France, as you know, is a culinary destination. The cheese, the wine, the Michelin star restaurants. Brittany has its own food traditions and specialities. While visiting you will find that the dishes here are very different from other parts of France.
A lot of the cuisine in Brittany comes from the natural resources available, principally the sea. There is a lot of great seafood here and fishing is still a major industry in Brittany. A lot of traditional Breton dishes were originally meals for fishermen and farm workers. They were hearty meals that provide protein as well as all the vitamins and minerals you wont get while fishing out at sea.
In this article I am going to take you through 5 traditional Breton dishes. You can have a go at making these at home or try them the next time you are in Brittany.
I am sure you are familiar with French crêpes. But did you know that they originated in Brittany in the 13th century. The story goes that a Breton housewife accidentally spilled some porridge onto a hot flat cooking stone. Not wanting to waste food, she ate it, and the rest is history. Almost the exact same legend exists for buckwheat crêpes or galettes.
While you may have eaten many a sweet crêpe in your life already, the savoury buckwheat crêpe is a staple meal here in Brittany and definitely one to try. It is versatile too, you can have almost any savoury filling you want. This means it is vegetarian and vegan friendly and as an added bonus, buckwheat is naturally gluten free!
If you want to eat like a local, then order a ‘galette complète’. This is a buckwheat crêpe with Emmental cheese, ham, and an egg. Once the egg has cooked, the galette is folded into a square with a little window in the middle to display your perfectly cooked egg.
Cook like a Breton:
If you want to make Breton galettes yourself try this recipe.
Hot Dogs From Brittany?
Another way to eat a galette is a galette saucisse. This is essentially the Breton version of a hotdog. A grilled sausage wrapped in a buckwheat crêpe – found at food stands, markets and outside of football matches. You can ask for one with onions but never ketchup or mustard! Served in a napkin and eaten by hand, this is the king of Breton street food.
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The Breton stew, Kig-ha-farz is a meal so engrained in the region it is only known by it’s name in the Breton language. This is a meal of the common poor workers usually farmers or fishermen to give them the most energy and nutrients in one go.
The name literally means “meat and stuffing”. It is essentially a stew of meats and vegetables but with a bag of stuffing that stews all in the same pot. Like the famous Breton galette, this stuffing is made with buckwheat.
The ‘kig’ or meat is usually pork knuckle, bacon, and beef. But it would be whatever meats were available traditionally – there are a lot of pigs in Brittany.
Vegetables included in the stew are carrots, cabbage, leeks and onions.
The ‘farz’ or stuffing is a mixture of buckwheat flour, eggs, milk and sometimes butter. Placed in a canvas bag and cooked in the stew at the same time as the meat and vegetables. The solid pudding that is made is usually rolled out by hand and broken up to sprinkle over the stew.
This meal was perfect for Bretons who could leave it to stew for hours while they worked in the fields or waited for the fishermen to come back to port. Most recipes advise leaving it for 2-3 hours.
Although this dish is well known and emblematic of Brittany, it may be difficult to find in restaurants. It is not the most aesthetically pleasing dish out there and takes a long time to prepare. Look for a traditional Breton auberge, like Auberge de la Porte (see below), if you want to experience it first-hand.
Cook like a Breton:
A classic seaside treat. Mussels and chips can be found in almost every restaurant dotted along the Brittany coastline. The mussels will be fresh from the sea and accompanied with your choice of sauce. The classic mariniere which is made with white wine, shallots, parsley and butter. Other popular choices include Moules à la crème; thickened with flour and cream and Moules à l’ail; cooked with sliced or minced garlic.
Yes, technically this is a Belgian dish, but the mussels produced in Brittany are called Bouchot mussels. Farmed in the bay of Mont-Saint-Michel and the bay of Saint Brieuc these mussels are grown on ropes strung from wooden poles in the sea. Thus, producing mussels free from grit and barnacles with full meats and a cleaner flavour.
Famous the world over, the oysters from Cancale were eaten by Louis XIV himself! These oysters can be found in restaurants all over Brittany but really must be experienced in Cancale itself. Head for the oyster market and try them fresh with a squeeze of lemon. Once you’ve eaten your fill, throw the shells onto the beach below the market for good luck (and to give the seagulls a snack).
The French for oysters is Les huîtres. Huître is pronounced exactly like the number eight in French, huit.
There are two varieties of oysters in Cancale: flat oysters and round oysters. Or in French – huître plate and huître creuse. What they won’t tell you at the market is only the flat oysters are native. Those are the famous variety that were ordered from Versailles. They are the smaller of the two varieties and are fished out in the deep waters of the bay.
In the 1970s they were hit with a parasite infection and nearly wiped out. This is when the round oysters were imported from Japan to make up for the demand while the flat variety recovered. Because the bay naturally has high-quality plankton that feeds the oysters and aids their reproduction, these oysters have thrived ever since.
Can you eat oysters year-round? Absolutely you can. However, the oyster season where they will be the most full bodied and flavourful is between September and April. Or as the locals say, any month that contains the letter ‘r’.
As you can imagine, in a fishing region, there is a traditional fish soup that you have to try. Cotriade is Brittany’s culinary equivalent to Marseille’s bouillabaisse or Basque Country’s ttoro.
The name comes from the Breton kaoteriad which literally means “the contents of a pot”. Some people attribute the name to the French word cotrets, which refers to the pieces of wood used to transport the cauldron that the soup was cooked in.
Originating in the Morbihan region, this dish was created by fishermen and sailors with the part of the catch left by the skipper to his sailors or with unsold fish and shellfish. While this might make it sound like it’s a soup of unwanted leftovers, the Bretons use of fresh fish to create a warm and filling soup has kept it a regional specialty to this day.
In this dish you will find a combination of fish and shellfish found off the coast of Brittany cut into large pieces and cooked with white wine, aromatic herbs, carrots, leeks, potatoes and onions. The longer the list of fish used, the more refined the flavour.
Fish and shellfish you may find in a Cotriade: Red mullet, hake, whiting, conger eel, mackerel, wrasse, sardines, mussels, cockles, crabs, prawns, and langoustine.
The order in which the fish are added to the soup is important so that each variety is cooked correctly. For example, you cook the conger eel first and the sardines last.
Served with a drizzle of oil, vinegar, chives and parsley.
Cook like a Breton:
There are so many reasons to visit Brittany but I hope these regional specialities have peaked your interest. And these are only the savoury treats you can find here! Let me know which is your favourite.
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A travel and lifestyle blog. By me, Lydia. I'm based in Brittany, France and I am here to share an honest and informative account of my life here.