I met up with my French friend earlier this week – incidentally, the sole Paris inhabitant I knew before I arrived. He’s not actually from Paris, rather he hails from Renne in Brittany; an anchor tattooed onto his ankle represents his Breton roots.
I’ve teased him more than once for being a walking cliché when he’s turned up for a drink dressed in a navy-and-white striped top. I’m sure you’re very familiar with the stereotypical image of the Frenchman clad in such stripes, but did you know that it’s an image/tradition that comes specifically from Brittany? The Breton stripes were the official uniform of sailors of old and many French people I’ve discussed the stereotype with have been very surprised to learn that it’s an image that, outside of France, is associated with their nation as a whole because to the French, the association is wholly and solely restricted to Bretagne.
Actually, Brittany boasts a rich tapestry of culture and tradition which is entirely its own, independent of the rest of the country. Breton identity is definitely distinct from that of France – although the people of Brittany do also identify with French culture just as much as their countrymen from any other region.
The distinct culture is, I believe, predominantly attributable to the Celtic heritage of the region. Celebrations of folk music, Celtic festivals, and a number of ancient monuments reflect this. I don’t know enough about it, but I’m particularly interested in Breton folklore, which seems from what I do know to mirror quite closely much of the Irish folklore that I grew up on. Brittany also has its own language, as distinct from the French language.
Two products of Breton culture for which I am particularly fond are crêpes and the galette – the latter being a sort of savoury take on the usually-sweet crêpe, made with buckwheat flour which gives the batter a brownish colouring.* My personal favourite is a not-terribly-adventurous jambon-fromage-champignon (sometimes you just can’t beat a classic), but you can get any number of different fillings if you prefer something a little more creative. An important constant, though: there’s almost always lots of cheese involved. They’re great.
Believe it or not, when I started writing this, it was not supposed to be a post about Brittany. I was actually going to tell you about the meal I had with the aforementioned French friend – basically, we ate enough Flammekueche to feed a small army. Or a small, striped navy, perhaps. I was going to talk at length about the crispy, cheesy goodness that is tarte flambée… but apparently my hands on the keys had other ideas. Tant pis. You got galettes instead.
*For the pédants reading: you can actually get savoury crêpe or sweet galettes – but I haven’t often seen it done this way and in my opinion, the two different batters lend themselves best to sweet and savoury, respectively.