One of our favourite daytrip destinations during our stay on the southern coast of Brittany in 1996 and 1997, was the little port town of La Turballe. La Turballe has a busy fishing fleet and a lively ‘Criée’ (fish auction). We never actually witnessed the arrival of the boats, the unloading or sale of the fish. However, we did visit the retail fish shop situated over the auction hall on several occasions. It carries a vast assortment of (shell)fish some of which looked really very peculiar and not very appetizing!
The harbour of La Turballe seen from the 'Café du Port'.
One day we bought 12 fresh sardines and drove to the banks of the Villaine River, further north near the town of La Roche Bernard where we had a ‘riparian’* picnic. While my friend gathered the necessary wood and built a small fire, I gutted the fish. I sprinkled some salt and pepper on them and laid them on an aluminium tray or ‘portable’ and throw-away grill. A little olive on the fish… and the tray was ready to go over the fire.
During the 5 or 10 minutes that it took to grill the sardines, I improvised a tomato salad using two tomatoes, a couple of spring onions and a clove of garlic. I mixed all these ingredients together adding some olive oil, pepper, salt and a splash of balsamic vinegar.
The sardines turned out to be very good. Their saltiness went well with the sweet/sourness of tomato salad, the baguette and the white wine we had bought to accompany them. Whilst preparing our meal, we had put the bottle for half an hour in the cold streaming water of the river and it was chilled almost to perfection.
During our next visit to La Turballe we wanted to repeat this pleasant experience, but the whimsical Brittany weather forced us to seek refuge in a local pizzeria. And there I had the best seafood pizza I’ve ever eaten in my life! The crispy crust was topped with a spicy tomato sauce, shrimps, mussels, cockles, calamari, tiny clams, strips of smoked salmon and two gigantic scallops cut into thin slices. Some grated mozzarella, which had been sprinkled over the top, had nicely melted into a fine, golden brown crust.
Although it was June, a strong and icy gale was blowing. But the restaurant was cosy and warm. We were in no hurry and took ample time to savour our pizzas and the nice red wine we had ordered. We stayed longer than was strictly necessary, hoping that the rain would stop. But it didn’t. In the end, we were forced to brave the heavy gusts of wind and rain. The car was parked at less than 100 metres from the restaurant, but we were soaked to the skin when we finally got there.
We spent a pleasant evening at the hotel, dining and chatting with the owner and his wife. Outside the storm lasted well into the early hours of the next morning. That’s the weather in Brittany for you! But without it, I would never have tasted that exceptional pizza!
(*) If you are familiar with the BBC comedy series ‘Keeping up Appearances’, you’ll know that ‘riparian’ is one Hyacinth Bucket’s – the snobby main character – favourite fancy words.