Relais Routiers: Is this the best dining bargain in France?

Relais Routiers: Is this the best dining bargain in France?

For more adventurous eaters, dishes like tête de veau, a classic dish of calf’s head served with sauce gribiche (made with hardboiled eggs, mustard, herbs and a strong vinaigrette) or tangy sauce ravigote (prepared with vinegar, shallots, mustard, herbs) might appeal. It was the French ex-President Jacques Chirac’s favourite dish, so whenever he went near a restaurant, people would usher him in and sit him down for a plate of it.

After that, the waitress brings around the cheese platter, then the dessert tray.

“We don’t have time to make our own pastries,” admitted Bovin, “but we do make our own crème brulée, chocolate mousse and île flottante [soft meringue served in crème anglaise].”

While most restaurants have let prices lurch upwards, the Routiers have been holding prices down.

To keep their customers, they have to stay close to the meal allowance transport companies pay their employees, which currently stands at €13.78.

One way to help keep costs low, said Bovin, is having their cook do a bit of butchering. “If we do a sautée de porc [an off-the-bone pork sauté], instead of buying pork fillet, we buy a side of pork that our cook fillets and cuts down himself.” They also reduce their costs by buying their ingredients in bulk.

At lunch, the crowd you’ll find in a Routier is varied: local workers, builders, travelling salespeople and others who are just passing through. Truckers used to stop at Routiers for lunch as well, but they no longer have time.

At La Marmite, quite a few drivers go for the shower and are a bit spruced up for dinner, which is an important part – perhaps the best part – of many of these drivers’ days.

“You’ve got a fridge in your tractor unit these days,” said a driver called Claude Devois. “You could just eat in your cab. But your lorry’s already your office and your bedroom,” he said. “You don’t want to make it your kitchen as well.”

Up until around the 1980s, people would come to Routiers because they knew they’d find the same cooking they were used to at home. Now, most French people have stopped cooking like this. They go to Routiers to find what they’ve left behind.

“There are more and more tourists,” said Laurent de Saulieu, the grandson of François de Saulieu, who edits the Routiers guide. “What they are looking for, what they find in the Routiers is authenticity,” he said.

“Do the Routiers have a future?” I asked Isabel Lepage, author of Les Routiers: Les Meilleurs Recettes (Best Routier Recipes). “Yes!” she said. 

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