Eight years ago, my parents, Frances and Bernard Platman, left their antique maps and lithographs stall on the Portobello Road for a gap year. “A good friend of Bernard’s passed away, which inspired us to take up the offer from a fellow market trader of a stay in his farm house in Carcassonne,” says Frances.
“When we arrived however, we were greeted with a paint brush and a request to help renovate the place,” adds Bernard.
“I told Bernard that unless he did something about the situation, there would be consequences…” laughs Frances.
Bernard’s solution to the couple’s accommodation dilemma was to buy a motor home, in which they set out to tour not just France, but the entire continent.
The year turned into eight. The Platman’s started with two lines of attack on Europe: Bernard hunting for antique and Sunday markets, while Frances sought out kosher butchers to provide essential supplies. They have always kept a kosher home and this was important to them. But over the course of the trip, tracking down the butchers became an end in itself
The shops were found via internet searches, tourist offices and guide books. “Books were often so out of date” says Frances. “We drove all the way to a recommended shop in Barcelona, but when we arrived, we found it had ceased trading two years earlier.”
If they did hear of a kosher butcher they would rush there and wait until it was open. “We once waited three days in a town so we could stock up,” says Frances.
Word of mouth also played its part. “An English friend had told us of a great kosher butcher in Normandy. We went there and that butcher then referred us to others,” says Frances. They also asked secretaries at local synagogues. Their itinerary was often dictated by tip-offs. They drove to Malaga specifically to visit Mosse Forado — a butcher which supplies many parts of Spain. The trip led to an unexpected bonus. “Our route took us by chance along a hillside from where we had the most beautiful view, the Alhambra Palace which most tourists would never get to see,” says Frances.
They discovered butchers who were true craftsmen in their profession. “Monsieur Gilbert has a small shop in Perpignan, and is happy to provide you with any cuts you like,” says Bernard. “His were the best beef burgers that we have ever tasted and we were amazed to see he simply took a chunk of prime beef, minced it in front of us, making us a solid, 100 per cent burger.”
He was not the only French favourite. In Normandy, a “must-make detour” Frances says was to Boucherie Marcel. This superb artisan butcher selling pates, sausages and charcuterie has a good deli counter and stocks kosher wines. He even makes kosher foie gras and insists you try everything in the shop.
In Italy the couple took a house near Orvieto for the summer and hosted many friends for long weekends. Frances was able to experiment with local products like olives from the community groves and figs from their garden. She also was able to investigate the Roman Jewish community.
“It was here that for the first time in my life I was able to buy a leg of lamb and rump steak,” she says. Porging – stripping off the veins and sinews to make hindquarters kosher – is rare in the UK as it is costly and time-consuming. It is more common in Italy.
With an address book now packed with contacts and sources for kosher shopping across Europe, Frances and Bernard have returned home for the winter, but they plan to continue their travels — this time heading for eastern Europe.