Monday, May 28, 2012

Nantes, The City and its Cuisine. A Wonderful Place to Visit and a Wonderful Place to Dine.

Behind the French Menu.
Bryan Newman
Updated April 2019
Nantes is the sixth-largest city in France; it is the capital of the department of Loire-Atlantique department in the region of the Pays de la Loire. Quietly and without planning the city took advantage of its position along the banks of the beautiful River Loire, grew into a beautiful city.
Nantes by night.
The Cuisine of Nantes
Many visitors to Nantes associate it with its  Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine AOC/AOP and Muscadet-Coteaux de la Loire AOC/AOP wines.   But among its residents, Nantes is known as a wonderful place to live and work with its own excellent cuisine. Nantes' agriculture and produce have influenced many of the dishes in the rest of France.

Your menu in a Nantes restaurant may offer:

Salade de Mâche aux Pamplemousse et au Crabe A salad of mâche, lamb’s lettuce, grapefruit, and crab.
Mâche is, I believe, among the very best of France's many salad greens.  The taste and the texture that mâche brings to a green salad is unique. I always wonder why this salad green is only rarely seen in the UK or North America.  Mâche is just as essential to a French green or mixed salad as the French think it is, and 80% of France's supply comes from the area around Nantes along with 50% of Western Europe's.
Salad of Mâche Nantaise,
Photograph  courtesy of Isabelle Hurbain-Palatin
Curé Nantais Frit et sa Salade de Mâche Nantaise – The local Curé Nantais cheese fried and served with a salad of lamb's lettuce. This cheese's story begins with a priest in the revolution who created the cheese. That story may seem like shades of Camembert, but the cheese is nothing like Camembert. Cure Nantaise is a yellow, cows' milk cheese initially made with unpasteurized milk on farms, but now also made in dairies with pasteurized milk. The cheese is aged for four weeks and has 40% fat; when ripe the cheese is almost spreadable. The taste is not mild, but it is far from being a really strong cheese; nevertheless, its smell is powerful.  There is another local cheese called the Saint-Paulin, which is a close cousin. However, the Saint-Paulin is milder and not as popular. Cure Nantaise will be on many menus when fried, baked, or grilled.

Filet de Pangasius sur une Purée de Patates Douces et Courge Musquée, Carottes Nantaise et Fenouil Brisé.  Filet of Pangasius, the fish, served with a puree of sweet potatoes, butternut squash, Scarlet Nantes carrots, and braised fennel.  Pangasius, also called Basa or Panga is a catfish from Vietnam and mostly imported as filets. The Carotte Nantaise or the Carotte Scarlet Nantes are bright orange carrots developed there and appreciated for their color and taste.
Huîtres Chaudes aux Échalotes Gratinées au Curé Nantais et Huile de TruffesOysters cooked with shallots and Curé Nantais cheese flavored with truffle oil and browned under the grill.
 Darne de Merlu Beurre Blanc Nantais – A thick cut of whiting, the fish, served with a Nantaise Beurre Blanc sauce. Menus all over France will offer a Beurre Blanc Sauce with fish dishes, often using the original name; Sauce Nantaise. When on the menu as  Sauce Beurre Blanc the sauce will be the same. This butter sauce is flavored with shallots and a dry white wine, correctly that would be a Muscadet from the vineyards around Nantes. Some chefs will add lemon and others may use white wine vinegar.
Pike dumpling (quenelle) with Caviar and  a Beurre Blanc Champagne Sauce.

 Poêlée de St Jacques à la Nantaise -  The meat of lightly fried king scallops prepared and served out of their shells, in the manner of Nantes.  Here the scallops will be served with the Nantaise Beurre Blanc sauce.  In the manner of Nantes on your menu will not always be indicating a different method of cooking; as elsewhere à la…. will be indicating the use of local products.
Salade Nantaise -  A tuna, cucumber, tomato, and rice salad; this salad is, usually the main dish. Salade Nantaise salad is often served, in season, with Nantes pride and joy, lamb's lettuce, that, despite the fact, the original recipe did not include it.
Mesclun des Maraîchers Nantais – A mesclun salad from the market gardeners of Nantes. A mesclun is a green salad made with at least five different salad greens.
Galette Nantaise; Jambon, Œuf, Fromage, Tomates, Oignons Cuisinés.  A local version of the Galettes Breton, a galette, a crepe, from Brittany. The Galettes Breton are made with buckwheat flour, its blé noir, black flour,  also called the Farine de Sarrazin, the flour of the Saracens. The ingredients for the galette will be the same, but the cheese will be the Cure Nantaise and fried onions have also been added.

Château des Ducs de Bretagne, Nancy.

Where is Nantes:
Nantes is the capital of the region of the Pays du Loire, which includes the departments of Loire-Atlantique, Maine-et-Loire, Mayenne, Sarthe, and Vendée. Nantes itself is in the department of Loire-Atlantique. Historically Nantes was one of the capitals of Bretagne, Brittany, and there are still many arguments over the change that separated Nantes from Brittany.
Nantes and area.
Copyright Google 2014.

Nantes is 390 km (244 miles from Paris), nearly four hours by car, two and a half hours by train.   Angers is 90 km (56 miles) away, one and a quarter hours by car, one hour by train.  La Rochelle is 130 km (81 miles) away, one and three-quarter hours by road or train.
The Loire River that runs through Nantes is France’s longest river and will have traveled nearly 1,000 km (625 miles) before reaching Nantes. From Nantes, the Loire continues for forty km (25 miles) more until it reaches the sea.
Palais de Justice, Nantes
At some time during your visit to Nantes, you will be offered Petit Beurre LU biscuits.  The manufacturer called Lefèvre-Utile makes these particular petit beurre biscuits. The factory, founded in 1846 is better known worldwide just by the initials LU.   Their Petit Beurre LU  biscuit is the star and the Nantaise, the citizens of Nantes, are very proud of them. (Mondelez International now owns the factory, and under the LU brand they produce biscuits sold all over the world).
Petit Beurre.
When choosing a Muscadet on the wine-list or in a wine shop, choose a wine marked Sur Lie.  This indicates that the wine is aged on its lees, that is the yeast and grape pieces left over. In most modern wines these lees are filtered out before bottling.   These muscadets are very different to those without their lees; they are an aromatic wine with a slight green tinge to its white color. Try it.
The City of  Nantes
 Nantes is an attractive city, with a splendid reputation; when including its metropolitan areas its population is nearly 1,000,000. Nantes is a clean city with excellent services for its residents. 
The city square - Place Royale

On annual national questionnaires, Nantes always makes one of the top five places in France for the French to live and work.  There is much for the visitor to see and do in Nantes everything from ancient castles to many museums and in season opera. For these diversions, you will get better information from an up to date guidebook than from me. Importantly, for the city's history Jules Verne, the author of Around the World in Eighty Days, and other great books is a native son. Of course, Nantes has a museum named after him.  
The people of Nantes.
One-quarter or more of the residents make their living from agriculture, poultry breeding, wineries, and fisheries.  Their products will be on sale in the local supermarkets or one of Nantes’ large markets. Outside of the museums and art galleries take part of a morning to visit the largest covered market in Nantes, the Talensac market. Here all types of local and imported produce, including vegetables, fish, seafood, and cheeses are on sale.
Outside of Nantes
For short trips outside of Nantes, consider the Nantes Routes de Vin, the Nantes wine roads. Nantes' wine roads begin close to the town and make a pleasant half- day trip. Take a map from the local Government Tourist Information Office and follow the routes of the Muscadets and the Gros-Plant vineyards.  The maps have information on the vintners who will invite you to taste their offerings for a small contribution.  The routes also pass by local farms that offer tastes of their homemade cheeses, sausages, and more; also for a small contribution to the local economy. The wine routes, of course, also pass by many restaurants. 

The English language website of the Nantes Tourist Information Office is:

Just a little further from Nantes
Consider a day trip from Nantes to Brittany.  The department of Loire-Atlantique with Nantes as its regional capital borders the Brittany departments of Ille-et-Vilaine and Morbihan. Over the border in Brittany there are fishing villages, oyster, and mussels farms and for the afternoon fabulous beaches,   From Nantes to Brittany's beaches and coastal towns you will have traveled, maybe, 150 km there and back; about one  and a quarter hours each way, a little more if you do not have a GPS! 


Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2013, 2014, 2019

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