When it’s OK to drink from the bowl

by Steve Martindale

Every region of France has its local customs and the Dordogne is no exception. One you may have seen out and about, and which some say is the reason behind the impressive longevity of the area’s inhabitants, is to pour a splash of red wine into your empty soup bowl before picking it up, swilling it around and draining the contents, or more concisely, faire chabrol.

The tradition originates in this department, and although your grandmother may have always told you never to drink from the bowl, the opposite is the case with this old ritual. Whilst some say chabrol and others chabrot, most agree that the expression means “boire comme une chabrette” – to drink like a goat.

“You put your spoon back in the bowl and fill up the spoon with a splash of wine,” explains Régine Rossi-Lagorce, a former chef and author of several books on the history of cooking. “Alternatively, if you are a bit greedy, you can turn the spoon upside down and pour the wine over the back of the spoon, although with this technique, you will often have more wine than soup!”

The idea behind chabrol is to finish the meal and clean your plate, although others swear by the health benefits, believing that the splash of wine, mixed with the dregs of the soup provides a tonic. Whilst the British may say “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”, the local equivalent is “Chabrol quotidien éloigne le médecin” – “Chabrol every day keeps the doctor at bay”. Indeed these purported health benefits are behind a different, perhaps more poetic origin of this tradition.

The Académie du Chabrol, based in the Périgord Noir, believes that the ritual dates back to 1580 when the famous essayist Michel de Montaigne was trying to escape the deadly plague sweeping across the region. Only one farm would give him refuge, the Chabrot household. The head of the family would pour wine into the remains of his broth after each meal. Believing that this was what had kept the family safe from disease, Montaigne took to drinking wine after his soup “comme le Père Chabrot”.

Whatever origin you choose to believe, it is a nice way to finish a good bowl of broth and not only will you not be scolded for drinking from the bowl, you will actually be helping to keep an ancient local tradition alive.

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