You know when you’re travelling in a new place and you suddenly feel right at home, or at least, a strong desire to make it your adopted home?
Brittany had that effect on me during my stay in the north of the region a few weeks ago. The strong attachment the Bretons have to their home, the vast array of local products and artisans, the beautiful natural surroundings between land and sea, the endless horizons—I was hooked.
I could go on and on about the kilometres of coastline, the warm welcome from the locals, the beaches, the thalassotherapy, the water sports and the walking paths, but today I’m going to focus on how Brittany got to my heart the old-fashioned way—through my stomach. For the rest, you’ll have to check out the video, or even better, visit Brittany and see for yourself, as there was no way to fit everything that charmed me into the final edit!
Local products and culinary artisans
1 – Buckwheat and galettes
Buckwheat is the star of this region’s famous galette—what we’d call here a crêpe Bretonne or, more simply, a buckwheat crepe. According to the Bretons, any thin crepe made only with buckwheat should be called a galette, whether it’s served with savoury toppings or sweet. The minute you add regular wheat flour (froment to the Bretons) to the mix, it’s simply a crepe. I have to admit that, based on my own failed attempts, it’s rather difficult to make a true buckwheat crepe at home. Artisans here use what’s called a billig to make perfectly thin galettes (and crepes!). It’s almost impossible to get the same results with a regular crepe pan. While some Bretons say they keep up the tradition of galette and cider nights, most admitted to me that they simply buy fresh galettes at the corner pastry shop. Lucky them! All they have to do then is whip up some toppings so that each guest can dress their own galette however they like. The classic in Brittany? Ham, butter, Emmental and egg. So delicious and yet, so simple. But as with everything else in Brittany, it’s the quality of the ingredients that lets the final results shine.
Several Bretons recommended I try out the Breizh Café, where owner andchef Bertrand Larcher combines ancestral galette-making skills with his love for Japan. I paid a visit to Le Comptoir Breizh Café on De l’Orme St. in the heart of Saint-Malo’s walled city and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I was pleasantly surprised by their Japanese maki-style galettes with classic or unusual toppings that are rolled up and sliced into small bites resembling a sushi roll. This also gave me my first taste of the region’s seaweed, which I had yet to encounter in the local cuisine.
Buckwheat isn’t only used in galettes—it’s a popular ingredient across Breton cuisine, including breads, salads, toppings, teas and as a simple side dish. We had the opportunity to take a course on buckwheat and its many uses at La Cuisine Corsaire École in Cancale. I loved the idea of frying buckwheat grains for a few minutes to make a crunchy, breadcrumb-style topping. I also absolutely adored it cooked in a rice pudding style—just delicious.
2 – Butter
You can’t talk about Brittany without talking about butter. My Breton followers are constantly singing the praises of their region’s butter, so I was excited to try it for myself. Well, they were right. It’s something else. A world away from industrially produced butter, churned Breton butter totally changes the game, whether it’s on your morning toast, on a baguette with ham, or in pastries. A pure delight! The top prize goes to Bordier butter, which had been recommended to me by several of our European readers. The classic, and most popular, is the semi-salted butter, which is cut right in front of you from a block weighing several kilos at least. The young woman serving us told us that during high tourist season, they can move nearly 200 blocks of butter a day—that’s thousands of little bricks of butter finding happy homes on the dinner tables of families from near and far. Bordier has many varieties on offer, and their website features some wonderful sources of inspiration and recipes. From buckwheat butter (my personal favourite) to Madagascar vanilla butter (imagine a pat on a crepe with Chantilly cream), there is a dizzying array of choices, and every last one of them is delicious. How do I know? Well, someone had to take one for the team and sample them all 😉
3 – Fish and shellfish
When most of us think of Brittany, we think of the seaside. During my brief stay, I ate so much delicious seafood, all prepared simply so as to let its freshness shine. Bass, sardines, mackerel and cod seemed to be the most popular choices.
As for shellfish, I had the best mussels I have ever tasted on this trip! Breton mussels have a protected designation of origin and are known for their delicacy. Quite small in comparison to North American mussels, midway between sweet and salty, mine came swimming in a cream sauce so perfect I was tempted to finish it off with a spoon. I arrived too early for scallop season, but the locals seemed to be eagerly awaiting its arrival. I promised myself that I’d return to Brittany one day to taste those famous coquilles Saint-Jacques in season, as I’m told they’re a far cry from the scallops I’m familiar with. To be continued…
In the meantime, there’s the Cancale oysters, cultivated right here in Brittany and served in the best restaurants across France. Mineral and just salty enough, these oysters are delicate and fleshy—you could easily down two dozen with no need to dress them up with lemon or any other competing flavours.
4 – Pork
Brittany is known for its seafood, but the locals are just as proud of their pigs. My favourite pork products were the ham and the andouilles de Guémené (in the Morbihan region). This star of Breton gastronomy can be served hot or cold, on a charcuterie plate or as a main course. I’m still dreaming of the galette I had at La Saint-Georges in Rennes—it came topped with raclette, potatoes and little rounds of andouille. A decadent delight that would be the perfect way to warm up a cold day.
5 – Cookies, candies, galettes and pastries
Breton butter is also the secret ingredient behind the region’s best sweets. My favorite pastry was the kouign amann. In Breton, kouign means “cake” and amann, “butter.” Bread dough is slathered with butter and sugar and then folded like puff pastry. As it bakes, the butter and sugar mixture melts, seeps into the dough and caramelizes, giving the kouign amann a creamy texture on the inside and a crunchy, golden exterior. It’s out of this world.
Next, there are the butter cookies and galettes, which can be found just about everywhere and are perfect for secreting away in your suitcase to bring home as gifts.
Last but not least, we have butter caramels. Salted or unsalted, these are one of my favourite candies in the world. During our stay, we essentially replaced chewing gum with caramels and I have no regrets.
- Breizh Café
- Bordier butter
- Les Terroiristes Associés, Saint-Malo (fine local cuisine)
- Kouign amann from Maison Galland
- L’Atelier de l’huitre, Cancale
- Quai 22 (mussels in cream sauce)
- La Cuisine Corsaire École, Cancale:
- Épices Rœllinger (online, in Saint-Malo or at their boutique in Cancale – the first boutique with its own test kitchen)
- La Saint-Georges (crêperie)
- Marché des Lices (Saturdays)
- Marché La Criée (Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. (till 7:30 p.m. on Fridays; Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and gourmet food trucks on the first Sunday of every month)
- Hôtel Les Charmettes Charming little seaside hotel, right on the boardwalk and just a 20‑minute walk into the walled city along the beach
- Hôtel Le Grand Bé (walled city): 4-star luxury with a warm welcome in the heart of the walled city
- Val-André Marine Spa (ask for the unique and extraordinary Escale Breizh treatment for a super relaxing gourmet experience)
- Hôtel Balthazar: A boutique hotel in the heart of Rennes, just steps from the Marché La Criée, shopping and old Rennes