It’s a paradise for seafood lovers
Brittany partly has the tides to thank for the abundance of seafood. The tidal range here is one of the highest in Europe. This makes the coastline perfectly suited to farming both common rock oysters (huîtres creuses) and the native flat oysters (huîtres plates), which thrive in the waters of the Baie du Mont St-Michel.
To taste them, there’s only one place to go, the undisputed oyster capital and “one-mollusc town” of Cancale. The oyster beds here stretch out almost as far as the eye can see. Oysters are shucked so frequently by seafront stalls that a mountain of shells threatens to breach the sea wall like a high tide.
Spend a few hours in one of the unpretentious seafood restaurants and you’ll soon find yourself slurping down a cool half-dozen huîtres, grappling with little brown shrimp, prying the sweet meat from lobsters’ claws and getting skilled with a toothpick as you pluck little black sea snails from their shells.
If you want to be resolutely Breton, a mug (bolée) of cider – the drier the better – is a good accompaniment. Better is a glass of frostily crisp Muscadet, made from Melon de Bourgogne in the neighbouring vineyards of Nantes. (Brittany’s historic capital becomes temporarily Breton once again as soon as oysters come into play.)
It’s the only place to settle the crêpe vs galette debate
Most visitors, however, arrive in Brittany with one thing on their mind: pancakes. Luckily there are a slew of places waiting to indulge your every batter-based fantasy – from vans selling galette-wrapped sausages smothered in mustard to little crêperies like the Crêperie du Port in Saint-Quay-Portrieux that offer cookery lessons to visitors.
Traditionally, galettes and crêpes are eaten in the same meal. Savoury buckwheat-flour galettes come first, topped with combinations like ham, egg and cheese (the “complete”). White-flour crêpes are served for dessert. Forget about nutella, if you want to embrace all things Breton, you need to drizzle your pancake with salted butter caramel sauce.
à la bretonne! by Jérôme Decq via Flickr (CC license)
It’s the original home of salted caramel
The creation of salted butter caramel (caramel beurre salé) stems back to the 1500s, when Brittany was the only part of France to be exempt from a salt tax known as the gabelle. As such, salt was liberally sprinkled in the local cuisine – a tradition that remains evident in Brittany’s famous salted butter today.
It’s thought the next step came about in the 1970s when an ingenious pâtissier decided to use salted butter to make caramel. A beautiful union was born, and today you’ll find salted caramel in everything from sauces to hard sweets.
It’s a great place to hit the market
Away from the coast, one of the other joys of Brittany is shopping in the local markets. One of the best is in the capital, Rennes, where the second-largest market second in France (after Lille) sprawls through the centre of the small city.
Trestle tables groan with local produce throughout the year. The likes of rhubarb, asparagus and scallops in spring; artichokes (around 70 percent of France’s artichokes are grown here), currants and bundles of herbs in summer; apples, rabbit and mushrooms in autumn; and cabbages, potatoes and carrots in winter.