France is always so full of surprises! While I usually spend my summer vacation abroad with my husband – because we love (among other things) to experience cultural shocks everywhere – we had decided that this year we’ll enjoy some quiet quality time and travel, in France. We wanted to go some place we’d never visited before and experience that cultural shock that we knew we could even find in our own country. France has a wide variety of cultures within such a small space, it’s sometimes striking to realize the differences from one region to another. Accents, landscapes, cityscapes, architecture, climate, foods, beverages, etc., anything can vary, but always there is one common vector to all regions, and that is this culture we have of feeding right our souls and stomachs: we love to eat TASTY foods! Each region has got its own specialty foods, therefore we’re often up for some great discoveries!
Last week, we flew West across the country in no time from Nice (by the Mediterranean Sea) to Nantes (by the Atlantic Ocean), to pay a visit to my brother who is now living in Ancenis, a small town in the Loire Valley where nature is surrounding and where Sundays occupation for the inhabitants is to go vegetables picking at the local neighboring farms. Although we wanted to see a bit of the Loire Valley, but we wanted to visit as well the small town of Guerande, located on the Atlantic Coast in the southern part of another region that everybody knows as Britany.
Guerande is famous worldwide for its Fleur de Sel, a type of salt that is collected and processed in a unique way that gives to it a peculiar texture, and flavors the food like no other salt in the world. What the city is less known for outside of its region is its own estate, as it is indeed a… Castle Town!
Once you walk through the main gate, life is organized like in a real city (well, it is a real city…), with streets, shops, a church or two, restaurants and… inhabitants. It might sound funny that I put it this way (saying that there are actual inhabitants), but that’s because I felt like coming in an amusement park at some point. There are sweets and candy shops every 10 meters, everybody looks excessively joyful (and it’s not only because Britany people are heavy drinkers), some local women are dressed up in Britany traditional costumes, and there are Crêperies (crêpes eateries) around every corner. No cars are allowed inside the Castle Town, and only artisan shops are operating business.
In the region of Britany, any food component is mostly about butter, butter, and ô butter, and more butter, and butter again, then butter, and oooooops, Butter!! Everything is just loaded with butter. Though there’s one more thing to know about this over-used butter, it’s a salty butter, and it goes in all the sweet dishes and desserts too! How weird as it sounds, when combined with caramel, it tastes like absolute Heaven! I wouldn’t be able to explain how this is chemically processed, I just know that all three flavors of caramel, salt and butter really are working just fine! Just FYI, in the South of France, we only eat unsalted butter.
We had crepes in the morning for breakfast, but that was without counting on all the nice delicacies we would find on our way through Guerande market streets. My sister-in-law is from Britany, and she was so thrilled that we came to visit her and my brother that she insisted that we try all the must-eats of the area. Look at these nice caramel bars, and those colorful Nougat with various flavors! But the best of all were actually the most “local” sweets. First, the caramel sauce with salty butter, is basically a whole sweet on its own here, it is poured in a plastic cone and you can eat it with a little spoon, however one has to know that normally it is used ON something, like a crepe for example, or a piece of bread, or a cake. But no, no, no, here we ate it just like that! Plain! Then we had the Kouign-Amann, that buttery fluffy typical Britany cake that lightly crisps in the mouth and melt on the tongue, all at once. A unique feeling and, obviously, a very sweet and buttery flavor. I liked that a lot, but my favorite was definitely the caramel sauce.
Beside all the sweets, Britany is a lot about eating fish and canning fish. With a good number among its population being seamen and fishermen, the culture around fish is rather strong. The seaweeds are very much used as a purée on toasts, but also as a cosmetics base. Quite some other intriguing living stuffs coming from the Atlantic Ocean or the Channel Sea are used as foods. But the most common fish activity on the coast is about canning tuna, mackerels and sardines. And about displaying all the very good looking cans! They’re all very colorful and specially designed according to the various aromas that are combined inside to create original and complex flavors around the fish. They actually look (and taste) so nice that they are common gifts for family and friends in Britany. In example, you can find Sardines with olive oil and green ground pepper, Tuna with spices and tomato, Mackerels with curry and almonds, Sardines with spices and Muscadet wine, Mackerels with Provence herbs and Harissa, etc.
Last but not least, visiting Britany and understanding its tradition goes through music and dancing. Nope, didn’t dance… before you ask! While wandering around in the streets of Guerande, we came across a band that had settled on a little square near a church. Playing traditional music, I must admit they were pretty good and creating quite an atmosphere. A good crowd had already gathered under the shadow of a large tree, and lots of people had gotten organized in circles to dance at the sound of traditional music. We were quite surprised to observe that all generations were mixed together for dancing, as this is something we would usually not see in our region. And that was fun! We enjoyed our time watching them dance in rythm, and concluded that Britany people are definitely very joyful.
Created and Written by Sophie Rebibo-Halimi. © 2015, All Rights Reserved.
To make French food tastier, Guerande produces the worldwide famous Fleur de Sel. Follow my blog (or subscribe for free) and read now about it in Guerande (part 2): Visit of the Salt Marshes and Typical Lunch in Le Croisic!
Finally, did you know my first cookbook got published? It’s called Cookbook #1: A French Girl’s Cooking Adventures in Her Kitchen, and it’s available online, you’re just a click away, RIGHT HERE!