Dine like Bourbon Dukes and Duchesses
The most important gastronomic fact is... you’re in the heartland of France where it’s hard to find a disappointing restaurant, even the simplest. The gamut generally runs from good to outstanding. Ordinary consumers here are more demanding than in most countries. A bad restaurant folds fast, only the good survive. Just one caveat: beware of “exotic” restaurants anywhere except in Paris or other big cities where there’s enough competition to ensure quality.
There are excellent gastronomic restaurants in the Allier department that are more generally French than Bourbonnais, although they do use fine fresh local ingredients. If you just want to taste down-to-earth local fare, look for the following on menus: Charolais beef, raised in the Allier since the early 19th century; Bourbonnais lamb and chicken; anything made with Charroux mustard and/or St. Pourçain wine. You can’t go wrong.
A Few Specialties:
Pâté aux pommes de terre : THE most popular Bourbonnais dish. Potato pâté? Actually, it’s more like a pie, with a potato and “crème fraîche” filling in a flaky crust. Simple and quite tasty, it’s best served with bacon or country ham, green salad and St. Pourçain white wine. You’ll rarely find it on restaurant menus, though, because it’s sold in most bakeries.
Pompe aux grattons : “ Pompe” is the Bourbonnais word for brioche, “grattons” for pork rind cracklings. You’ll find your pompe next to the potato pâté, at the bakers’. It’s usually served with pre-dinner drinks.
Roupettes de coq: Rooster testicles. A delicacy much appreciated by the kings of France, who considered them to be the caviar of poultry. Francis I reserved them for his squires, Louis XIV for himself. Almost as highly prized are rooster combs. On large Bourbonnais farms, they were traditionally kept for the master of the house. Hard to find them fresh anymore but you can buy them preserved in brine from the people who make the famous Charroux mustard.