Recently, the gracious city of Tours closed its narrow cobbled streets to traffic, and opened them up to its annual Foire à l’Ail et Basilic, a festival of garlic and basil.
Garlic and basil in Tours, the city whose specialities revolve around goat cheese, hearty rillons (chunks of pork cooked to a melting tenderness in pork fat), chubby andouillette de Tours (tripe sausage)? There doesn’t seem to be a connection, but the Foire a l’Ail et au Basilic has occupied central Tours one day each summer since the Middle Ages.
Then, Tours was undoubtedly central to commerce. Merchants arriving from the south were laden with garlic; they had the sunny taste of basil on their minds. One thing led to another, and now, every July 26, genteel Tours turns into a raucous festival of white, purple, and silvery garlic, and leafy fragrant basil plants of every description. On the menu for the Foire à l’Ail? Mostly Tourangeau specialties, but the famed Boulangerie Hardouin, (39 place du Grand Marché Tél: 02 47 76 02 63 and at the Marche des Halles) which makes the best bread this side of heaven, did offer garlic and butter-soaked rolls.
It will be another year until the city center smells of garlic and basil, though judging by fair-goers trundling their takings home, I’d guess that Tours will harbor, within its kitchens’ walls, those friendly ingredients and the savors they give.
NOTE from Paris: Hie to the tiny Jeu de Quilles in the 14th arrondissement for a fine and cheerful welcome, cozy dining at a long, central table or one of the tinier ones along the wall, and artfully presented food. The menu is anchored by fine meats from Boucherie Hugo Desnoyer, butcher to the stars, whose boutique is right next door.
Chef Benoit Reix is welcoming and warm. “I want diners to feel as if they have come to my home,” he said with a smile. When Mr. Reix and his co-owner Romulaud Le Comtem aren’t fastidiously satisfying diners, they can be seen relaxing at the bar which divides the open kitchen and the dining room, sampling one of their fine wine selections, such as a gorgeous Côtes du Rhône from Gramenon.
The ambiance at Jeu de Quilles is familial, the food deserving. Note, too, the extraordinary knives on the table, from Perceval Atelier in Thiers in the Auvergne. Perfectly balanced, you can buy them at Boucherie Desnoyer, or at www. couteau.com.
Jeu de Quilles, (45 Rue Boulard 75014 Paris France, Tel: +33 01 53 90 76 22