When you sleep at airports, you bump into weirdos. Then you have a long hard look at yourself because you are, by design, one of those exact weirdos you’ve just bumped into. I’m writing this as two Turkish pre-teens run around after each other and occasionally offer me some of their Haribos, while a bloke going to Zagreb for two months without any luggage keeps trying to ask me what the fried chicken tastes like in England. I’m boarding the plane very early tomorrow morning for a long weekend back in the UK, but it’s going to be a long old night here if we’re starting as we mean to go on.
Catching cheap early morning flights is one indication that you’re on some sort of budget, but actually sleeping at airports demonstrates that the purse strings don’t have much more room to tighten. The worst thing about tight budgets though – far worse than describing frozen-in-the-middle fried chicken to a curious Frenchman, or having your frontal lobes chewed off by the pre-departure lounge lights – is that a lot of the food you’d really, really like eat is off the menu. If I were living an alternative life to my already alternative life, I’d have spent each morning in France slutting my way around a high-end patisserie counter, followed by a light lunch of smoked duck, olives, and buttered wild mushrooms, before setting off into the mountains for an afternoon’s paragliding lesson. After that – safely back on the balcony of my boutique seaside hotel – I would glide through a dozen oysters, a lobster, a hefty squodge of beef tartare (complete with a yolk so orange it’d make any sunset sick), some breadisan art, and a half a bottle of champagne. Then I would go to the Local Jazz Club and sit in one of the jacuzzies I’ve just imagined they’d have in lieu of seats, and drink the other half of the champagne while my eardrums get licked clean by ribbons of gently-spiced harmony.
Alas, dear reader. I am sitting on an airport floor.
Contrary to first impressions, this is not a complaint. Because the chances are that if I ever earn enough money to make the above scenario happen, then I’m sure that someone, me included, will have suffered for me to get there – and no amount of champagne or oysters would wash away that sort of taste. A marker of my existing privilege is that I will never trade any amount of money for not enjoying what I do (or more accurately, what I don’t) on a daily basis.
Instead, I’ve had to find other ways of satisfying my laughably expensive preferences while sticking to a budget no bigger than a shoestring made of postage stamps. A more ethical way of quenching my delusions of grandeur than simply being a free-sample-munching-market-stall pest, is to go rooting around in French supermarkets for large tins of pre-prepared food. This sounds deeply suspect; a world away from jazz and oysters and sensual Jacuzzi moments; but the French are excellent at putting bloody good food in big cans and punting them in supermarkets nationwide for a couple of euros each. This means, essentially, you can buy a small wodge of bistro experience without paying an arm and a leg for it. And unlike a lot of canned experiences I’ve had in the UK (do not the mushrooms. Do not the beef ravioli. Do not, under any circumstance, the 28p peas from Lidl), these hefty tins of French food deliver on taste, texture and value.
Yep, you can get coq au van in a tin, which we did indeed eat in the vin; you can get braised pork with lentils; you can get cassoulet; you can even get tinned dauphinoise. All of them have been fantastic so far, with the dauphinoise being a real stand-out hit. We had it with a reduced-sticker Toulouse sausage just last night, neither of which reflected the day’s sunny 27 degree mood, but were delicious all the same. Most of these aforementioned tins serve doux hungry people, and you get an awful lot of food for your cash – the only thing you have to do is empty it into a suitable vessel (no, don’t inject it) and then heat it up. Serve with stale bread because why buy more fresh bread when you can soak older bread in the considerable tin-juices to soften it up a bit before using it as an edible spoon? This, eaten at a mountain roadside out of the abdomen of your sick and wheezing campervan, beats quaffing a lobster on a hotel balcony any day. Probably.
If anyone wants to prove me wrong, do feel free to shower me with cash. At least that way I’ll be able to afford an airport hotel next time.