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I read this short story in French, about only 10 or so years ago. It might have been a translation, but I doubt it.

The POV character has a friend who works for a big jewellers company (this will be important later). The former one complains to his friend that he gets bored on Sundays and holidays. His friend advises him to do what he does: go to a train station, board the first local train that leaves, get off at a random stop and go discover a new place each time.

On the next Sunday the POV character hesitates a long time but finally follows his friend's advice, but it is already pretty late. In the train he starts a discussion about food with his neighbour. On a sudden impulse he gets off the train despite his neighbour warning not to get off there. Indeed the place looks dead. All houses are closed, no light in any window though it is already almost night. His discussion had made him hungry so he keeps walking to find a restaurant. Finally he sees light behind a window, and it is indeed a restaurant but there are no customers. He gets in, sits down and calls for service. A waiter does appear and shows him the menu. He selects the biggest dish, which is promptly brought to him. But then the waiter says something like "Here we serve it flambé" (and this is why I think it was originally written in French).

Now normally in France flambé means that one heats some reasonable amount of liquor to boiling point, puts it on fire and pours it on the dish. The alcohol in the liquor burns with a blue flame for a few seconds, slightly sears the top part of the dish and goes off. It is normally very good (and rather expensive...).

But in the story, the huge dish is so rich in fat that the entire thing starts burning, giving off a huge amount of heat. The POV character cannot get close enough to eat. Frustrated, he decides to drink from one of the bottles on the bar. Since he does not see how to open it he tries to break the top of the bottle on the bar. But the bottle does not contain liquid, it is a full object made of what looks like red glass and it shatters to pieces. By that time the restaurant itself is bursting in flames. The man keeps one piece of broken "red glass", runs out and manages to get back to the station. There he gets a train back to his starting point.

When he next sees his friend he tells him of his misadventures. The friend asks to see the piece of "red glass" and becomes very excited. He asks to borrow it to show it to his employers, the big jewellers. Next time he meets his friend he tells him that his employers are ready to pay a really huge sum for what was in fact the biggest ruby they had ever seen.

The man accepts to sell it and uses his money to travel and try one after the other the most renowned restaurants in the world to ask for the dish he had asked for in the phantom town. But it is never as appetising as the one there, before it was flambé. He remains forever unsatisfied...

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    The word flambé does not necessarily prove that the story was written in French; such words are usually not translated in English.
    – user14111
    Apr 13 at 20:57
  • @user14111 I agree it does not prove it. I just said I think it was written in French, but I agree that it might be a translation.
    – Alfred
    Apr 13 at 21:12
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    I'm not sure my meaning was clear. I was trying to say that English speakers normally use such foreign expressions as flambé and au jus and con queso rather than replace them with English equivalents. So flambé would be flambé regardless of whether the context was English or French.
    – user14111
    Apr 13 at 22:17
  • I totally agree with you and that is why I admit it could perfectly be a translation from English into French. However, if English speaker in a context that such a dish is served, would use the word flambé, the very idea of a dish being flambé would more naturally come to a french writer. But this is really not important. It might be original French or a translation from English or any other language.
    – Alfred
    Apr 13 at 23:27
  • The only word I know of in English for such a dish (which is widely known about), is flambé. It's a loanword from French like hors d'oeuvres. Here's an example definition in an English dictionary: flambé. In other words, "normally in English flambé means that one heats some reasonable amount of liquor to boiling point, puts it on fire and pours it on the dish. The alcohol in the liquor burns with a blue flame for a few seconds, slightly sears the top part of the dish and goes off." Apr 14 at 4:29

1 Answer 1

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La Choucroute (The Sauerkraut) (1947) by Belgian author Jean Ray.

As far as I can see there's no English translation; most of the translations below are courtesy of DeepL.

From this review:

The first is "La Choucroute", a comic yet disturbing text in which the narrator, a gourmet, receives a ticket from his friend allowing him to travel on any railway line. Letting himself go on an adventure, he stumbles into a town that doesn't seem to be home to a soul: he ends up in a restaurant, where he orders a fabulous sauerkraut that goes up in flames and that he'll never be able to taste. That's the end of him. All the other dishes will seem bland compared to what he couldn't touch, and this "lack" makes him irretrievably lose his friend.

Original text available here; relevant parts:

Last New Year's Eve, his bosses gave him a substantial bonus and a season ticket for the entire rail network: he happily pocketed the money, but the season ticket opened up a whole new world of bliss.
- Do you know how I spend my weekly day off," he said, blushing with happiness. I go to the station, get on the first train that comes along, without worrying about its destination, and get off as I please. at my whim. In this way, I my insatiable desire for the unknown.

[...]

The rest of the conversation hardly involved a change of subject: we drew a parallel between the between Alsatian and German sauerkraut. Then between those served in the Ardennes, garnished with hams, and those of the Austrian specialty, with chipolata sausages. At this point, the train, which had already made quite a few stops, slowed down again, and I stood up.
- I'll get off here; have a good time, sir, and goodbye!
I offered him my hand.
He held out his hand forcefully, and I saw that his big, cordial face had suddenly turned pale.
- It can't be!" he stammered, you can't come down... can't come down ... here.

[...]

Suddenly, before I'd got my fork to it, a high blue flame shot up.
- We always serve sauerkraut flambéed. House specialty," said a voice.
I didn't see the waiter again, but I said in a good mood:
- It doesn't matter, it's bound to be better!
And I added, but mentally, "A flambéed choucroute, that's a brand new recipe that I promise myself I'll pass on to Buire!"
But I didn't get to eat any... A terrible, formidable heat was radiating from the pale razor, and I had to move back on the bench.
I called the waiter: he didn't come.

[...]

- If I can't eat, I'll drink!" I decided, grabbing a bottle of garnet liqueur. It was very heavy, solidly corked and capped. With an angry gesture, I slammed the neck against the marble countertop. The bottle shattered into pieces: it was full glass! So did the others: the yellow ones, the transparent ones, the green ones, the azure ones.
Fear gripped my shoulders, and I fled. I fled into a horrible city, black, empty, silent beyond comparison.

[...]

But as I pulled the card from my pocket, a large piece of red glass fell out; it was a shard from the famous bottle. Buire picked it up.
I saw his face contort curiously. [...]
- May I take this with me?" he stammered. Oh, don't worry, I'll give it back to you just as it is. But... But... I would like...
- Meh ... Do!" I answered with indifference. He brought it back to me that evening. He was very nervous.
- I showed it to Wilfer and Broways... They're very... uh... discreet people, I can assure you. [...] They've never seen anything like it, and especially the strange irregular shape intrigues them. Anyway, we'll have to cut it into quarters, maybe six, and that will greatly diminish its value. In short, they offer you a million of your ruby.

[...]

I think of the sauerkraut and regret not having tasted it. I see it again and again: it haunts my days and nights. In vain, I ask the most renowned kitchens for giant dishes piled high with the richest spiced meats.
From the first bite, everything is ashes and dust, and with a weary gesture, I send the gourmet masterpiece back to the desperate caterers.
I've begged the most lavish choucroutes in Strasbourg, Luxembourg and Vienna. Yuk! I left, nausea on my lips, crying out my disgust and despair.

There's also a reading of it on YouTube:


Found with the Google query nouvelle fantastique train arrêt restaurant (fantasy short story train stop restaurant) which brought up this PDF file of some school's syllabus containing a literature exercise on the story, the Google preview reading "Le voilà donc dans le train vers une destination inconnue..." ("And there he is on a train, towards an unknown destination...").

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    Formidale! Bien joué. Une trouvaille excellente!
    – Valorum
    Apr 14 at 10:28
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    Exactly what I remembered. Congratulations !
    – Alfred
    Apr 14 at 12:36
  • @Alfred for the personal anecdote, I'm glad I eventually ID'ed one of these questions of yours! 😁 Four years you often post unique story-ID questions with "I read this in French", four years I search these on and off (thinking me speaking French will help with the results) and never found any, or someone else was there first 😄
    – Jenayah
    Apr 14 at 18:00
  • @Jenayah I am happy for you that you finally found one of the stories I read in French !
    – Alfred
    Apr 14 at 19:53

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