Hot weather and cassoulet aren't obvious partners. But, even though it was 37 degrees, the chance to eat this iconic dish in Castelnaudary, the town where it's said to have been created was too good to pass up. So that's what we did last Saturday along with hundreds of others, at the 9th Fête du Cassoulet de Castelnaudary.
I really like the way that French people believe food and fun should take precedence over mundane things like traffic. Barriers stopped us going into the town centre so we parked in what we hoped would be a shady spot (P.S. it wasn't) and strolled up to the main square. Strung between the plane trees, blue bunting flapped and snapped while increasingly high decibels revealed we were closing in on the promised animation musicale non stop.
Restaurants, cafés, bistros, stalls, stands, everyone had some kind of cassoulet deal going on. What to do? A 15 euro package sounded good to us, especially when it included salad, bread, a cassoulet (with a free cassole--the slant-sided pottery dish that holds it included) dessert (let's not get excited here, it was canned fruit salad) a quarter litre of vin rouge and a cheery server.
Every cassoulet is different. Besides the essential beans, this one held a chunk of duck breast, a length of sausage, couennes (rolls of pork fat) and a piece of coustellou (rather bony pork)--in other words, all the ingredients pictured on the official poster.
Everyone sat at long tables under white tents.
Outside, several kilos heavier, we browsed the stalls selling organic vegetables, honey, bread, hams, wine and crafts, slowly making our way back to the Canal du Midi for the afternoon's entertainment. Young guys teetered out on a long pole suspended over the water and tried to retrieve a French flag. A half dozen or so corporately sponsored floats held a water battle. All were in costume. We're still trying to figure out why the McDonald's team was dressed as ancient Egyptians.