Clarence on Vacay: Ajaccio, Corsica
We’re back! Our vacation was kind of beyond decadent and awesome. We ate ourselves stupid, saw lots of amazing stuff, and got along rather famously. Let’s be honest here: B and I are a new couple. I think both of us thoughts of this trip as a bit of a litmus test of our relationship. We totally passed with flying colors. By the end of the trip we had an arsenal of inside jokes that I suspect couples who have been together for years would envy. I can safely say I like him even better than when we left, which I didn’t even think was possible. For your benefit, he patiently photographed his food and spent hours carefully recapping our meals in his perfect script in my food log when I got too lazy and bloated to do so. I’ve been a bit lax about blogging about our trip because of this heat wave (which I’m sure all you Americans have been experiencing in much more stark terms than I have, so I’ll shut up about it pretty soon). B bought me a oscillating fan, filled a bucket of ice water for my feet, and told me to get my ass to work. So thanks, B! You’re the best, really.
Starting from the beginning, let’s just say that nothing gets me hotter than packing for a vacation. There’s something creating this perfect object-world in which all my clothes match and all of my cosmetics can be housed in identical, 100-milliliter Muji containers that makes me feel as though entropy can be staved off after all. I was especially obsessive about packing for this trip because I was bound and determined to conform to easyJet’s barbaric carry-on policy of one bag – not one suitcase and a “personal item” (a semantic evasion that I take considerable liberty with when flying) – just one bag. I “mock packed” several times in the week before we left, much to the bemusement of both B and our friend BC, who seemed especially horrified by this particular OCD flare-up. But B is a sucker for saving money, so he seemed pretty pleased when we waltzed through security without having to pay an extra fifty euro to check our bags. While I do think we packed really well, this does mean that we were both sporting some pretty smelly threads by the end of our two week trip.
I had grand plans that of getting a good night’s sleep before our flight, but that was thrown out the window when I noticed that Raidd Bar had erected a giant soundsystem and rack of spotlights, strobelights, and confetti-expelling machines on the street by mid-afternoon the day before we left. I gradually realized that it was Fête de la Musique, a day in Paris where music is played outside everywhere. While this originally meant that there would be various kinds of pleasant folk music played in the streets, Raidd Bar has apparently turned it into an annual, pre-Pride street block party extravaganza. By 8 p.m. or so the street beneath my apartment looked like this:
The Live Hot Shower Show dancers were given truckbeds to flaunt their exceptionally well-honed bodies and ass-jiggling skills. My favorite dancers were these guys, who rhythmically faux-fucked the windshield of the truck for the better part of the evening:
I witnessed this collective hedonistic outbreak with BC, with whom I had gone to dinner and retreated to my place when we realized that the best view would be from my living room windows. I realized that it was a pretty great party when the entire Marais began to sing along to Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance and I looked over and saw anti-establishment, South-Dakota raised, no-pop-culture-nonsense BC hitting the chorus at the top of his lungs. B arrived after fighting his way through the crowd for nearly an hour, and the three of us got drunk and threw several hundred paper cranes that I had compulsively made in the past six months into the crowd. It was a pretty amazing night, and I’m now convinced that for better or worse, I live across the street from the most happening bar in Paris. Or at least the one that can throw the best party.
Exhausted after only a few hours sleep (let’s just say that nobody wanted the party to end on my block that night), we arrived in Ajaccio after an exceptionally unstressful flight from Paris. We only spent 24 hours there, but we managed to cram in lots–a pretty comprehensive survey of Corsican cuisine. We passed the first travel-compatibility test admirably when we both took one look at the long line of hot and haggard tourists waiting outside of the Napoleon Bonaparte’s house of birth, shook our heads, and decided to get lunch instead. The destination: U Stazzu (1 rue Bonaparte), a shop that sells award-winning charcuterie, cheese, and other Corsican delights. Here is a furtively shot picture of their vaguely cavernous interior:
I was particularly excited about the Lalique Prize-winning sausages produced by A Bucugnanesa, a charcutier that distributes their products exclusively through U Stazzu. This is the real deal, people. A Bucugnanesa has been raising pigs locally for five generations. Their heirloom hogs (is there such a thing?) are born and romp through their short lives in the high mountain forests of Corsica, eating chestnuts and acorns. At the ripe young age of 25 months, they are dispatched and transformés into a variety of amazing dry sausages, all of which are aged in natural rock caves.
After sampling their glorious products, all of which were explained by a very helpful saleswoman, we purchased a smallish salamu (6€) and a round of Bastelicaccia cheese (12€), a slightly sharp, slightly crumbly, altogether perfect sheep’s milk cheese. Next stop was Boulangerie Galeani (3 rue du Cardinal Fesch), a four-generation old artisinal bread and pastry shop that specializes in Corsican baked goods (more to come on that subject). We picked up a baguette and made a mental note to return there for breakfast the next day. A quick dash into a souvenir shop for a pocket-knife adorned with the Moor’s head that is the symbol of Corsica and we were ready to sit on the sea wall and eat our feast. B proved himself to be an able knife-wielder:
It doesn’t look like much in that shot, but oh man was it good. As a first meal went, it was a wonderful introduction to Corsican food, which as far as I can tell runs rather under the radar in the United States. Sated and tired from our trip, we hit the beach underneath the citadel. I got a taste of how delightfully New Wave and louche he looks while sunning himself in black Wayfarers, cigarette in hand.
After a lazy afternoon, we wandered over to the Le Grandval (2 cours Grandval), a great little bar mostly populated by locals. The owner appears to be a kind of unofficial historian of Ajaccio and his collection of vintage photographs of the town make for an interesting browse. Even better: our first taste of Corsican beer for our first aperitif on our trip:
Pietra is a chestnut-tinged, medium brown ale. It’s not just drinkable in the “Oh, hey, we happen to be in this place and this is their local beer, isn’t that fun?!” kind of way. It’s drinkable in an “Oh man, this is really good! Do they import this outside of Corsica?” kind of way. I’ve since seen it in Paris, so you Frenchies can get your fix. I don’t know if they import it to the States, but you ‘mericans should really look for it with at your local booze megastore (god, I miss those places). Pair it with some dry salami and some olives and you’ve got yourself one hell of a way to while away the early evening.
We then headed to the much-lauded (and rightfully so) U Pampasgiolu (15 rue de la Porta). The name means “The Poppy” in Corsican, a language that made my Indo-European-languages-obsessed boyfriend scratch his head in etymological bewilderment with every sign. It’s a great stop if you are unfamiliar with Corsican cuisine, as the specialty of the house are these huge tasting platters that allow you to sample lots of different dishes in small portions.
B took advantage of Corisca’s great reputation for seafood and ordered the planche de la mer in an effort to scratch a deep culinary itch he’d been having for a while. His meal contained–among other things–a rouget cooked in a creamy fennel sauce, stockfish cooked in a highly acidic balsamic-vinegar sauce, a swordfish carpaccio, and a seafood soup that made him make a series of rather inappropriate but rapturous noises. I had the planche spuntinu, which was comprised of old-school Corsican classic dishes. Despite the killer fishing off of Corsica’s coasts, just a few generations ago the perpetually-invaded and beleaguered Corsicans (like the Sardinians) were forced to live inland for safety. This means that classic Corsican cuisine is mostly pork, lamb, and sheep-based. The Planche spuntinu had a classic meat-stock soup, a veal daube served with creamy polenta, eggplant à la bonifacciène (basically a hybrid of ratatouille and eggplant parmesan, but better), a selection of charcuterie (including Corsican lonzu, a dreamy salted and cured filet of pork), a Tomme Corse with local fig jam, and a slice of savory tart with Brocciu and wild mint.
What, may you ask is Brocciu? Only the best thing ever. Brocciu is the national cheese of Corsica and was kind of a religious discovery for me. I guess you could liken it to ricotta, though it’s so much more delicious and versatile I’m rather loathe to make that comparison. It’s made from the whey of goat milk, and is available from December to June (the season in which goats are lactating). Serving or selling fake Brocciu is a serious offense in Corsica and can result in your restaurant or shop being shut down. I’d actually go so far as to say that you shouldn’t visit Corsica any other time of year than during Broucciu season. It’s that good and they put it in everything. After our huge meal at U Pampasgiolu, we wandered to a small gelato shop and ate Brocciu ice cream. The following morning, we went back to Boulangerie Galeani for the best breakfast ever: beignets de Brocciu (tender doughnut holes pumped full of melted creamy cheese and rolled in sugar).
Some of our favorite lunches while we were hiking and traveling in Corsica consisted of bastelle filled with Brocciu, spinach, and wild mint. Think of this as my Ur-Hot Pocket:
One such hike brought us to Pointe de la Parata and the Îles Sanguinaires. The view the islands from this Genoese tower was probably one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen:
Next stop: the doldrums of inland Corsica!
This post is awesome. It was one of the few helpful resources I found while researching Corsica for my recent honeymoon. I thought you might like to check out my blog (http://blog.misselisabeths.com) where I just finished the 4th of a series of posts about Corsica, my new favorite place on earth. Also, I mention your blog in my second post about Corsican specialty food and Brocciu cheese.
Hello Elisabeth! Thanks for reading! I really enjoyed looking at your posts on your recent Corsican vacation — it looks AMAZING. I have to say: I thought we ate pretty well, but it looks like you and your husband ate like kings! As for the Brocciu, well, now you have an excuse to go back, right? I look forward to reading your blog in the future.