I like to try something new each holiday. This time I was hauled up in a fishing village far north in France, in Bretagne (Brittany). Residents here have been fishing proudly in these waters for centuries. This generation does the same.
Seafood was my staple diet in Kerlouan. It wasn’t limited to just fish; I explored all types of ocean dwelling species. The family I stayed with loved their seafood. In fact, all the fridges were so full of fish that we had to unpack the beer to make space.
Martina, the mom, prepared all sorts of unusual and exotic dishes. One of the most popular was Martina’s mussels with she would cook in a broth with pasta. A lot of food on the table came from the area, either bought fresh from the market, delivered, or caught with our bare hands.
Yes, I mean that literally.
One fresh day, when the tide was low, we ventured to a mussel farm nearby. The mussels grow like a crop in a sort of tidal lagoon. Tom’s cousin owns one, and we went collecting.
I am ashamed to say that I chickened out. The art of collecting mussels involved getting your hands dirty. The trick is to dig your fingers into the darkened hollows to retrieve the goods. Once you sift through the sand with your fingers – you find a whole family.
We caught hundreds, in fact, we found 496. All of them were designated for the mussel soup. We also hunted for the rare razor clam, an elongated mussel shaped like a bamboo stick. This is a particularly hard creature to catch. They busy themselves vertically in the sand and can be spotted by observing bubbles in the shallow waters.
Once you have your eye on the prize, you start to dig. You need to be swift because the razor clam begins to worm its way deeper into the sand. Generally, you only catch up once you are past elbow depth, then thlep! you pull it out.
We had food from the ocean on many occasions over the few weeks I spent in Kerlouan, but nothing compared to the feast we had this night. Dinner was a table full of clams, mussels, sea snails, shrimp, pasta and baguettes. Hint: baguettes go with everything. It was a very ‘hands on’ affair. On another occasion, we also feasted on lobster. I learnt how to slide it out of its shell. It took a lot of gusto.
I pinched the head of the shrimp and removed its belly with ease (a technique I had learned in Norway). Then Chris showed me how to remove the door of the sea snail with a needle to enjoy the rubbery goods inside. I even braved the razor clams, somewhat hesitantly, and dug into a second helping of pasta and mussels.
A feast indeed.
We even attempted a fishing escapade. One warm day when the sea was quiet, Tom suggested we take his boat out to sea. Amigo, as she was named, was anchored in the shallows of the bay. We used a little motorboat to reach it. Once abroad, we set off to the open Atlantic Ocean. A chill cut over the ocean and the salt felt thick in the air. I was eager to see what we might catch.
Needless to say, I was a happy pescatarian for two weeks.