La Fête de Ventre – The Celebration of the Stomach!

“Finished already”, said my favourite cheese-monger this morning handing me a bag with a large wedge of oozing brie, for which he shook his head at any idea of payment. It was just 11, and I had already passed his market stall earlier in the morning with twenty americans in tow. He’s such a nice man that when he sees me approaching, he always lays out on the counter top the four “appelation controlé” normandy cheeses for me to talk about to whoever I may have with me. I grinned at him saying how hard it was for me to get up to meet today’s group having been enjoying myself at a dinner with friends the night before.

Even more unusually, there was no queue at the fruit and vegetable stall either, so after a shake of the hand and a cheery chat with the owners, I walked away with another bag on my arm and passed into the side road where all the real action was. Today is the annual “Celebration of the stomach”, and as always hundreds of local producers arrive in the town at the crack of dawn on saturday for the two day long festival. Not only was there every imaginable food and locally produced alcohol available, but an excellent 5 man band were wandering around filling the air with fabulous and cheerful music.

I already had a couple of spit-roasted chickens under my arm, and so what I really needed next was some freshly baked bread. There is no presarvative in french bread, and so it has to be bought fresh every day. Today there were at least three boulangers baking bread on the street in portable bread ovens and the smell was heavenly.


But you can’t buy bread without thinking of cheese, and the local normandy cheese called Neufchatel, traditionally in the form of a heart, was not far away!


The Neufchatel comes in varying degrees of ripeness, young smooth and white or older white with little slits in the surface. But then suddenly I noticed some brown hearts and couldn’t resist asking just how old these cheeses were. The stall owner declared that they were four months old and had the flavour of caramelised cheese. “Were they dry in the centre” asked another person. Not at all, rich and gooey in the centre, these are not cheeses for the faint-hearted!wp_20161016_002

Well only moments later I passed a stall where a huge pan of Tartiflette was bubbling away. Potatoes, onions and bacon cooked in white Savoy wine and fresh cream with a generous helping of Roblochon, a soft rind soft “appelation controlée” cheese also from the Savoy region. There was enough to feed an army.


Having got all that I really needed, there was time just to wander through the stalls and savour what was available.


fresh squashes and pumpkins, and fresh garden herbs.


abundent fresh fish and shellfish.

wp_20161016_022Roast pork,wp_20161016_020

and hot, fresh crèpes with chocolate sauce.

wp_20161016_015Macaronswp_20161016_016choux puffs of every possible flavour,wp_20161016_017and mini cup-cakes.wp_20161016_013And then, if you weren’t already overwhelmed for choice, freshly made chocolate truffles!wp_20161016_010I passed a few more stalls selling handmade cured saucisson, some flavoured with goats cheese and others with camembert,wp_20161016_007and abundent coquilles St Jaques, (scallops)wp_20161016_006and more mussels than anyone could possibly eat!wp_20161016_031And while all this was going on all around, a chocolatier was quietly carving this chocolate sculpture.

Though judging by her grimace, the poor chocolate woman is clearly agonising about her waistline in the face of all this abundence.

And i’m not suprised really – are you?

Bon Apetite!


Obsèques du Magasin de Fruits et Légumes – ‘Aux Cours des Halles’, Rouen

Last Thursday I popped into my fruit and vegetable shop in our quartier, at the bottom of Rue Verte. The shop is always a delight and loaded to the gunwhales with delicious fruits of every variety, extraordinary vegetables, fresh potted herbs, candied fruit, bottles of wine and fruit juice. A long counter displays a good variety of delicious ripe cheeses and a few handy epicerie products are tucked away handily in one corner. It really is possible to make a fabulous Salade Niçoise without visiting another shop for the ingredients.

It isn’t possible to visit the shop without ending up in a queue. But the queue is a window to french life. The women who run the shop are popular and efficient and know many of their customers by their christian names. Stories are swapped, with the entire crowd of customers often contributing to the topic of conversation of the day!

We have demonstrated on the shop floor to the women that a Bay-Blade stadium is not a dog bowl, but a boys toy, we have paid hundreds in order to savour the delicious vine cherry-tomatoes, we have laughed ourselves to tears over my appalling pronunciation, and discussed methods for cooking humble vegetables with absorbed interest.

Imagine the shock of the neighbourhood and myself on Thursday morning on  noticing stacks of empty baskets in the window. At first everyone assumed a general spring clean was taking place. It was early January and the Christmas rush had just finished. Gradually it filtered through the the waiting customers that the Patron, or owner of the shop had disappeared. The closure of the shop was sudden and ‘definitive’. Customers lingered in the shop quietly listening to the two women who had overnight lost their livelihood. The dismay was tangible. The quartier is in mourning and the loss of the shop will be sorely felt, not only by the individual customers, but also by the large Hotel Dieppe on the corner who sourced their supplies there daily and not further afield.

What has become of the Patron, nobody knows. A little seed of hope lingers that the shop still may re-open, but everybody knows deep-down that the credit crunch has taken yet another victim.

May he rest in peace.