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An enormous pot of steaming mussels marinières arrives before you…. how to dive in? After watching the locals around me, I learned how to eat mussels like a pro!
My windshield wipers were slashing back and forth. I was regretting the fact that I had forgotten my umbrella.
Arriving in Cancale under grey skies and a brisk rain-filled wind, I blew into the closest brasserie I could find.
I perused the sidewalk chalkboard menu before I slipped in, trying to decide on coffee or lunch.
But the delectable words on the chalkboard had me at first glance.
Moules, moules and more moules.
Mussels cooked every which way – so enticing.
One of the delights of housesitting in Brittany, France, was the fresh seafood and the local cider readily available at markets and restaurants. The previous week I had bought some moules to cook myself. I admitted to the seafood vendor at the Pontorson market that I had never cooked mussels before. Clams, crab and prawns – affirmative. But not mussels.
He smiled wryly as if he felt sorry for what I had been missing. I proudly ordered my dozen mussels but the young man was clearly mystified as to my order. He asked me several times if I wanted more, then leaned over and divulged his recipe.
frites (fries) bought from a vendor
and fresh flowers strung across my handlebars,
I proceeded to bicycle “home.”
That evening, I felt like a French chef eating mussels et frites accompanied by a crisp white wine. Delectable!
Stepping into that brasserie dripping, I realized it was time to savour moules et frites cooked by someone else.
For a novice in the mussel department, the menu was laden with all sorts of incredible combinations: moules au camembert, moules à la crème, moules marinières and moules au Roquefort.
I ordered a prix fixe menu (moules marinières et frites) sipped my cider and stared out to sea.
When my moules marinières arrived in a huge steaming pot, I finally understood my market vendor’s confusion. Before me was a steaming mass of moules – one hundred? a kilo?
I was a bit mystified as to how to eat mussels like the French. I mean, how do you eat mussels in public? It was definitely not in my repertoire. Eating mussels in my own private kitchen was one thing. But here in a busy restaurant?
I called the waiter over and asked if the upside-down lid was meant for the empty shells. He nodded and promptly brought me a fork. Ah! Eating mussels was easy, after all!
It smelled delectable. Like the sea. The steam was warm on this cold January day. I picked up my first mussel and used the fork to pull out the orange meat. Even though I had my scarf adjusted just so, I knew I was a dead giveaway as a tourist.
How to eat mussels like the French? Definitely not with a fork.
The restaurant was buzzing with French people.
When the couple beside me started eating mussels also, a series of sideways glances and smiles changed my mussel eating habits forever. I ditched the fork in favour of my fingers and a trusty mussel shell. It was easy to eat mussels like the French, after all.
How To Eat Mussels Like The French
Hint: No fork is involved in eating mussels!
- When the steaming pot of mussels arrives, turn the lid over as a receptacle for the empty shells.
- Using your fingers, find a nice-sized mussel to eat. Pull the meat out with your fingers.
- Voilà! Now you have an empty shell to use as pincers or a clamp.
- Use your fingers and pick up the next mussel shell. Use the pincers (empty shell) to pull out the orange meat. Don’t forget to slurp up any sauce/broth in the shell.
- The spoon? Use it to sip the delectable broth that accompanies the pot of mussels.
- The baguette? Perfect for dipping into the pot and soaking up the broth.
- Continue until your one kilo of mussels is completely finished!
- You will be brought a finger bowl or wipe after the feast for your fingers.
How To Eat Mussels Like The French
Hint: No fork is involved eating mussels!
Some French people do not use the pincer method when eating mussels.
- Pick up your first mussel.
- Open it with your fingers and bring it to your mouth.
- Use your teeth and pull out the mussel meat.
- Continue until all your mussels are devoured!
Eating mussels is the kind of meal that takes time.
Time for conversation and contemplation.
You can linger over mussels marinières.
This is hands-on eating at its very best.
You’re all in.
It’s messy and unpretentiously perfect.
Did I finish that kilo of mussels?
The evidence speaks for itself.
More Travel Info…
Gastronomy In France:
Mussels, coquilles St-Jacques (scallops), crab and a wide variety of other fish and seafood are freshly available in Brittany. There are many markets and roadside stands.
Now that you’re a pro at eating mussels like the French (or at least you are going to be) how about diving into the briny world of the oyster? Cancale is known for its oysters. Here is how to eat oysters like the French.
Are you a cheese lover? Have you tried these French cheeses? And here are seven of the best fromageries in Paris to find that perfect cheese, and have that, oh so fun, experience of standing amongst oodles of cheese.
Cook Your Own Moules Marinières:
You could be a real hit! Cook up this recipe and show your guests how to eat mussels like the French!
Travelling Through France:
If you have a car and are driving between Cancale and Mont-Saint Michel, plan to stop at Vivier-sur-Mer for oysters and mussels at Jean-Luc Tonneau. Sit on the terrace and savour your delights with a view of Mont-Saint Michel in the distance.
Read my other posts about France on my Travelling France page.
Heading to Paris?
All my Paris resources are right here on this page.
If you love that village feel in Paris these areas might interest you:
Montmartre, much like Ile Saint- Louis, feels like a small village. This post on Montmartre leads you to the most popular sites as well as some lesser-known places on the hill.
Canal Saint-Martin is great fun to explore. Here is what to do in this Bobo quartier.
These hidden gems of Paris will lead you to uncover some super secrets in Paris.
This guided tour in both Normandy and Brittany will give you a great sense of the two regions. Mussels and oysters…. dive in and enjoy!