Fork and bib ready? I promised and I will deliver. Here, my friends, are The Absolute Best Things I Ate in Europe. Nom nom nom.
Starting this post was like facing the dessert buffet. I was dumbfounded and flustered. My mind went blank. What did I eat in Europe? What didn’t I eat in Europe? What was good? What wasn’t good? You get the picture. (Like the one above – yes, I always look that earnest and worn and edgy when making food choices. I don’t deal well with food envy.) It was lining up to be a pretty dull, not to mention confusing, piece of writing. The only thing I could do was what any somewhat obsessed person would do – create an ULTIMATE DREAM MENU, based on all the things I devoured. (Eeeeeeeee!)
To be frank there were some days, while travelling, that breakfast seemed a bit too difficult and we skipped it for a killer brunch. Other days, like when we stayed at Bed and Breakfasts, we dined like kings. If I could compile a buffet of the most delectable things I ate for breakfast it would have to include:
Omelette from La Mere Poulard at Mont St-Michel. Mere Poulard has been cooking up divine, cloud-like omelettes for one hundred years before I was born. Made in hand-hammered copper saucepans over an open fire – they are fluffy like you simply cannot describe but crisp on the outside with the perfect flavour of charred, salty butter.
Far Breton from the market at Poullan-Sur-Mer. I’d read about Far Breton and I was keen to get my paws on some. I don’t think Far is for everyone but if you like prunes, like a not-too-sweet custard, like both on a thin layer of pastry, blackened a little on top and served cold – you’ll dig Far Breton. There was something about the denseness and the not-so-sweet-ness that made me feel like I’d eaten it before, as a kid, in another life. Weird. Damn Yum, that’s what you need to know.
Plus: A selection of pain au chocolat, croissants, maybe some fromage blanc, huge cups of tea and freshly squeezed orange juice, homemade berry jams and brownies, apricots and strawberries, flowers picked from the garden. In other words, just go back to Malouiniere des Trauchandieres, the bed and breakfast / St Malo manor built in the 1700’s and run by the charming, laid-back Agnes and Claude. That was their everyday breakfast line-up. Plus our Littles got their own boiled eggs with handmade, knitted egg covers that looked like hatching chickens. I mean, really? These guys are petit dejeuner PROS.
On the trip we had some quick lunches and some sit down for hours ones. It’s hard to know what to exclude on the dream lunch menu, breakfast has clearer rules, no? I’ll take a deep breath and do my best. (Otherwise known as – shove the extras I can’t bear to part with into Dinners and Sweets)
Crepes from Creperie Ty Coz in the historic village of Locronan. Pretty surroundings for sure, but the crepes were the real star. Have never, ever, ever tasted better crepes. I had a prune and bacon one for my savoury course, an apple and caramel one for sweet. Creperie Ty Coz serves a mix of ble noir crepes and the regular white flour crepes – both made thin and crispy and hot and buttery. Folded into a square, rushed to your table, eaten with so much gusto you almost scorch your oesophagus.
Scampi and truffle linguini from Zori, Hvar, Croatia. Our good friend, Mr Hallinan, had his fortieth birthday here. Well, also some other places, he is kinda greedy like that, but this lunch, overlooking *that* ocean (Croatian ocean is simply the prettiest ocean), was a jaw-dropper. Scampi and truffles don’t often (ever) grace my kitchen so this had to make the list.
Plus: Whole, grilled fish and hand-cut potato chips from Prigidica. I don’t have a link for the place. I don’t even know what species of fish it was. The server didn’t speak much English and we don’t speak Croatian but we managed to work out that the “kitchen lady” was out shopping so they could only serve what “the other guy” could grill or fry. With that kind of setup you don’t expect to eat some of the nicest, sweetest melt-in-your-mouth fish (with yummy, crispy-charred silver skin) and fresh as fresh, salt and oil still sizzling on the surface, potato chips. Which Matt ordered a second helping of.
Drink of choice? Cidre, served in a cup, brewed in Brittany or Normandy. I am IN LOVE with this stuff.
The best thing about the European summer is just how light and long the evenings are. Dinners feel more like lunches and I was often hankering for picnicky food. In saying that….
Oysters from Cancale. Yes, please. (Even in a month without an “r” in it, which is apparently a bit uncool)
Le Homard Breton Chaudron from L’Etrave, overlooking Pointe de Van. This is Breton lobster, cooked in a copper pot / cauldron, with a closely guarded, secret recipe sauce. You can only order this particular dish for two and it is a serious abundance of fresh, local lobster, served in that pretty pot, with a sauce that is pink and creamy and rich. Eaten overlooking cliffs, stormy seas, drifting rain. Makes a person feel literary.
Salt meadow lamb. We ate ours in a stew from that market at Poullan-Sur-Mer. The sheep graze on salt marsh fields (the regulations around how many days they graze and where from are extremely strict, so you can’t just use the name ‘agneau de pre-sale’ willy nilly) so the meat is salty and very tender. Droooooool.
[Sorry, vegetarians, it’s not such a great line-up for you guys so far. Let me remedy that….]
Meze from L’As du Fallafel in Le Marais. Good friends bought us this feast from arguably the best falafel restaurant in Paris; a feature on David Lebovitz’ “Ten Insanely Delicious Things You Shouldn’t Miss in Paris”. Mouth-watering falafel and salads and hands-down some of the yummiest grilled and dressed eggplant I have eaten put in my mouth. You know how some vegetables just really rock your boat? Eggplant, cooked so well it’s sweet and silky, does that for me.
Oh dear. Okay, brace yourself.
Kouign Amann from Douarnenez. This was the one thing I absolutely had to try. We went to Douarnenez as research for a new manuscript and eating kouign amann (butter cake is the basic translation) was a must. How to explain? Think layers of croissant pastry baked with an extravagant amount of butter and sugar that inevitably turns into a kind of caramel. The end result is crispy, soft, sweet, chewy, buttery and very, very sticky. The smell of it, baked fresh and still steaming, languishing in its blackened pan at a market in Treboul, was almost enough to fell a person. A happy death that would be.
We also had yummy gelato in Croatia, delicious chocolates and macarons (bien sur) in Paris, as well as local Breton cheeses from the market in Douarnenez. But the kouign-amann has stuck with me in the same way that it sticks to the inside of your ribs. The only problem being that now I have tried the best the rest probably won’t stack up. Reason enough to go back to Finistere one day, I reckon.
Groaning yet? Heartburn? You probably need a cup of mint tea in St-Germain, watching the world bustle by, that’s how I might end this fantasy feast. Or maybe with a cold, french champagne to celebrate getting to the end of the enormous meal (or the kids being in bed, that always deserves a clinking of glasses). Best yet, a long chat with new – old friends, who seem to love food as much as you do, and don’t mind a laugh. Or a midnight margarita pizza. ‘Cause, you know, that extra holiday stomach.
Fancy telling us some of your favourite holiday meals?