There seems to be a high concentration of special cuisine in Brittany. France in general is known for its cuisine, of course, but this truly ancient and aquatic corner of the country has put its own stamp on the pillars of cuisine throughout the centuries.
This isn't an exhaustive list of the uniqueness of the cuisine of Brittany by any means. Rather it's an overview of what a few items we saw again and again during our three month house sit there. Most of it can only be found in Brittany, so sadly you aren't likely to find these items at your local grocer. On a positive note, it's a great reason to visit this unique region of France, so you can delight in the cuisine yourself!
The Cuisine of Brittany: Seafood
There are tradeoffs in being in Brittany in the winter. Many establishments are closed or offer very shortened hours. There's a lot of rain and wind BUT it's not at all crowded and, most importantly, it's oyster and mussel time. Brittany is known for its oysters, and produces 50% of all the oysters in France, but any of the fish and shellfish we've sampled from this region has been superb.
Oysters - we had oysters multiple times on our visit to Brittany. They vary from area to area and we can't tell you that one was better than another. They were all among the best we've had. Jill doesn't really like oysters but found herself going back for more.
Mussels - there's a reason moules frites and moules mariniere frequent menus at brasseries around the world. These delicious beauties are especially fantastic here. We purchased some for NYE at the Saturday market in Carhaix and they did not disappoint. They feel so luxurious but are so inexpensive. I think we paid 4 Euro for a kilo (plenty for two people) and only one in the bunch didn't open.
Langoustines - I don't think these shrimp/lobster hybrids are particularly Breton but they are abundant at markets around the towns here. They range in size but are always still alive when you buy them. We had a delicious dinner of these little guys for Christmas Eve. So if you can stomach killing your dinner, go for the langoustines!
The Cuisine of Brittany: Cider
I am no cider expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I sure tried to become one while in Brittany. It is literally on every menu in every restaurant. After talking to a woman at a cidery we learned that cider in Brittany used to be a farmer's drink. Everybody made cider and they made it for themselves. It wasn't until after the war that cider it was marketed as an alternative to other fancy drinks in France - your Bordeaux and Champagne for example - and to do this they paired it with crepes. Because: France!
Interesting side note: the woman at the cidery also told us that Normandy used to produce all the cider for France, but the war destroyed all of the trees (sad) and the production shifted west, to Brittany.
The Cuisine of Brittany: Galettes/Crepes
I think at this point Jill will have eaten her weight in galettes while we are in Brittany. She is absolutely mad for them. Galettes are the cousin to crepes. They're made with buckwheat flour and seem to be less sweet. They can come savory or sweet, though we have stuck to the savory option. It seems every town has several (if not dozens) of creperies and many have the same flavor profile. The other fantastic thing about galettes and creperies in Brittany, there's also a cup of cider on offer. Cider and galettes/crepes are the best of friends, and we got to know one another well.
There is no picture of the crepes as they don't photograph well. Trust me. I’m not just saying that because I ate them too quickly.
The Cuisine of Brittany: Caramels
Caramel Beurre Sale is everywhere in Brittany. It usually comes in jars for you to take home and essentially drizzle over everything. We had more of the firm style caramels than we did this liquid gold, but can say that both are utterly delicious and well worth trying when you are in Brittany.
The Cuisine of Brittany: Butter
We found quite a bit of talk about butter here in Brittany when we were doing our research on good things to do. A lot of the talk circled around the Beurre Bordier in St Malo. You should certainly go to St Malo for many other reasons, but this butter should absolutely be near the top.
We were in awe at the various kinds of butter available to buy and quickly asked for some samples. We settled on the slightly more than basic sea salt flavor and the more exotic and more Bretagne influenced beurre des algues (butter with seaweed).
As you would imagine, the seaweed butter had sort of a funky taste and smell, but we really enjoyed adding it to rice dishes. The salted butter was good on everything but we reserved it especially for toast. Just plain butter and toast. It was a miracle. Even if you don't splurge for this relatively expensive butter, the butter that is made in the area and sold at the grocery stores is also really good. Keep in mind there are no preservatives in any of these butters so be sure to use them before they go off. That shouldn't prove too difficult.
The Cuisine of Brittany: Pastries!
Two of the main elements comprising the core of the cuisine in Brittany are butter and salt. It then comes as no surprise that there are some of the very best pastries here, and they use butter liberally. There are so many different kinds of cakes that it is best to show them in a roundup.
If you are coming to Brittany, and we strongly suggest that you do, you will be blown away by the cuisine. It’s quite unlike the rest of France in that the highly developed ingredients aren’t necessarily shipped and famous around the world.