Driving around the craggy French coast of Bretagne, my husband and I stopped for lunch at a fishing village with the mouth-filling name, Ploubazlenec. Sitting in a café on the water’s edge, close enough to inhale the salty spray, the only possible midday meal was something that recently swam in the sea. Armand, who is not an adventurous fish eater (no bones, no shells, no fishy taste, please), picked a safe but boring filet of something. I, however, was thrilled to discover large metal platters in front of most of the other diners piled with mounds of shellfish. “Je prends ça,” I told the waiter, pointing.
My plate arrived, heaped with sea creatures, many of which I had never seen before. It also came equipped with an entire tool kit – picks and forks and shell crackers of assorted sizes, as well as little pots of various sauces and dips. I recognized the oysters, clams and shrimp, but the latter still had its legs, head and beady eyes attached. The oysters were so fresh, as I sipped their liquor, I felt as if I was literally drinking in the spectacular view before us.
After another glass of Sancerre, I was ready to tackle the pretty spiral shells that I had previously viewed only in aquariums. I decided some delectable morsels must be hiding inside. The bigger shells, I found out later, were bigorneaux (periwinkles), and the tiny ones bulots (whelks). I faced my “tool kit” without a clue of how to proceed. As I scanned the dining room for some guidance, I noticed with dismay that my fellow diners were on to dessert already. So I grabbed a metal pick that resembled something my dental hygienist uses on my teeth and poked around in one of the shells, fishing for some little crustacean to emerge, and in the process squirting my husband with its sea juices.
Finally, I hooked into something and wiggled it out triumphantly. With a twinkle in his eye, my husband suggested that the grey-green wormy thing resembled something that might come from one’s nose. Nevertheless, I plunged it into a pot of sauce and popped it into my mouth. Chewy, yes…but brimming with the ocean breeze, the foamy waves and the cloud-dotted blue sky.