1 Aug 2010

Corsican Gastronomy - Delicatessen (Part 1)

To begin with, here is a universal truth: when in a typical tourist resort, authentic food specialities will not be found in the most obvious places, i.e. down the neon-streaked, fume-choked main road, sandwiched between the usual tourist trap shops and stalls (identified by their plastic made-in-China 'local' trinkets, dodgy postcards, overpriced bottles of local spirit that have been sitting in the sun day after day, the badly-translated holiday guides that have gathered more than their share of dust, etc.).

Fine Corsican food hamper, Bastia

The authentic will be found off the beaten track. In Venice, why settle for a coffee on the San Marco Plazza that cuts right into your daily budget, when the one ten minutes away will taste probably nicer for half the price and half the snobbery? In Sidari, why put up with nasty fast food, when an unassuming Greek taverna in nearby Perouladès will serve you the best mezze? In New York, why follow the crowds, when a wander round the block could take you to that hidden gem of a deli? The same applies to Corsica.

It pains me to witness those tourist trap restaurants dishing out the mediocrity of world cuisine to the holidaymaker on a budget or in a rush: paella, couscous, stuffed crêpes, spagghetti carbonara, steak and chips, lazy salads, greasy burgers, with often the only dish affiliated to Corsican gastronomy being soupe de poissons (fish soup), friture (catch of the day), or assiette de charcuterie corse (Corsican antipasti).

Hotel La Villa (Calvi, Corsica)

Meanwhile upmarket restaurants are often more preoccupied with presentation than substance, losing the remote Corsican theme into an artshow, balancing that slice of confied chestnut onto the tiny medallion of foie gras, the latter strategically placed on a designer presentation plate between two perfectly-formed carat-sized drops of premium arbouse jelly set against a constellation of champagne espuma... You get the picture. Yet traditional local fayre needn't be out of reach, expensive, fiddly or fuddy-duddy.

While not claiming to provide a comprehensive list of traditional food products you can expect to find on the island (with maybe a bit of detective work involved), this article will give you a general guideline, and hopefully tantalise your taste buds!

If there were only one speciality to try (vegetarians, please look away now!), it would have to be the incredibly tasty smoked, seasoned pork-based Corsican charcuterie that is fairly reminiscent in taste of the Italian dried pork meats: Prisuttu (Corsican ham, slightly darker and thicker than Parma ham), Lonzo, Coppa (both smaller versions of the Prisuttu), Saucisse Corse (a peppery aromatic saucisson sec), Pancetta (strictly nothing to do with the so-called Italian pancetta that UK supermarkets churn out!). You will also be able to purchase wafer-thin Parma ham.

Figatelli pork sausages are a winter culinary must, preferably cooked on an open fire (or be prepared for a lot of smoke in the kitchen) and pressed with their juices between two slices of freshly-baked bread, and you have the Ford Mustang of hot dogs, according to I. Other deli staples will include speciality meat pâtés (mainly wild board or black bird), Corsican olive oil and pistou (pesto). (to be continued)

P.S: Further observations on Corsican charcuterie from The New Gastronomes

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