Toulouse

Ask the French which city is the culinary capital of France. They’ll either say Lyon or Toulouse. Chances are, a healthy debate will ensue.

Toulouse isn’t exactly known for iconic/touristic landmarks. This ‘pink city’ is a nice medieval town, home to the huge company that is Airbus (yes, Boeing’s ‘best friend’). It’s the fourth largest city in France. Duck is bountiful in this part of France (southwest). Thanks to my travel buddy, who spent ten months in Toulouse on a work assignment, everything I ate in this medieval town was just delicious.

My top tens…

(10) French petite pastries from Pâtisserie Conté

Pâtisserie Conté’s is a family-run business, and one of the oldest bakeshops in Toulouse. We were first tempted by the macaroons (Tis only necessary to have a macaroon whilst in France), which were really nice. So nice that I don’t seem to have photos of them! Might’ve wolfed them down too eagerly. Then we came back the following day for these petite pastries. Lots of locals and lots of takeaways.

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(9) Pont neuf view

The literal translation of Pont Neuf is “new bridge”. But there’s nothing new about this 16th century bridge which crosses the Garonne River. After stuffing our faces with the culinary delights Toulouse had to offer, walking off the calories was called for. It was a nice walk leading up to Pont Neuf.

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(8) Walking around the pink city

Toulouse is called the pink city because when the sun hits her red bricked building, she blushes!

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Not a lot of super tall buildings here. They’ve preserved the old world feel. Cobbled stone streets and old churches. There are two Unesco World Heritage sites in Toulouse: the Canal du Midi and the Basilica of St. Sernin, which is nearly a thousand years old!

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Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Toulouse or the Toulouse Cathedral is also rather interesting. Very tall ceilings!

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(7) French Christmas Market

The Germans have dibs on the best Christmas markets in Europe, in my opinion. The Toulouse Christmas market showed me how the French do markets. With lots of crepes, cheesy mashed potatoes, vin chard (hot wine), Toulouse sausages, and so many other goodies! The atmosphere’s quite pleasant as well. So pleasant that a stranger who spoke zero English gave me a bag of churros for free!

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(6) Cassoulet

Arguably the signature dish of the city. I asked my travel buddy what was in it. Various things! White beans, pork, beef, sausage, and duck. All stewed in a cassole for a few hours. This dish is pretty heavy, and it makes sense to have it in the winter time when the body needs lots of energy. It was hearty and comforting. I suggest conditioning oneself before braving the cassoulet challenge. It makes lots of sense to have this over lunch with an appetite bordering on ravenous.

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(5) Capitole

The heart of the city is where all the action happens. Tis the seat of the municipal administration of Toulouse. This area is lined with restaurants, mostly a tad more expensive for the flocks of tourists. The Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse which houses the opera and the symphony can also be found here. Everything else in Toulouse is accessible through the alleyways connecting to the Capitole.

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(4) Victor Hugo Market & Restaurants

I’ve always fancied going to markets to check out the local produce. This reminds me of Barcelona’s La Boqueria, offering a nice selection of local specialties. Walking around the market was a feast for the senses. Lots of interesting things, furry dead rabbits, terrine, meats. This is also a good place to purchase French goodies to be taken home. Samaran’s stall had a wide array of choices and although the vendors spoke little English, they were friendly enough to make recommendations.

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Just above the market was a floor crammed with restaurants and naturally, diners who were hungry for lunch. Our 20 euros went a long way here! Three courses and a glass of wine. Good value for the quality of food they served. The restaurants either specialise in seafood or French cuisine, mostly the famous cassoulet or canard (duck). The duck steak was divine, tender and tasty. I had quite a memorable scoop of Madagascar vanilla ice cream here.

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(2) Le Pref degustation

Le Pref is a neighbourhood restaurant, just a stone’s throw away from Sant Etienne church. This place holds a special place in Keyce’s heart. She adores and dreams of the sweet breads here (and they had a pretty interesting texture). She made dinner reservations a few days before. When the evening started, we were one of two parties in the restaurant. Half an hour later, it started to fill up with locals. The staff was young and friendly. The chef seemed to be Asian (who knew his French cuisine very well!).

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My favourite dish of this Le pref meal was the starter. A mini pillow of heavenly goodness. Whole scallops in ravioli, swimming in a sea of rich ceps (mushroom) sauce.

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Our neighbouring diners orders the entrecôte (mouthwatering steak from a premium cut of beef) and it was huge! A caveman’s dream. I was too shy to take a photo!

(1) Foie Gras

I apologise to the animal rights activists out there. But foie gras is amazing. I try not to imagine the force-fed duck, every time I enjoy a plateful of fattened duck liver. Foie gras in Toulouse is huge. Huge in serving size and in taste! Rich, velvety, and just oh-so-good. Prepared cold (in a terrine, pate, or parfait) or hot (grilled or pan-seared), this decadent French delicacy can be enjoyed in a multitude of ways. Thank you, southwest France.

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