Yesterday, on the recommendation of a friend, we went to a restaurant in Les Halles (the indoor marketplace) in Narbonne. It was quite an event!
Sizeable French cities usually have a large indoor “covered” marketplace where locals go to buy fresh and prepared foods. These buildings, called halles, house many vendors’ stalls – mostly permanent – selling cheeses, fish, shellfish, every kind of meat, seasonal fruits and vegetables, sweets, eggs, breads and other pastries – you name it. If it’s edible, and it’s both local and seasonal, it will be there.
Nestled in between the various stalls are small restaurants, and bars (because shopping makes one very thirsty, not to mention hungry). These tend to be very jovial spots, with groups of men and women of all ages, chatting, laughing and generally having a very good time. The longer they stay, the louder and rosier-cheeked they get. In fact, it becomes abundantly clear that some of them have been sitting there, nursing one glass of wine after another, for a good part of the morning.
Les Halles de Narbonne ~
I love this vintage postcard of Les Halles de Narbonne.
Lunch Chez Bebelle ~
The restaurant we had been told about, Chez Bebelle, is on one of the outer edges of Les Halles, surrounded by various butchers. In fact, this is a family affair, with three generations participating and working together. It’s also a rugby affair – father and son both having played for Narbonne’s rugby team, RCNM. This becomes quite evident once you are seated and begin to watch the spectacle that is lunch service here.
Father, son and grandson (above)
L’équipe – the restaurant team (Maman Nadine and Papa André at the top):
The rugby part comes in when you place your order. There are both a beef butcher and a horse meat butcher (boucher chevaline), just a few meters away, across the aisle from the restaurant. (There is also a poultry butcher along one side, which is occasionally involved.) Gilles “Le Boss” shouts (frequently with a megaphone) a list of cuts of meat that have just been ordered, in the direction of one butcher or the other. He then puts down the megaphone and looks over to the butcher. The butcher, for his part, is prepared with fresh cuts of meat, wrapped in white butcher’s paper, which he then tosses – rugby style – over the heads of standers-by, to Gilles, who expertly catches the packages, one by one. Gilles then writes the customer’s name and la cuissance (how they want it cooked – from bleu, which is practically raw — to well-done, which no self-respecting Frenchman would ever eat) and hands them to his sister, Johanna, who manages the plancha (hot griddle).
The boucherie (beef butcher, below) is a family member, too.
Gilles (below in the white shirt) yelling orders to the beef butcher across the aisle. I was told this butcher is his brother.
My placemat, showing the team and the menu:tartare au cheval (horse meat tartare) was simply delicious …
… as was my entrecôte de bœuf grillée (grilled beef rib steak).
You can also order tapas of meats or cheeses but frankly, the main courses are so filling, I’m not sure if that would be wise. Ditto with the desserts.
Here are three short videos I took of some of the action:
WARNING: there is nothing peaceful about this place! If you go to Chez Bébelle, be prepared for a noisy, raucous and absolutely unforgettable, fun-filled experience.