Monday, August 20, 2018

“We must have oysters in Cancale” our French friend exclaimed even though he doesn’t like these sea critters himself.

But mention Cancale to a Frenchman and the instant response will be ‘oysters,’ which have been cultivated in this quaint fishing village along the Northern Brittany coast in France for hundreds of years. I knew nothing about Cancale, but trusted our friend so that’s how we ended up having a lovely lunch here this summer.
Ever since I had a bad oyster eating experience when we lived in Warsaw, I’ve been skeptical of these molluscs. However, I figured we were going to be at the direct source of oysters so they had to taste good. 

In the middle of summer, Cancale is fairly packed with tourists so we had to walk along the harbour a bit until we finally found a restaurant that could serve our party of six. For lunch at La Houle, we ordered some local oysters, two orders of moules frites and our friends had one of the set menu specials plus some Brittany cider. The oysters tasted fresh and salty – just like the sea! Yum! Our total bill was 114 euros which seemed reasonable considering the coastal location.
I wish British cider tasted like this stuff in Brittany - kinda like a champagne-tasting cider.

Oyster Farming in Cancale
Cancale is known as Brittany’s oyster capital, a title we learned that is earned thanks to the high-quality plankton that grows in the bay, feeding the oysters and aiding in their reproduction. Apparently, oysters have been farmed here since Roman times; and even King Louis XIV had supplies of Cancale oysters regularly sent to his place in Versailles.

I was not prepared to see hundreds of oyster beds in the Baie de St Michel as our visit coincided with low tide. We saw tractors hauling long flat beds in areas normally covered with the sea so that the farmers could harvest the oysters. This whole new-to-me phenomena was absolutely amazing to watch. I wish I had my British wellies so I could have walked on the squishy seabed between the oyster beds. That didn’t stop our friends’ two young children from wanting to play along the exposed sand.
Apparently, Cancale’s oyster beds produce more than 15,000 tons each year! Wow!

For some of the freshest oysters, head to the nearby marché aux huîtres which is located right by the harbour. Here, the oysters are served on a plastic plate with half a lemon and cost around 5 euros for an entire dozen. In London, we’ve paid £3 (or 3 euros) per oyster (Fact: Oysters used to be served free with a pint of beer at pubs back in Victorian times)! Grab a seat along the harbour and watch the oyster farmers at work.
Across the bay, we also saw the faint outline of Mont Saint-Michel – one of France’s most recognizable landmarks, visited by more than 3 million people each year. This historic abbey is listed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites, but we decided we must visit another time NOT during peak tourist season.
Walking back to our rental car, we stopped at one of the many glace shops and ordered a scoop of salted caramel ice cream. Perfection!

Visiting the Brittany coast for the first time made me want to explore it more. I’ve always heard about Brittany and its foodie options from our French friends, but this trip was the first time – and certainly not the last – to explore all the tasty goodness firsthand.
When in Cancale, buy anything with sea salt added or just a scoopful of sea salt.
Love these old stone, French houses!

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jaz@octoberfarm said...

hi joy! i just had oysters last night for dinner. they were chargrilled and heavenly! i love brittany cider. it's better than anywhere else.