It’s autumn on the Normandy coast and the air is thick with the delicious smoky smell of fresh, grilled fish. My tour of Normandy has brought me to the maritime city of Dieppe for the annual Herring and Scallop Festival. Every year, visitors flock in their thousands to the Alabaster Coast, as this scenic part of Normandy is known, to sample the hareng (herring), the poisson roi (king of fish) and Saint-Jacques scallops, two products that the bustling port of Dieppe is famous for.
As I walk around the harbour, admiring how the colourful houses lining the marina are reflected in the water, crowds of people gather enthusiastically around barbecues, waiting for their portions of fresh fish straight off the grill. The harengs are delightfully unfussy, cost only a few euros, and are served in paper cones so you just eat them with your fingers. I stroll past the many stalls set up along the quay, munching on my hareng and browsing anything from textiles to earthenware and delectably fresh seafood caught that morning. Locals call out to me, encouraging me to sample their wares. If you insist, I respond, as my feet carry me to one stall after another. After all, I don’t want to be rude!
My belly suitably full, I pass the great many restaurants on the Quai Henri IV and all of a sudden find myself transported back in time in a burrow of narrow streets known as Le Pollet, the old fishing quarter. This part of Dieppe really feels like a village within a town and as I stop off at a souvenir shop to buy a mandatory postcard and chat with the locals, the friendly shop owner tells me that residents of this quarter even call themselves les citoyens du Pollet (the citizens of the Pollet). It’s an interesting reminder of a former age in which Dieppe was the main port linking the Duchy of Normandy with England, and an important hub for trade. Even now, it is clear to see that fishing still plays a huge part in the economy of the town.
Turning up another windy street and I’m back out onto the marina, and met by the fresh salty air and excited hum of voices. It’s hard not to be caught up in the maritime ambiance of this festival, and I just about stop myself from joining the children nearby in a jig as a band kicks off into a merry sea shanty. The town is buzzing with life and it’s not hard to see why this festival attracts people from all over Normandy and beyond. With its promise of tasty grub, festive atmosphere and picture postcard setting, Dieppe truly offers a fun, foodie alternative what probably would have been grey, uneventful November weekend at home!
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.