Food culture of

The port town of Honfleur, on the southern bank of the Seine, has a fertile hinterland. So what does this mean in culinary terms? A feast, but at the very least with Norman specialities, plenty of fish, shellfish, dairy and star status for apples.

First, let’s go back in time. In the early ninth century, the Vikings made several attempts to conquer Paris via the Seine. These Norsemen also sailed their ingenious ships to England and Canada and even reached Istanbul and the Caspian Sea. But the city of Paris, with all its riches, continued to attract attention. When a major attack on Paris failed in the year 861, the Vikings stayed the winter on French territory. Some settled (for good) in what we now know as Normandy, an area that was indeed named after these Norsemen.
And you can’t blame them: its seaside location was attractive to the Vikings. These seafarers in heart and soul thus had easy access to their homeland and various sea trade routes. In doing so, they made grateful use of what the sea (and the Seine) has to offer: lots of fish, shellfish and seafood. Within a few generations, the Norsemen had completely intermingled with the local French population, something which is still reflected in the Norman dialect.



The word 'fleu' is part of the name Honfleur. This has little to do with the French word ‘fleur’ (for ‘flower’), but rather alludes to an old word meaning something like ‘current’ or ‘waterway’. And that river, with access to the open sea, naturally offers a port town like Honfleur heaps of fish, shellfish and other treasures such as oysters and scallops. Two 17th century salt sheds still stand in Honfleur: a relic of the lively trade in fish, in which salt was crucial for making the fish last longer. Now you can simply buy your fish and seafood straight off the boat or on a sunny Saturday morning at the Place Sainte Cathérine market, such as fresh scallops, oysters and grey shrimps. This pride of Honfleur is honoured every year during the shrimp festival. Honfleur locals prefer to eat that 'P'tite Grise' on buttered toast. With Norman butter, of course.

The Norman answer to southern bouillabaisse is the rich fish soup marmite Dieppoise, made with the best seafood such as turbot, red mullet, sole, mussels and prawns. The soup is flavoured with leek, onion and parsley and seasoned with curry, the beloved French spice blend vadouvan and cayenne pepper. It would not be worthy of Normandy without crème frâiche: the fish mixture is spooned onto a base of the famous Normandy Crème D’Isigny and then topped with fish stock. Don't feel like cooking yourself ? Then buy a seafood platter, fish rillettes, beautiful preserves and freshly made brandade de morue from fishmonger Les Embruns in the heart of Honfleur. Or enjoy a meal at one of the popular seafood restaurants, such as the waterfront Bistro La Boucane or restaurant Tourbillon in the old town.



There’s no Normandy without apples. The hinterland of Honfleur, appropriately enough located in the Calvados region, is teeming with apple orchards. Apple trees love the local maritime climate: the sun is not too bright, it rains, but not too much, and the soil is rich in lime. The apple is not the fruity symbol of the region for nothing. Besides the beloved seafood and the high quality of Norman dairy products (butter, crème frâiche, the world-famous camembert), there is another regional pride: you cannot go to Normandy without drinking apple cider or the famous cider distillate calvados.

Cider is like beer; you drink it when you feel like it, before or during dinner. Calvados is a perfect digestif for after dinner. Normans drink another variant of the alcoholic apple drink as an aperitif called pommeau: one-year-old calvados mixed with thickened apple juice until an alcohol content of 17% has been reached. Unsurprisingly, cooking with anything apple-related is the norm. Apple sorbet with calvados, for example, or the escalope à la Normande: flattened veal steaks flambéed with calvados, topped with a creamy sauce based on cider and Crème D’Isigny.



Calvados' Pont-l'Évêque is one of Normandy’s best-loved cheeses. Robust in aroma but mild in flavour, it is a beautifully square, washed rind cheese that you won’t want to miss if you visit the region. Place the cheese in a baking dish with a few drops of calvados and a little whole milk, add garlic cloves and melt in the oven. Dip into the dish with good bread, toast or pieces of apple and your Norman fondue is complete. And don’t forget to drink a refreshing glass of cider (or a beer) with it. At Sous Les Pommiers in Honfleur, you can get local juices, ciders, calvados and pommeau, as well as Honfleur-brewed beer La Lieutenance, from microbrewery Caval. And as a snack while strolling, you both indulge in a cotton candy together.