Thank God for easy going travel buddies! If not, who would I drag awake at dawn (admittedly the initial sunrise watching idea wasn’t mine and dawn was sometime after 7 am on the Brittany coast) for a sunrise half hidden behind thick clouds, and then to rouse up again at 9 am for a savory breakfast of freshly shucked oysters?
Cancale is known for its oysters, with farms lining the bay of St Michel producing more than 25,000 tons of the priced shellfish per annum. History has it that these famous oysters were the preferred bivalves of the Sun King Louis XIV, who had ordered them to be transported to Versailles on horseback, no doubt to be paired with flutes of effervescent champagne.
No offense to his Majesty, but I’m certain our oysters, bought that morning at Cancale’s daily open air oyster market (open from 9am to early afternoon), tasted better. Why wouldn’t they, when they were opened by the friendliest oyster man, then slurped on the beach of Cancale mere hours after they had been picked? The shockingly low prices (under 5e/dozen for the creuses between sizes 1-3 and the belons at <1e each) just made breakfast even more palatable.
We tried 3 varieties, both the long and pale grey creuses that come in sizes from 0-5 (0 being the biggest) and the round, brown belons. The #2 creuses were meaty and very salty; the longues were a hybrid that tasted similar to the #2 but with a creamier mouthfeel and lingering sweetness; and the assertive belon, the texture almost crunchy, the flavors nutty, vegetal and long in the mouth. A who professed that she was not much of an oyster eater just the night before matched TPS and I, mollusk for mollusk. Decorum prohibited us from busting out a newly acquired bottle of champagne to go with the oysters, a decision we regretted afterwards.
Sure, you could slurp your oysters in the comfort of a restaurant, and almost all the sea-side establishments in town serve oysters in one form or another at a reasonable mark-up. Indeed, I had already eaten a dozen the night before at the restaurant Le Cancalais (where TPS ate her favorite fish dish of the trip) But to us, the unglamorous act of stooping behind the blue and white stripe oyster stands with an oyster in one hand and a lemon half or plastic knife in another was by far the more memorable eating experience.
Cancale Oyster Market: at the end of Quai Admis en Chef Thomas, 35260 Cancale, France (oyster beds can be seen at low-tide, according to Google street view)