On an October day, my colleague Sophie and I stopped in the charming town of Granville for a spot of lunch and a visit to the medieval town. During the summer months, Granville is busy with holidaymakers enjoying the sandy beach, the casino and the beautiful gardens surrounding the Christian Dior Museum, perched on the hill.
By the autumn, the town is left to locals and as we made our way, we spotted Monsieur Chamberm standing on a street corner, selling small grey shrimps out of a basket that he’d propped up in front of him. As a Granville local, Sophie told me that Monsieur Chamberm has been selling shrimp on this same street corner for as long as she can remember.
We stopped to chat and M. Chamberm told us that he’s the third generation of his family to sell these shrimps to locals – he’s been carrying on the family tradition since 1968. He showed us an excellent black and white photo of him standing here as a young boy – clearly very proud of the heritage of his family business.
The season for low-tide fishing on foot is between the spring and autumn. During this time, M. Chamberm gets up at 3am each day and makes his way down to the shore – it might take him 45 minutes to reach sea that comes up to his waist. He wades through the water, tapping the seafloor in front of him with a stick, dragging a net behind, and collects the shrimp along the way. On a good day, he can leave with several kilos of shrimp, on a bad day, with none. With his fresh catch he then makes his way to this street corner and sets up shop. The shrimp must be sold fresh and alive and M. Chamberm explains that you should cook them with a little salt water. His preferred way to eat them is with a little salad or simply with bread and butter.
We left M. Chamberm and headed to Granville’s bustling shopping street that would delight any foodie; a butcher sells local salt-marsh lamb, a patisserie shows off rows of mouth-watering cakes and the local sweet speciality – chocolate covered pieces of puffed wheat and almonds.
Next we popped into the fishmongers and saw piles of whelks caught off the Granville bay, oysters from nearby Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, pink prawns from the Chaussey islands just a few miles west of Granville and many other varieties of fish and seafood all with the label “fished in the north-west Atlantic.” This tells you something of the importance of the local fishing industry.
Indeed, so interwoven into the past and present of Granville, even the town’s biggest annual event, its carnival, has its roots in the sea. The Granville Carnival was first established, centuries ago, to mark the departure of a fishing fleet to Newfoundland in search of cod. As this route became increasing important, by the twentieth century, Granville was one of the most important fishing ports in France. The carnival, the biggest in western France – today attracts more than 100,000 people for a weekend of parades, fancy dress and celebration. That’ll make a good reason to return to this charming town!
For more information on food and drink in Normandy, and for a list of all of the main food festivals in the region, please visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.