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Castelnaudary: Birthplace of Cassoulet

Carcassonne and Toulouse, in the neighboring region of Midi-Pyrénées, might argue over who makes the best cassoulet, but even they can't deny that this rich dish didn't originate in either city but in a small town midway between the two: Castelnaudary.

Cassoulet is a staple of southwest France, a hearty stew of white beans, garlic, pork sausage, pork belly, and preserved duck legs, usually served in a rustic terra-cotta dish. It's said to have originated sometime in the 14th century in Castelnaudary, a small, sleepy town along the Canal du Midi, southeast of Toulouse. Legend has it that while the town was being besieged during the Hundred Years War, its defenders threw all of their remaining food into one pot to give them enough sustenance to carry on fighting. It obviously worked. Nowadays, the official ingredients of the dish are guarded by the Grande Confrérie du Cassoulet de Castelnaudary, a brotherhood of cassoulet lovers and chefs who dress in ceremonial robes during town festivals to celebrate, among other things, cassoulet.

Castelnaudary is a popular stop along the Canal du Midi, thanks to its large pleasure port. It's also home to several cassoulet factories where you can buy tins of this tasty dish, as well as takeout versions from local butchers. Arguments rage over the best restaurant to eat cassoulet, but it's worth trying Le Tirou at 90 av. Monseigneur de Langle (tel. 04-68-94-15-95; www.letirou.com).

For information about Castelnaudary, contact the local Office de Tourisme, place de la République (tel. 04-68-23-05-73; www.castelnaudary-tourisme.com).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.