Sunday, July 28, 2013

Foodie tour in Nantes

Any trip is an opportunity to learn more and, of course, to taste more interesting and healthy foods. While in France, do what French people do: go local, talk with people from the bakeries and ask for food directions. Very often, we speak a lot about 'national' cuisines, ignoring the pleasant flavours of the regional cookbooks. At least in the case of France, there it is a lot of challenge in discovering local menus and so was Nantes for me: a very interesting experience not only in terms of culture and nature, but equally for the lovely galettes I tasted as often as possible. 

My food started at a local bakery: meeting and talking with people, but also having the eyes wide open to catch as many food as possible. For the beginning, I spotted the chocolate baguettes.

A perfumed meringue for 1.50 Euro looks as a good investment, enough for a tasty and calories full breakfast.

My choice was more local though: a heart-shaped Bottereau, the typical doughnut in Nantes. 

After my first hour of discovering Nantes, before going to spend a good amount of time at Jardin des Plantes, I stopped by a small bakery around and had a good looking coffee - exactly my style, genuinely strong - and a tartelette au citron. The basis was a bit too hard, but the combination between the lemon cream and the coffee was excellent. If looking for a fancier place for a breakfast around Jardin des Plantes - and the central train station - Salon du thé has generous breakfast menu.
Other sweetness were inviting me to stay more, but my diet concerns and my time management obsessions kept me away from the temptations for a good couple of hours.
More than four hours later and many interesting things seen, curiosity - and not hunger - brought me together with the first macaron of the day - a bit of caramel and some fruity jam, too sweet for my tastes but interesting with a glass of cold water or a coffee. 
Discovering interesting fruit juices is part of my mission when on the road. The superstores in Nantes offer a lot of apple and tomato juices, as well as different usual combinations - strawberries, kiwi. Many are based on the local production. Fruits and vegetables from French territories are completing the variety of treats. Cidre and 'jus de pommes' are the specific drinks made in Brittany
Wherever I went, the smell of food on the street was distracting. Either flying from the kitchen of the various restaurants - the Cambodian and Laotian ones were the new entered on the list of ethnic cuisines, together with the classical Chinese, Japanese and Thai and of course, a huge variety of French restaurants. No German cuisine, as far as I remember. The main destination for foodies can be found around street Copernic and Cassini. You may find special fish shops and cheese shops and numerous wine shops. An impressive number of chocolateries, of course. Expect to talk with people welcoming and keen to help you to combine the right meals and flavours. This is France, after all.
The exquisite macaron experience followed later in the day: pictures from a tasty exhibition of products by Vincent Guerlais, rightly branded as 'agitateur de papilles'.
This boulangerie is recommended for breakfast or for a late meal in the evening. For regular foodie tours, everyone go at least once.
You can pick up your own fish, find what something you did not know you were looking for or simply have a professional talk with someone from the shop. Everything is possible and done with the highest professionalism.
Vincent Guerlais shop has also a special corner at the famous Talensac market, a local attraction for tourists from everywhere. 
Time for some serious food. The final decision was not very easy, as there are a lot of local places many of them very busy after 7pm. St Leonard looks quite cheap at the first sight and was not sure that I really want to go there. However, after tasting my first meal: galetter Provencale - blended tomatoes, egg mirror, aubergines, zucchini and hot goat's milk cheese - I was extremely impressed. A lot of food, a good glass of Rosé, many calories and the pleasure of being in Brittany. It is recommended to eat it hot. The galette base is very discrete and add to the ensemble the correct pinch of goodness. 
The next stage of my meal: Crepe Broceliande at St. Leonard in Nantes: caramel with salt of Guérande, gingerbread ice cream banana and Chantilly cream. Unforgettable. I went completely lost in the combination of sweet and sour, hot and cold, all melting together. The dough of the pancake was sweet and delicate. 

No more food till I was in my hotel room. I was tempted to have a coke at Brasserie d'Europe before taking the tram, but after waiting 10 minutes for someone to talk with me and another 5 minutes for the menu, I decided that it is not worth my time. I know the place is highly recommended, but my direct experience matters always more.
The macarons from Vincent Guerlais that I bought for testing were a bit affected by my wandering of the last 5 hours. A good sign for me of their delicacy and quality. Before starting the tasting I was sure that everything is done, and a glass of cold water is on my desk. Between tasting a macaron I waited around 10 minutes, to be sure that I got the right taste and impression. As the framboise macaron - the red one -looked the most affected, I started my tasting with it: a very full sweet taste, but feeling too much sugar for my taste. Next on the list - after the 10 minutes, of course - the figs macaron - the brownish one: a mysterious taste, hard to describe precisely. The biscuit side is very strong and is invading the mouth completely. I think it goes very well with a good tea. The green pistachio macaron was next: with a lot of caramel feeling and a specific sweet individuality. It looked as each piece was at its place working together to guarantee a perfect taste. The last macaron - salted caramel - made me feel sorry that the testing is done: the perfection always came at the end: the last is lost in the sweetnest of caramel. After a long trip and so much sweetness, was about time to go to sleep some nice dreams.

The next day started in a very light way: a French croissant from a bakery followed by a strong coffee in the welcoming ambiance of La maison Bertille. Did some more tours to discover new hidden gems of the Brittany cuisine and had a nice discussion about quality products at Atelier St. Michel.
I was told that the products do not contain any palm oil, are very healthy, without any animal ingredients. The madeleines were not only delicious, but also very fresh, even after one week. The pancakes were relatively good, better combined with honey or a fruity jam. I tried it with some goat's milk cheese and was not extremely impressed. The salty caramel cake was the most disappointing, but also because I had so many good special pieces of salted caramel macarons before and the competition is very unfair. 
When I am at home, I cook a lot of pasta but during my trip to France, was too much focused on different products. Spontaneously, I stopped at Mezzo di Pasta, wich offers special prices for students and had a good and fast simple meal of cheese pasta with a Pepsi Max. 
Back on the track of documenting the best foodie places, I stopped at the famous Talensac market, an attraction for tourists visiting Nantes. Maybe it was too early - around 11 o'clock, in the middle of the week- not too much action around. However, I was charmed by the diversity of local fruits and vegetables, especially the Senegalese mango I will hunt after later in London.
 Other local cuisines in France were also well represented.
 Wish I can be able to prepare such good pasta one day.

 The choices of cheese are difficult to count.
 My already old friends from Vincent Guerlain were here too. French markets are a clean and elegant place to be, after all.

The more I think about my trip there, the more I want to be back. I am sure that one day I will do a perfect food tour of France. At least once. 
Bon Appetit!

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