Last year I took advantage of Ryanair’s summer route from London Stansted to Deauville-Normandie, and took a group of journalists to the beautiful stretch of coastline known as the Côte Fleurie [Flowered Coast]. A trip to the traditional fishing port of Trouville-sur-Mer was on the cards and my local contact on the ground, Virginie, recommended a visit and dégustation [tasting] at the old fish market. A covered market hall type setting and shrimps on plastic plates was the image that came to mind, but Virginie said it was a fantastic experience and assured me that we would have a great time.
And of course, I was completely mistaken! Situated at the mouth of the Touques estuary, the fish market stalls open out onto Trouville’s main street and offer up a colourful display of impeccably presented fish and seafood. Shaded by awnings, and with jets of water spurting out at regular intervals to keep them looking fresh, you’ll find scallops, mackerel, sole, prawns, lobster, crabs, oysters and much more. Although Trouville’s fish market dates back to 1840, today’s Neo-Norman style market was originally built in 1936 and in 1991 was listed as a Historic Monument.
Fishing has always played a crucial role in daily life in Trouville. Before sea bathing ever became popular, the town lived off the fishing industry. Trouville and the neighbouring town of Deauville have also always been popular getaways for Parisians. The closest seaside resorts to the capital with a direct train link, weekends in both towns are bustling with visitors. For a final taste of the sea, on a Sunday afternoon, Parisians would buy a last sample of fresh seafood to eat on the riverside (indeed, not very French), or on the train journey home.
Sébastien Saiter, skipper, fisherman and owner of one of the fish market’s ten stalls, the Pillet Saiter, decided that there might be an appetite for a dining experience at the market itself. He set up high tables in front of his stall and invited people to enjoy their choice of fresh seafood with a glass of something delicious. So that’s where we found ourselves. It was a sunny June day and the tables filled up fast. There was a buzzy atmosphere and it felt very French as we started with an enormous plate of oysters and shrimps accompanied by a chilled white wine.
Next it was onto a fish soup that comes with small slices of toasted bread, to be covered in paste called rouille, dunked onto the soup and then covered with grated gruyère cheese; a fishy version of the classic French onion soup which was absolutely delicious! It was Sébastien’s grandmother Jeannette who first devised this popular recipe. Here, it’s served on tap and you can buy it by the jar to take it home as a foodie souvenir. These days, it’s sought after far and wide and exported as far as China.
On the next table along, fellow diners were tucking into huge towers of lobster, crab, oysters and the rest, but we were moving on to the next foodie hot spot… this was just our starter!
Trouville’s fish market is open every day. For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.
Cover photo © Normandy Tourist Board / Thierry Houyel | Text: Maggie McNulty