Where’s the beef? France.

Eating at restaurants in Perpignan often makes me feel like a giraffe eating in a bear den. I do not speak the same language, have the same table manners or eat the same foods as my fellow diners. To say the food in Perpignan is delicious would be a complete understatement, but being a vegetarian in Perpignan has proven to be more difficult than I had expected.

Knowing little French, I have made an effort to familiarize myself with the meat words: jambon, poulet, boeuf. But today I learned that there are popular meats in Perpignan that I wouldn’t think to check in my French-English dictionary. Today, I was unintentionally introduced to the popular local dish salade gersoise.

My friend, Lindsay, and I wandered into a small restaurant near la gare de Perpignan. With our stomachs empty and minds cloudy after three hours of instruction, we were prepared to consume anything put in front of us. Or I should say almost anything?

While reading the menu I looked out for those meaty words when I selected the salade gersoise. I thought perhaps this mysterious “gersoise” was a type of olive or an exotic pear. Lindsay and I were waiting for the gluttony to commence when a salad laden with meat was set before my eyes.

Lindsay’s salad had no meat so I asked if she would be willing to trade. Lindsay decided to try the extra tender red meat first before making the switch.  My friend slowly and hesitantly tasted the mystery meat. Once the taste hit her tongue her eyes darted to mine and took on a different color as she began to quickly shake her head in stark dismay.

I attempted to eat around the meat but the lettuce was hot with its flavor. I pushed around the salad to make it look like I wasn’t completely rude and just had a minimal appetite. I finished my friend’s leftovers, paid the bill and rushed out.

Once I got to ALFMED, the French language school where we are studying, I asked my French teacher what I had ordered. “Ah! Gizzard!” she exclaimed with a smile. My jaw dropped. Gizzard? I ordered gizzard? (In case you’re wondering, gizzard is a digestive organ found in birds that is used to grind food before digestion)  I am all for trying new cultural dishes even if they contain some meats, but gizzard was never, ever on my list.

I learned two valuable lessons at that restaurant: The French are a carnivorous people—and gersoise means gizzard!