Heroines on the wall – Market hall in Douarnenez, Bretagne / France

  • Market hall in Douarnenez, Bretagne / France

How long do culinary memories last?

Vacation in Douarnenez and the visit of the market hall happened half a year ago. What sticks after such a long time? What kind of memories and feelings remain?

Douarnenez is a popular coastal vacation spot in Brittany, France. Having visited it in autumn meant that only a few tourists remained and life was less busy. A time of the year I appreciate.

Visiting the market hall a couple times, I was every time surprised to see it that it was rather empty than full of stalls. What a pity. Not only for me but also as a window of the city towards its inhabitants and visitors.

There is always something one can count on at French markets or market halls: the quality of the produce is superior. This is something I envy as a German. Not that things are bad here, but France is in a different category for most produce.

Also in the Douardenez market hall any eye could easily spot the nice stuff and even better: remember it after such a long time.

Sustainable fishing

The lady fish monger with a dozen or so boxes presented with pride the catch of her husband with his boat Saint Anne 2. She spent time to explain that fishing was done in a sustainable way in the nearby waters. There is even an association of sustainable fishermen of the region who make sure that the concept of ocean to table can be reality. While her husband is fishing, she is the one selling their fish on the market with a lot of charm. Her conviction and dedication still lives in my memory and I spent some time to look up information on the boat and the association as I did not write down the information – one of my usual mistakes.

Spices and fat

Spending vacation in a holiday flat comes with some limitations on cooking. Looking for the easy stuff becomes second nature. So sausages for the pan are an obvious choice for me. Good ones lead to a world of new aromas and sensations. The sausages from the butcher were different to the Bratwurst I am used to and this was nice. The spicy Merguez becomes more and more widespread to my delight, they filled our little kitchen with some nice aromas which lasted until the next day. Even better there was some pure salted fat. As I am the only one in the family eating something like that, I had little feasts just for myself. This fat on a toasted slice of baguette was heaven.

Modern Vietnamese

Then the Vietnamese food stall. I forgot how the lady came to Douarnenez, a city which did not give the impression of being multi-cultural. But it wasn’t a simple story. So her stall was different to the more traditional ones around her. In France, I believe, it is easy to see that food traditions are very important and alive, even if the influx of North African, Vietnamese and partly Subs Saharan cuisines is making its mark, for example with Merguez or nem. So I was quite impressed how the lady found her home in this region bringing new flavors to the city, beyond the classic spring rolls being sold at any larger market in the country. We tried some sardines (very Douarnenez) with some Asian style marinade and filling. I do not remember the details, but I remember that the combination was a delight. So much about food memories and how they last.

Heroines on the wall

Douarnenez was once an epicenter of sardine fishing and processing (canning). Mainly women and girls worked in the sardine factories. The working conditions being poor, led to successful strikes of those women, the best known one in 1924. Having such strong, well organized women seems to still leave marks in the society. At least this is how I interpret the photo exhibition in the market hall with portraits of women from the strike times, resistance against the German occupation in World War II and other women in various civil institutions having shaped the local society. These photos were distributed across the whole hall, making sure that they could not be missed.

This, together with the Vietnamese stall, gave me the impression that modern times have arrived in this city.

All in all: The market hall in Douarnenez is also in post season a good place to find quality produce and a free history lesson.

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