Brittany’s proudest contribution to world cuisine has to be the crêpe, and its savoury equivalent the galette; crêperies throughout the region attempt to pass them off as satisfying meals, serving them with every imaginable filling. However, gourmet types are more likely to be enticed by the magnificent array of seafood. Restaurants in resorts such as St-Malo and Quiberon jostle to attract fish connoisseurs, while some smaller towns – like Cancale, widely regarded as the best place in France for oysters (huîtres), and Erquy, with its scallops (coquilles St-Jacques) – depend on one specific mollusc for their livelihood.
Although they can’t claim to be uniquely Breton, two appetizers feature on every self-respecting menu – moules marinière, giant bowls of succulent orange mussels steamed in white wine, shallots and parsley (and perhaps enriched with cream or crème fraîche to become moules à la crème), and soupe de poissons (fish soup), traditionally served with garlicky rouille mayonnaise (coloured with sweet red pepper), a mound of grated gruyère, and a bowl of croutons. Jars of fresh soupe de poissons, sold in seaside poissonneries, make an ideal way to take a taste of France home with you. Paying a bit more in a restaurant – typically on menus costing €25 or more – brings you into the realm of the assiette de fruits de mer, a mountainous heap of langoustines, crabs, oysters, mussels, clams, whelks and cockles, most raw and all delicious.
Main courses tend to be plainer than in neighbouring Normandy. Fresh local fish is prepared with relatively simple sauces. Skate served with capers, or salmon baked with a mustard or cheese sauce, are typical, while even the cotriade, a stew containing sole, turbot or bass, as well as shellfish, is less rich than its Mediterranean equivalent, the bouillabaisse. Brittany is also better than much of France in its respect for fresh vegetables, thanks to local-grown peas, cauliflowers, artichokes and the like. Only with the desserts can things get a little heavy; far Breton, considered a great delicacy, is a baked concoction of sponge and custard dotted with chopped plums, while îles flottantes are soft meringue icebergs adrift in a sea of crème anglaise, a light egg custard.
Strictly speaking, no wine is produced in Brittany; although they’re often regarded as Breton, the dry whites Muscadet and Gros-Plant are produced in the neighbouring département of Loire-Atlantique.