Friday, January 24, 2014

Bulots Mayonnaise - Bon Appétit!

Written by Karen.
It was late afternoon when we began our walk down the cobblestoned streets of Fécamp, France looking for a light bite of sea food to eat for dinner. Restaurants in France - as a rule - do not serve dinner until at least 7:00 p.m.  But, we somehow found a tiny loophole in this rather universal rule: the aperitif.  We first discovered this excellent idea of offering small snacks and tiny plates of food along with a glass of wine, beer or mixed drink before the later dinner hour in Italy, and thankfully France has also embraced this late afternoon/early evening ritual. We have turned the pre-dinner aperitif into a light dinner and found that this was the perfect amount of food to end our day.

We located a tiny table along the water's edge and looked around at the other couples sitting at the scattered tables around the outdoor restaurant, hoping to see something that looked delicious.  I pointed to a table some distance away, and told Adam, "Doesn't that look like mussels or clams or something like that?  Let's try that." Adam looked over to the couple. "I can't really make out what it is," he said, "but it does look like the couple are enjoying their food."  The waiter came over, and when questioned by us, he pointed towards the menu. The couple was eating les fruits de mer, he said, specifically, bulots mayonnaise. The fruits of the sea. Something with mayonnaise and French bread.  How could you go wrong? Yes, that will be perfect with two glasses of local white wine, please.  

The waiter soon came back with a tray carrying our order.  "Bon appétit!" he said and walked away.  Adam and I looked at each other.  Sea snails?  Yup.  2 dozen lightly cooked and now perfectly chilled sea snails lay before us with a cup of mayonnaise-like dipping sauce, 2 long picks and a basket of bread.  Bulots mayonnaise. Les fruits de mer. Sea snails with mayonnaise. The fruits of the sea. Not exactly what I was imagining!

I gulped feeling a bit queasy and took a long drink of my wine. We watched the couples around us pick up a snail, peel off the hard protective coin from the softer meat, carefully pluck out the snail from its shell with the long pick, dip it into the dipping sauce, and then pop it into their mouth.  

I picked up my first sea snail.  It was a beautiful variegated brown hued shell with intricate whorls.  I stared at it closely for a few moments, then turned it over and stuck my pick into the sea snail and pulled. Sluuurp. There was a bit of suction action until the sea snail slowly was released from its shell. I followed our neighbor's technique of dipping the sea snail into the dipping sauce. I swallowed hard and popped the sea snail into my mouth and chewed.  

It was good.  Actually, surprisingly good.  It tasted like the sea. Like kelp.  Like salt water.  We found out from our waiter that the sea snails are harvested each day.  When the fresh sea snails - and the other fruits of the sea - that are harvested each day are gone, that's it.  There's no such thing as frozen sea food - or frozen sea fruit - here.

We slowly made it through our order of sea snails as we drank our wine, ate our baguette, watched the sunset off in the distance and felt more French by the moment.  We leaned back in our chairs, relieved that we had made it through the pile.  The waiter came over and asked how things were.  I said, "Bon, Merci." Good, thanks. 

And, then it happened.  We had another language snafu.  I wanted to make sure I knew exactly what the sea snails were called in case I wrote about this experience. I pointed towards what I was pretty sure were the sea snails on the menu and questioned our waiter to confirm.  Our waiter vigorously nodded his head and spoke in the affirmative, "Oui, oui, Madame."

The waiter was happy in his knowledge that we knew what he was talking about.  I was happy that the waiter could understand my question and I carefully wrote down "bulots mayonnaise" in my notebook.  The sea snails had gone done rather smoothly, but was it just my imagination that they were  getting a bit restless down there all together?  

We finished our glasses of wine while we waited for the check. Adam turned and groaned out loud as he saw our waiter head back to our table.  Not with the plate that held our check as we expected, but with another large pile of sea snails! "Bulots mayonnaise, Bon appétit." The waiter proudly placed more bread, mayonnaise dipping sauce and the second order of sea snails on the table in front of us.

Clearly we had a miscommunication.  I thought I was confirming what we had just eaten.  The waiter thought we loved the first order of bulots mayonnaise so much that we had ordered another portion. 

Adam was shaking his head.  I was feeling a bit unsettled. The couples around us looked a bit shocked at the sight of another order of sea snails being delivered to our table. "Merci," Adam managed, and quickly ordered another two glasses of wine.  

And so it was when darkness had completely fallen over the town and the dinner hour was in full swing, we trudged slowly up the hill to our little camper with four dozen lightly cooked, and now perfectly chilled sea snails dancing around in our bellies. Oui, bon appétit!

The light and colors of Northern France are cool, with grays, blues and greens.  We were visiting after the main tourist season and found the coastline and beaches quiet and calm.
The sun begins to set over the English Channel as we await our light dinner.
Our order of bulots mayonnaise is served.  It turned out that this was just the first order!
I am pulling out my first sea snail.  The small, hard protective coin is still attached to the snail.
Our growing pile of empty shells
Our light dinner is over and we are awaiting our bill after our first order of sea snails.  We have yet to realize that we will have another order of sea snails delivered to us, and we will be staying at our little table for another hour or so.


Jennifer Chase said...

That looks fantastic! Yum! What a perfect dining experience. Thanks for sharing.

Troy Fisher said...

Thanks for the updates. Always like seeing what ya are up to!

Observers of Life said...

Hi Jennifer and Troy!

Thanks for stopping by! Great to hear from you!


Anonymous said...

It's Teresa and Troy or do you have another Troy in your life.
Anyway I definitely liked the wine but would have passed on the snails.

Aunt Joyce

Observers of Life said...

Hi Aunt Joyce!

Great to hear from you! The wine was delicious - you would have loved it as well as the sunset!