Tag Archives: Belle Époque

Brittany, Beach Sports and Moules et Frites

Dinard Beach Olympics

Whilst I sat in the sun with a second beer the girls went to find a restaurant for evening meal and after a while came back and declared that they had found the perfect place so we agreed meal plans and walked back to the hotel as the sky blackened and rain clouds raced in.

It rained for an hour or so but had cleared by the time we had agreed to walk out so we sauntered along the sea front to the Le Citrus only to be turned away because it was fully booked all evening.  We returned to the restaurant that we had enjoyed the previous evening but the result was the same so worrying that we might have to share the last bag of crisps in our room we went directly back to the hotel where the staff helpfully found us a table regardless of the fact that we hadn’t reserved.  Saturday nights in Dinard are busy it seems.

The rain cleared overnight and in the morning there was a clear sky and a dazzling sun rise which shimmered off the surface of the sea and reflected off the chrome decorations on the boats as they swayed lazily on placid water so we planned a day of seaside and promenade walks and shortly after breakfast set off on the first of these.

Strolling along the promenade we came across a lifeguard tournament rather like musical chairs as a series of sand races resulted in an elimination after each round.  We got rather excited about the whole thing especially when our favourite competitor from Biarritz, wearing Basque colours of green and red, fought off all challengers to claim first prize

Racing over we continued our walk under a rock promenade with the sea to our right with views across to St Malo and under the shadow of granite cliffs to our left topped by a succession of magnificent houses and villas.

Northern France Wimereaux

In the late nineteenth century during the show off period of the French  Belle Époque, Dinard was discovered and developed by Saint-Malo’s wealthy shipping merchants who built some of the town’s magnificent houses and after them American and British aristocrats made Dinard popular as a fashionable summer resort and they too built stunning villas on the cliff tops and exclusive hotels such as the ‘Le Grand Hotel’ on the seafront.

The walk took us some way west as we walked away from the town and then when the footpath ran out we climbed a set of steep steps to the road above and made our way back to the beach promenade and our thoughts turned to lunch.

After two days I was ready for moules et frites.  Looking around I could see that almost every table in every restaurant was host to an empty pot of black shells and I wondered if there might be enough to go around.  After Belgium and the Netherlands the French eat more mussels than anyone else and this adds up to a staggering three hundred and fifty tonnes a day which is roughly 25% of all mussels produced in Europe .  This is so much that France itself cannot produce enough to satisfy demand and has to import them from nearby Spain who happen to be the biggest producers in Europe*.

Dinard Moules et Frites

Moules however are nothing without frites and I was interested to discover that there is controversy about the humble French fry, frite or chip, or whatever you may want to call it and there are conflicting claims to how it came to enter the culinary traditions of so many countries.

It is served everywhere in northern France but it is the Belgians who claim that they invented it.  There is a rather unlikely story that in the late seventeenth century the people of the region had the custom of fishing for small fish for deep frying but when the rivers were frozen and fishing became hazardous they cut potatoes in the form of small fish and put them in a fryer instead.

In Spain they say that this is nonsense and the potato wasn’t even grown in Belgium at that time  and claim that dish was invented there, which might make sense because this was the first European country in which the potato appeared via the New World colonies.  It goes on to back up this claim with the assertion that ‘patatas fritas’ were an original accompaniment to fish dishes in Galicia from which it spread to the rest of the country and further to the Spanish Netherlands, which didn’t become in fact become Belgium for more than a century later.

France actually took some time to accept the potato and it wasn’t until a famine of 1795 that they beagn to eat them.  They proved so popular that by 1795, potatoes were being grown on a very large scale in France, including at the royal gardens at Tuileries and within that short time, the French either invented or learned to make fries.  Once discovered they became extremely popular in revolutionary France, particularly in Paris, where they were sold by push-cart vendors on the streets and called ‘frites’.

heap of French fries

Belgium however still stubbornly hangs on to its story and dismiss the claim of the French themselves by arguing that the description ‘French Fries’ originated due to a linguistic misunderstanding.  In old English ‘to French’ meant ‘cut into sticks’ and apparantly US soldiers in the Second-World-War called them French Fries on account of the fact that the official language of Belgium at the time was French.  As though to back this up the Belgians consume the most French fries per capita of any country in Europe.

Of course we don’t care what the Belgians, the French or the Spanish think because we are convinced that they are an English invention and that we make a far better job of cooking them anyway. Traditionally, chips in the United Kingdom are cut much thicker and since the surface-to-volume ratio is lower, they have a lower fat content. According to legend, the first chips fried in the UK were on the site of Oldham’s Tommyfield Market in 1860.

Anyway, we didn’t concern ourselves with the history of the frite today but we all cleared our bowls and plates and declared the simple meal a resounding success.

In the afternoon we did some more coastal walking and by the time we had finished we were satisfied that we had covered every single kilometre of beach and marina side walks in Dinard.  During the day I took the precaution of booking a table at Le Citrus for this evening and after we had spent a late afternoon in the sun we made our way to the restaurant.

We had a very splendid meal, I forget what we ate but I know that Kim had steak with chips and she declared them to be the finest that she had ever eaten.  I cannot confirm this judgement because she didn’t offer any of us a single one but based on that I have to say that she may well have been right.  They did look good I have to say.

Dinard Brittany Boat Detail

*Three countries are responsible for two thirds of all European mussel production. Spain is very clearly the largest producer with over 200 000 tonnes per year, followed by France with a stable production of around 80 000 tonnes. Italy is the third main producing country with 65 000 tonnes. Most of the supplies from all three countries come from aquaculture.