Normandy boasts wonderful coastlines and lush, green pastures so quality in all it’s foodie forms is always on the menu!
A plateau de fruits de mer – a seafood platter (a main course – for a starter ask for une assiette) is a wonderful array of oysters, periwinkles, prawns, crabs and sea snails all served decorately on a bed of seaweed. Homemade mayonnaise, lemon wedges, crusty bread, salted butter and a red wine vinaigrette generally accompany this feast . Toolkits, finger wipes and a poubelle de table are also provided. The plateau may be ordered at your local fishmonger’s. Just give about 2 days notice and all you’ll have to do is make the mayonnaise, buy the bûcheron (bread) and chill the Sancerre!
(Now guys, there’s an idea for Valentine’s day, should you fancy a somwhat intimate evening at home, or bien sûr, at a location of your choice…..but away from a restaurant!!
On the subject,should you prefer a restaurant, I advise you strongly to book early, in order to avoid disappointment! Most restaurants do a special Valentine Menu – go for that – it’s perfect – apéritif usually included – no major decision-making processes required –concentrate on gazing into your loved one’s eyes!!)
On the fish/seafood front – here are some regulars:
Bar – sea bass
Coquilles st. Jacques – scallops
Crevettes – prawns
Langoustines – Dublin Bay Prawns
Saumon – yes, you’ve guessed it – salmon
Harengs – herrings
Huîtres – oysters
Homard – lobster
Rouget – mullet
Coques – cockles
Moules – mussels
Bigorneaux – periwinkles
Bulots – sea snails
Maquereau – mackerel
Truite – trout
On the meat front….veal(veau) beef(boeuf), offal(abats, poultry,(volaille), lamb(agneau, pork (porc)….you’ll find yourself spoilt for choice.
A la Normande / Vallée d’Auge generally means an addition of cream and butter, and sometimes includes mushrooms.
Calvados features regularly in recipés and gives Norman cooking it’s unique flavour.
Be brave and try some Tripes à la mode de Caen – tripe braised in cider and calvados for hours on end thereby giving a melt-in-your-mouth result – wonderful!
One of my favourite’s has to be La Joue de Boeuf – cow’s cheek (from the face!)
Once marinated in red wine for a couple of days with a selection of légumes, then braised for 10 hours, the result is worth waiting for – heavenly!
The flavour of lamb varies depending on the region. La Baie de Mont St. Michel boasts the famous pre-salé – lambs grazing on the sandy marshes have a very distinctive, salty taste.
Le Mont St. Michel is also reknowned for it’s omelette – à la Mère Poulard….the egg whites and yolks are simply beaten separately before cooking thereby giving a lighter consistency.
Every part of the pig is enjoyed – I do, however, have some limits! Even the ears (les oreilles) are eaten and a paté de tête is, as the name suggests head paté – made from the pig’s head!! And then there’s black pudding – boudin – from the blood and intestines – and often served with apple sauce.
Andouille de Vire (chitterling in English) is definitely something of a delicacy. Made from pig’s stomach and intestines, the bundles of gut are tied, encased in more intestine and smoked over an open fire for up to 6 weeks, before being simmered with herbs for up to 8 hours. Andouille is generally served as a starter.
And one couldn’t forget the old reliable moules-frites – great food, great value and often served à volonté ( you can eat for an army if you like…..) found in abundance throughout Normandy. Mussels and chips washed down with a glass of Muscadet or a cold beer et hélas, la vie est belle! (Mussels are at their best when there’s an ‘r’ in the month…FebRuaRy, for example.)
At all local markets there’s usually a guy grilling saucisses – sausages – try them……you deserve it! Topped up with a portion of nice fatty frites, this is fast food at it’s best! Sometimes grillades may extend to shoulder/leg (épaule/gigot)of lamb or a chicken (poulet) cooked over a wood fire – definitely a great takeaway!
(In many restaurants throughout Normandy, food is also cooked over the open fire – au feu de bois – and what a treat!
WARNING: Once you’ve tried this you may never throw a steak on a pan again….this is indoor barbequeing at it’s best, all year round!! If you’re convinced, small grills are available in all quincailleries(hardware stores) )
While at the market, check out those selling produits fermiers and indulge yourself in la vie à la normande….. mouth-watering rabbit (lapin), country (campagne) and pork patés, rillettes, (potted pork) home baked breads, cakes, farm cheeses, free-range chicken, duck, rabbit, eggs, fruit ‘n veg and of course, teurgeule – rice pudding made from full fat milk, flavoured with cinnamon and baked for hours in the bread oven as it cools down after a breadmaking session ……
What more could one ask for ? This is THE food hot spot coming weekly to your local town/village!
TIPS ON EATING OUT
1) Don’t be shy…go on ….try out your french and ask the waiter what’s on offer….even the slightest effort won’t go unnoticed! A few words in la langue de Molière are always welcome!
2) When ordering, remember bleu for very rare, saignant – rare, à point – medium, bien cuit – well-done (although for years I asked for carbonisé – burnt, much to the amusement of le garçon, as the french defintion of well-done and mine differ somewhat!!) Don’t be afraid to send your meat back if it’s not done enough – they’re used to it……
3) Look out for menus offering a plat du jour at lunchtime – generally good food and good value! Remember that lunch is served between 12pm – 2pm and dinner between 7pm – 10.30pm. Otherwise you may go hungry! However, should you fancy a sandwich for lunch, you may actually buy one in a boulangerie and bring it into a bistro (unless otherwise stated – I only know one place here where it’s not permitted!) You can then order a drink and enjoy your snack!
4) Kids are always welcome in French restaurants. Unfortunately the menu enfant is not much more elaborate than elsewhere (i.e. chips with everything) although there are some exceptions…..Generally speaking kids love galettes (savoury buckwheat pancakes) and crèpes (sweet pancakes) so try out one of the numerous crèperies Normandy has to offer. Kids usually enjoy the rustic-style, over- the- fire places too!
5) And for confirmed foodies – regal yourselves with les produits du terroir or with le menu dégustation ……a a real taste of the place!