does Choucroute Garnie.
Here is the Dish Our Town Choucroute Garnie Recipe:Print
Choucroute Garnie, a Pork and Sauerkraut Recipe and Travel Story
An easier, quicker Choucroute Garnie, a pork and sauerkraut dish from the Alsace Region of France. This is Dish Our Town's interpretation of this classic dish.
- Prep Time: 15 mins.
- Cook Time: 45 mins
- Total Time: 1 hour
- Yield: 8 - 10 1x
- Category: Pork
- Method: boiled
- Cuisine: French
- 2 types of Kielbasa (about 1lb)
- 2 veal hot dogs
- 1 bratwurst
- Slab Bacon cut about 1.5”-2” thick (about ¼ to ⅓ lb.)
- 1 lb. of fresh ham
- 1 whole onion
- 2 large potatoes
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 2 cups of white wine
- Create a bouquet garni filled with cloves, fennel seed, whole allspice, and caraway seed.
- Olive Oil
- In a large pot or Dutch oven heat some olive oil over medium flame.
- Take all your meats and toss in the hot oil, just enough that the skin turns opaque on the sausages and some of the fat glistens on the cuts of meat. Remove and set aside.
- Turn up the heat and add onions and garlic. After about 5 minutes, add the wine, the bouquet garni,
- Add the meats back to the pot. Bring heat back to medium. Cover and let cook for 30 - 45 minutes. If the liquid renders down too quickly, add cold water. If you have a steamer, just boil meats for 30 minutes and the rest of the time in the steamer. You can leave the meats in the steamer for quite some time to keep hot. It doesn’t compromise the taste, as opposed to boiling for too long.
- Keep potatoes boiling until ready (if you can pierce it with a fork, they’re ready.
- On a large platter, line with sauerkraut and lay meats and potatoes over. Serve with smooth and granular mustards.
- I also like to render down the onion and garlic and make a stew-like sauce to serve over the potatoes.
- Serving Size: 8 - 10
Keywords: choucroute garni, boiled meats
Pair with a dry Reisling.
Where to have Charcroute Garnie in New York City:
As opposed to a restaurant, I suggest you buy all your ingredients from J. Baczynsky Meat Market. This is an East Village institution. It belongs to a part of the city which was considered the enclave for Eastern European immigrants. They not only have a great range of smoked sausages and meats, but also excellent homemade sauerkraut.
If you are staying in a hotel and don’t have a kitchen, there is the very Parisian chic, Benoit Bistro. Another great option is Bar Boulud. Both have a great atmosphere, excellent wine selections and above par Choucroute Garnie.
Where to have Charcroute Garnie in the World:
Refer to the post above (Strasbourg and Lyon)Refer to the post above (Strasbourg and Lyon)