Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Le Conquet, Partie I

Posts for 3-4 July 2011

Plage de Porzliogan


Today, we got everyone up very early for our departure to Le Conquet, our second stop of the journey, and began with our last breakfast buffet in Blois for the week. Like near clockwork, everyone made fairly easy transfers from one Parisian station to another en route to the station in Brest; unfortunately, though, my own suitcase had made a magical journey on and off the train, and so I stayed back to wait for the following train to make its way to Brest (the connecting city from Blois-Paris). In due time, my bag arrived and I took a taxi to meet up with everyone in Le Conquet. As the driver took me to the Ferme de Keringar where we would be staying for the week, I eventually went into anthropologist mode and we talked (in French, not Breton) about the weather, the area, cars, life in America, McDonald's, and regional culinary specialties. Of important note, he suggested two I must try before I leave: kig ah farz and kouign-amann. [At the time of writing this post, I can say I did indeed try both and will explain these in more detail later; that said, I'll note here that meat, butter, and dairy, are unquestionably prominent in this area.]

During this aforementioned voyage, the group took a bus to the Ferme de Keringar. Upon arrival, a visit to the beach (about 10 min on foot) was in order just before dinner. With great luck, I had just made it in time to join everyone, but I was still trying to get settled in that I didn't bother taking pictures. In brief detail, I'll say the entrée of smoked salmon was absolutely delicious, the chicken and fish were a bit on the drier side, and a sabayon-based dessert was a great ending to our first meal here.

Following our dinner, the students were presented with the first Défi de Nourriture (food challenge): a very small handful of groseilles, four thinly sliced (so as to better appreciate the flavour) sausages (one each made of blueberry, boar, donkey, wild horse, respectfully), and about 1.5 tsps zucchini antipasti (cooked zucchini, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil).

In addition, our challenge has the following rules, in the spirit of cultural food exploration and immersion:
1. Participation in the food challenge is completely optional, and it should be impressed that one of the many things the students wished would happen during our voyage was to try new foods.
2. Each leader participates in the food challenge as well; the food(s) chosen in each round must be something the leaders are also willing to eat.
3. Before consuming the food, everyone is told—and must thus understand—what they will be eating.
4. In order to move onto the next round, those participating must finish everything given to them for the challenge.
5. Those who do not pass the round are still welcome to try future foods.

At the end of the challenge, eleven students continued onward and to the next round.


After today's breakfast, everyone found their bikes and helmets and traversed en masse into the commune of Le Conquet. This small community, situated right on the ocean, receives quite a bit of tourism making it fairly difficult to distinguish who may or may not know the Breton language; that being said, families have lived in Le Conquet—or at least the administrative area of Brittany—for many generations, and our visit here provides an excellent look into contemporary French maritime life on this northwestern peninsula.

Following a morning scavenger hunt, we went to Le Relais du Vieux Port for lunch and enjoyed the cool breezes and sunshine. Of the many places in France to order a galette, Brittany is perhaps the place to order this regional specialty. This said, I ordered a forestière which included mushrooms, ham, cheese, and egg (for added richness).

Presented in a rather intricate serving cup, and along with a new friend I've named Paolo, my dessert of raspberry ice cream, red fruit coulis, fresh fruit, and chantilly, was the perfect ending to my summertime meal.

For tonight's plat, the rustic, comfort-style cooking of this region--undoubtedly influenced by its Celtic heritage--was evident in a dish of sausage and thick-sliced bacon with cabbage, carrots, and potatoes. Served alongside wild rice, even the fish option spoke to Bretagne's proximity to its neighbours across the pond.

To finish off our meal, we were served the French classic crême brulée, the browned sugar on top of which contrasts in both taste and texture to the creaminess of the custard below it. This said, tonight's dinner seems to have emphasized classic staples of French (if not at the very least rustic) cooking: ham and cream.

As today was indeed the U.S.'s Independence Day, it was certainly fitting we would celebrate on the beach facing the land across the waters. As light settled on the group and the game of Ultimate Frisbee, we gathered around a small camp fire and, as most communities do in such situations, ate. Specifically, we had prepared to roast marshmallows; however, realising then we didn't have any sticks, I took a flat plank of wood and nestled it right by the fire. The heat of the wood, as well as from the flames directly, worked to both warm and brown the marshmallows, making them a perfect addition to French chocolate and biscuits. Not quite an American s'more, this was certainly an example of food fusion if I ever saw one. And in any case, everyone--including the our new French friends from the inn/farm staff--understood the symbolic connection of s'mores to American tradition. At the suggestion of one of the staff members here in the auberge, we ended this great evening by sending our inner emotions into the water, leaving us more or less lightened and completely ready for bed. Alas, an exchange of cultural practice--even if the traditions are more personal than representative of an entire nation or community--is a wonderful way to end any evening.

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