The walk around Montpellier resulted in needing to have lunch so we dove into one of those intimate little lunch and dinner places that seem to appear as soon as one gets hungry, especially in France and even more so in the south of France.
We were shown our seat and left to ponder the menu including a wine list. The atmosphere was intimate with lighting subdued and with all sound reduced to a sotto voce. The garcon in white jacket and with the right un-pretentious manner, putting even the most belligerent customer at ease, came around our table to take the lunch order. The choice by Helvi was a sound one, a piece of top side beef with vegetables and ‘Pomme de Frites’. She was asked for her preferred choice of the ‘boeuf’ to be rare, medium or well-done. Medium was her choice.
I had chosen the ‘Beef Tartar’, and told the garcon to have it ‘medium’ cooked as well. He laughed heartily but I did not really understand the finer points of his laughter until after the dish arrived. A plate of raw minced steak with a raw egg in the middle of it was what finally turned up on our dimly lit table. There was nothing cooked about it, never mind the ‘medium’ part of it.
I bravely finished the plate but Helvi sensed my lack of enthusiasm and asked if everything was alright. I confessed my total ignorance of beef tartar and thought that the dish was a kind of steak done rare. A bit Russian perhaps, with images of horse riding Tartars doing the cooking of the meat on a fire after a fierce battle deep inside the Crimea. This embarrassing dereliction of culinary knowledge has been a source of endless mirth and enlightenment to our friends when the tale of medium cooked ‘beef tartar’ at Montpellier gets re-told by my beloved wife. It has been an ice breaker at many a social evening.
In the case of readers being surprised by this embarrassment, please consider that so many of my friends probably think nothing of eating vegemite, a food so horrendous to look at, so terrible to contemplate inside its brown jar, that I feel justified in making slight of this minor slip up.