It was Spring Break in college, and it was near a beach. I can imagine where that sentence takes you, but I was far away from Daytona or Cancun. My friends and I had traveled down to Italy from Angers, France and were now exploring the area around Marseille while I was studying abroad in 2010.
The night before this exact memory, we'd stumbled into the bar from one of the final scenes of Love Actually and spent the evening drinking heavily with young men that wore white denim, popped collars, and were happy to buy our drinks.
We stayed out so late that the Patisseries were just opening, which we rambled into and ordered still warm pain au chocolat. That memory alone makes the hangover I had the next morning worth it.
That hangover almost kept me in Marseille. But thankfully it didn't.
The next day my girlfriends and I ventured down the coast to Cassis. Cassis is known for their Calanques, these little inlets or coves of turquoise water surrounded by beautifully tall cliffs. That is why we were there.
We spent the day on a small hike to an ideal calanque. Well, my friends went much farther than me, as hungover Kristy plopped down at the first sign of rocks with sunbathers. Then they called me to say that I must continue because they had found the spot. They had.
After a day spent soaking up the sun we realized that we hadn't eaten much and were then struck with a sudden need to eat. We hiked back into Cassis and were welcomed by a line of restaurants with outdoor seating lining a marina.
While perusing the menus that stood outside the patios, we came across a pizza joint where no one sitting inside the short iron fence was eating slices or pies. Every single person had a large bowl in front of them piled with mussels and fries.
I had never seen anything like the dish and didn't see it on the menu, but then spotted a chalkboard with the words Moules Frites scrawled across it. We decided that this would be the place that sated our appetites.
This was it, the first time I'd ever eaten mussels (moules) with fries (frites). I had no idea these two items could go together, it seemed like a confusing mashup of the high and low brow. Fresh flavourful shellfish straight from the sea and thin crispy golden french fries in a white wine broth near the bottom.
It was magical. I had never really been a fan of shellfish or seafood of any kind, and this was the first of many steps that have led me to be a full blown seafood lover.
And people were being all French and fancy eating the dish with one of the shells as pinchers that would grab several fries at once to dip in the jus. Shell as utensil = mind blown.
As we walked back along a dark and winding road to the train station I remember being completely happy with the meal, the place, the entire day.
You see, it's not always just the food. Whenever I eat moules frites now, whether in a small French bistro or in my kitchen, a little bit of that trip to Southern France, the time spent on that Spring day overlooking the French Mediterranean seeps into my senses. And that is where the real magic of good food lies.