Five Thousand Kilometres Through France

In the trail of the Young Lawrence of Arabia


Carte Gastronomique de la France, 1929

I was talking to – no, I ought to front up, I was having lunch with - Anthony Sattin, the author of Young Lawrence - A Portrait of the Legend as a Young Man (published in 2014), a biography of TE Lawrence until the start of the First World War. Suddenly, he switched tone and asked: “So, James, let’s cut to the essence of this. What are you going to do about the fact that Lawrence was a vegertarian and didn’t drink alcohol?” I hummed a while and asked a question in my turn. “Hmmm… And what would most people say is the point of going to France?”

The real answer to his question is the Carte Gastronomique, a map of French food prepared by a certain Alain Bourguignon (yes, really, and apparently he wasn’t behind Boeuf dish of the name), a leading chef of the day. The map was made in 1929, so a full 20 years after Lawrence was cycling around France, but it is a delightful way to view the country. Each town and region is labelled for its finest produce and dishes.

The Carte Gastronomique should be thought of in the context of the political age, when Europe was recovering from the First World War. Cuisine was a thing that set France apart, and this map was made to celebrate it, in all its provincial glory.

Each grey bit of writing you can see on the map above indicates some local produce or a favourite local dish, from the choux fleurs (cauliflours) of Roscoff to Marseille’s Thon a la Chartreuse (tuna with white wine rather than Chartreuse). See an interactive version of the map.