France loves Christmas (or Noël, as they say here). A lot. Every main street in every city is strung with lights. Every self-respecting shop keeper’s window looks like Father Christmas threw up in it. In between the decorations and the cold, snow-bitten air even the Grinch couldn’t help but be in the Christmas spirit. But nothing makes France more magical during the holidays than the Marchés de Noël (Christmas Markets).
Needless to say, I was a very happy camper when I left my apartment early one morning for work, and saw that they had erected the skeleton of a Marché de Noël in the square right around the corner! The empty booths were just waiting to be filled with holiday goodness. I was so excited at the prospect of it all that I actually jumped in the air and did a weird little maneuver which I couldn’t describe if I tried, but which no doubt amused the early morning commuters sitting idle in their cars.
I experienced my first Marché de Noël when I visited Belgium while studying abroad (4 years ago now, how time flies!). In essence, a Marché de Noël is a street fair, but it usually lasts at least 2 weeks. What the vendors sell varies from region to region, however the goods usually fall into one of two categories: 1.overpriced artsy things that can be given as holiday gifts and 2. food and drinks that will warm the soul. Guess which category I am more interested in?
So, the market opened about a week ago, and I’ve been almost everyday. And here’s the lowdown on what the Marché de Noël de Rennes has to offer…
It has the usual artsy stuff like glass ware, jewelry and scarves and hats, etc. But there are a few surprise contenders at this particular market, such as the African doll booth (thoroughly freaky) and the man who sells air plants (thoroughly amazing).
I had been looking for a plant that I would have trouble killing, and one that doesn’t require soil and hardly needs watering seemed like a good bet, so for the first time ever I bought something at a Christmas Market that isn’t edible! And now my happy plant (who I named Georges, pronounced in the French style of course) lives on my bedside table.
And now for the food….
There are booths that are chock full of the tastiest (and most costly) saucisson sec and foie gras and fromage you’ve ever encountered.
Then there are the prepared foods. My personal favorite is the tartine man. A tartine is a thick slice of toasted bread that has some sort of yummy topping on it (usually a combination of cheese and meat). These are truly artisanal tartines, made with high-quality ingredients and a lot of TLC. The friendly vendor toasts every tartine individually to order, and the happy customer can choose from about a million different cheeses: Munster, Emmenthal, Chèvre, St Nectaire, etc. And of course, he sells vin chaud (mulled wine) as well…
And then there is the tartiflette man. Holy hell. Nothing warms you up on a freezing winter night like tartiflette: an unctuous combination of potatoes, lardons, onions, white wine, and a whole lot of cheese. I can assure you that I will be making tartiflette chez moi very, very soon!
Of course there is the galette vendor, who sells all the traditional Breton specialties such as tartine à rillette and bolée du cidre. I haven’t visited him yet as I can get all that stuff any old time (lucky me, I know).
And for the sweet tooth, there are several options. First there are the churros. These aren’t like the churros we get in California: they are coated in sugar, but not cinnamon. However, they do serve them with nutella. Personally, I am not too fussed about a lack of cinnamon when there is nutella involved. And even better than the churro is the cornet de chichi. Chichi are miniature churros, served in a paper cone, that are incidentally the perfect size for dipping into nutella…
And for those looking for somethings less fried, and vaguely healthy, I present the chocolate covered fruit booth.
I brought home a gorgeous specimen from that booth for dessert tonight: a crisp pear covered in dark chocolate and rolled in candied almonds. Magnifique! Here is it in all its splendor (you can also see Georges in the photo if you look closely).
If I described all the vendors and the splendors of the market, we’d both be here for ages. So I’ll just leave you with some last images to sum up the vibrancy and the warmth of the Marché de Noël…
Joyeuses fêtes de Noël!