The area abounds with restaurants and vineyards that provide many eating and wine tasting opportunities.
Like all the other regions of France, the Languedoc offers its own unique and intriguing selection of gastronomic delights. The cuisine of the region has developed with a strong Spanish influence, which was impacted by the Moorish occupations of almost 1000 years ago. An Iberian tide of new tastes and spices flowed over the Pyrenees and into towns like Toulouse, Béziers, Narbonne, and Montpellier.
In the village kitchens of Languedoc, bean and meat stews became more popular accompanied by strong Arab flavourings, with spices such as saffron and cinnamon becoming more dominant. Also, this influnce saw a wide variety and assortment of sweet confections.
Many northern French people considered the Languedoc “a desert of French gastronomy.” However, locals are quick to point out the rich tradition of unique cooking in Languedoc has been evident for many centuries. Racine, a famous 15th century French dramatist, commented in 1661, “that twenty caterers could make a living there, but a bookseller would starve; that Languedoc had the best olive oil in the world.”
Cooking traditions of the region have similar roots as those in Provence. The principal ingredients of local cuisine are olive oil and tomatoes, garlic, onions and aromatic herbs; the only difference is that local chefs use a little bit less garlic than in Provence.
Some of the more famous local dishes are:
Cassoulet. One of the "crowning glories" of Languedoc; a casserole with white beans and meat, usually including duck legs, or Toulouse sausage, or both, and flavored with pork. Many rural villages offer their own subtle varieties, and there is rowdy debate over many dinner tables as to the origins of this regional dish.
Gardiane. A Camargue specialty, this is a 'daube' (a slow-cooked beef stew) made with bull's meat. Cut into cubes and seared in olive oil, the meat is then added to the other ingredients: vegetables, black olives, garlic and smoked bacon, and then doused in red wine. Most usually served with Camargue rice.
Lamb 'sous la mère'. Suckling lamb, raised in the mountains of Lozère and the Pyrenees. Before they are fully weaned, the lambs are fed on grass from the meadowland cereals, as well as their mother's milk. They are sold throughout the region under several local brand names.
Boles de picolat. A Catalan specialty, 'boles de picolat' is a dish of little balls of finely minced beef and pork mixed with garlic and parsley. They are browned in oil, then onions, cinnamon, salt, pepper and chili peppers are added. The meatballs are then simmered in a tomato sauce with olives and ham.
As well, lying adjacent to the Mediterranean, seafood stands as an essential part of the Languedoc cuisine; offering specialties such as:
- Oysters (from Bouzigues)
- Bourride (fish with aïoli)
- Morue Catalane (cod with tomatoes and pepper)
- Crème Catalane (cream with lemon, vanilla and fennel seed)
- Anchoïade (anchovies with garlic and olive oil);thoroughly recommended !!
One will discover the many cheeses made in Languedoc, including Roquefort, a creamy rich and aromatic blue vein cheese which delights even the most critical connoisseur. It comes from a remote village called Larzac in the south west side of Languedoc.
Cheeses to look out for include:
- Bleu des Causses
- Goat cheese
Many people think of Languedoc as quite mountainous, while others see it as a poor man's Côte d'Azur. Some culinary confusion has arisen as well. Is the food ducks and beans or is it fish stews and salt cod? The wide, unique and varied geography of Languedoc is responsible for some of this confusion.