Cancale oysters: a veritable feast for the eyes

Oysterfest in Cancale

Non-seafood lovers, you may want to navigate far, far away now.

With such a relatively short visit to Bretagne, nothing was going to be left to chance where the Breton experience was concerned. Weeks before we even get to France I tell the MotH something like this: “When we get there, we are going to stuff our faces with oysters every single morning until we get sick. After that we’re going to have a plateau de fruit de mer seafood tower for dinner and stuff ourselves again.” Well you know how it goes when your eyeballs get too big for your stomach? At one time or another a number of us are all too guilty of this, and after the first day and first night of oysters, I was ready to call it quits.

Oyster stall at Cancale

Cancale’s famous huîtres and oyster market was everything that I had seen and read about, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the actual tasting of these delectable things. I’ve downed many a specimen in my life — straight out of a jar, in shooters, grilled on a Hibachi at a beach in Hawaii, at an oyster bar in Milan — yet nothing could have remotely compared to the smorgasbord at the entrance to the pier. MotH selected different sizes and varieties at 3 vendors, and upon slurping them down, our collective palates were treated to a series of sweet, nutty, briny and iodine flavors with one particular batch bordering on carnal. Fresh-from-the-sea doesn’t do justice at describing them, and the saying about eating oysters only during the months with an R is not true. Oyster farmers have figured it out to where there are always a few species that are perfectly available for consumption, no matter what period of the year.

Creuses and Tabasco

Creuse oysters (those with convex shells). 5.80€/dozen plus a shucking fee of 0.50€ for the whole lot. I brought the Tabasco. The women who sell these will tell you to toss the shells (there’s a great big pile of shells and lemon halves on the beach) and to return the plate and utensils afterwards. We settled down on nearby concrete steps and during a brief spell of miraculously perfect weather, sent oysters down the hatch, one after the other.

Flat oysters

The flattish huîtres plates. I believe they call them european flats across the pond. When MotH purchased these the lady told him that they were better enjoyed without lemon.

Huîtres plates at Cancale

Given the difficulty in growing them, the prices were higher (2€ each), and there’s not much to them either. Actually maybe that’s not such a bad thing because flavorwise, this oyster is for gourmands. Saying that they tasted carnal is about as naughty as I’ll get on this blog, but I would eat them again given the opportunity AND if a bottle of champagne was part of the deal. I could understand, too, why that woman discouraged lemons. A tart citrus tang would be like giving your tongue a cold shower in the heat of the moment.

Creuses-and-lemons

The last dozen was the meatiest of them all, and soon I was wishing we had some bread, butter, and ice cold beer to go with our oysterfest. These were 6.20€ plus an extra euro for shucking and lemon. Cheap eating. Oh, and just in case you thought I didn’t do anything other than feed my mouth, photos of the town are in a flickr set so look if you must. Unfortunately, it does not include a much anticipated visit to Grain de Vanille, the pastry shop and tea salon visited by Bourdain in his NR Brittany episodes. They were closed on Tuesday and Wednesday!

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