When Brittany Was Our Oyster


The rain was coming down, not hard, not gently — just with enough of a tap-tap-tap firmness to make us think more than twice of not stopping at all when we spotted the little oyster shacks by the Cancale bay. 

This being June, we knew we were technically in the wrong month for oysters — if you still believe the “you should only eat oysters in months with ’R’ in their names” theory. But we were in Brittany, which reportedly produces a quarter of France’s oysters every year.

These oysters, they had to be tried.

Fighting the winds blowing rain into our eyes, we skipped from shack to shack, inspecting the crates of oysters large and larger.


The sister and I, we’re used to ordering our oysters off a menu, usually with just a few options before us — Kumamoto, Malpeque, Bluepoint. And my choices, I’m embarrassed to say, have often been made based on the sound of the names. A sing-song quality that conjures up thoughts of an endless blue sea — that’s always a winner with me. I’m shallow that way.

But now, faced with crate after crate of oysters, we were at a loss.

The lady with the Big Knife reassured us that they were all good. (Actually, she also rattled off a bunch of other things about each of them. But since this was in French and a little beyond our “I would like to buy a train ticket” vocabulary, this was, sadly, not helpful.)

We smiled. And pointed to a decent-looking bunch in the middle and the shucking began.


Huddled beneath a small canopy, we paused for a moment to admire our Cancale oysters.


They looked even better after we pried them open with a plastic knife.


After a few little spritzes of lemon, down they went. The taste was crisp and briny, and the oysters had the gliding, silky mouthfeel of softened butter.

It got me thinking of my very first encounter with raw oysters — in 1995, in a pub in Portland, Ore., where a friend had bought me oyster shooters to toast the end of my internship at the Oregonian.

I liked the first one so much I had a second. And I never forgot them — very shortly after, they both came right back out.

Perhaps the oysters were bad. (It definitely wasn’t an “R” month.) But perhaps one just shouldn’t have oysters for the first time in the form of a shot with vodka and tomato juice. The things your parents don’t tell you.

It would be more than five years before I’d dare to try them again. And in the years in between, I would stare with great envy at people soaking up the summer sun at sidewalk restaurant tables, sipping a crisp white while slurping down oysters.

What a perfect-looking experience, I would think. If only that could happen to me.

But those extra details — they’re just that. In Cancale, we had neither sun nor wine. Just a wet table, plastic knives and a bottle of water tucked in a purse. (And freshly shucked oysters, of course.)

It was enough.


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5 thoughts on “When Brittany Was Our Oyster

  1. Any drinks by the seashore? (The nice lady shucking your order looks like she stepped out of a tourism brochure!)

  2. Great Post Cheryl! Beautiful pictures too. Have you read the book on Oysters (same author as Salt & Cod)? New York was once the oyster capitol of the world, shipping tons of them to Europe in barrels. They were over fished eventually. At the Museum of New York City they had an exhibit with giant shells found in lower Manhattan… like 12″ long! Yuck! I really love the smaller Pacific Oysters myself and Portland has some great ones, though I never did try them as shooters. Yikes.
    Oh, you probably know this, but the only real reason that they did not harvest oysters in the months with no “r” was not because they are bad then, but because that is when they are procreating.
    You really made me hungry for oysters… and we don’t have fresh local ones here in Hawaii. That is one thing we will absolutely have to import via Fed Ex one day soon.

  3. We only had a cafe au lait by the water in Cancale — we were there at around 10…which is just a smidge too early in my book!
    Thanks, Devany! I’m definitely checking out that book. Sharon, I’m taking you up on that for sure the next time we’re out there…

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