Buckwheat Crepes and Pork Are a Match Made in Hot Dog Heaven

While Brittany, France is primarily known for its pâté, it’s the buckwheat galette and pork sausage hot dog combo that's the peninsula's most beloved food staple.

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Jan 23 2016, 5:00pm

While Brittany is primarily known for its Henaff pâté and its Tipiak commercials, it's the buckwheat galette and pork sausage combo that will forever remain in the hearts and mouths of the Gallo nation. Herewith, an investigation into the Armorican peninsula's beloved hot dog.

It's 3 PM on Sunday, November 22, near Roazhon Park. A few trails of smoke rise above the 15 or so white trucks that are parked around the Rennes soccer stadium. The local club won't be facing the Girondins team from Bordeaux for at least another two hours, but the grills are hot and ready to go. Here and there, the red-and-black scarves come out, happy to hand out their fancy napkins to the groups of supporters wiping grease off their faces from the region's true celebrity: the galette-saucisse. Over the last few decades, this traditional Breton delicacy has become a mainstay at the tailgating parties around the Rennes stadium—and the most symbolic culinary specialty of all of Upper Brittany, France.

Fumée- (c) -Guillaume Blot

The sausages and step ladder at Chez Lulu. All photos are by the author.

Poganne and La Robiquette And yet these two emblems of Breton gastronomy have a much longer history. In his book Galette-saucisse, je t'aime (Galette-Saucisse, I Love You), journalist Benjamin Keltz traces the combination's origins back to the 15th century, when the galette, made of buckwheat flour—also known as "black wheat"—was a common regional dish paired with pork giblets. A few centuries later, the sausage eventually replaces the pork pieces and becomes the "official" accompaniment to the galette. Its local growth is due in part to its first commercial appearance in a stall named Poganne in Rennes. It's then further popularized in the early 20th century by another brasserie, La Robiquette.

The establishment, located in a prime location off the road that leads to the Emerald Coast and Saint-Malo, becomes a rite of passage for enthusiasts, who even go so far as to rename the delicacy in honor of the institution. Later, Rennes soccer fans heading toward their team's headquarters will find themselves taking the same road in the other direction, thus encouraging a group of sausage peddlers to set up their stations right outside the stadium. This marks the end of the Robiquette monopoly. In the words of Benjamin Keltz: "It was born in the Rennes countryside, but adopted by the Breton capital."

Drapeau- (c) -Guillaume Blot

Brittany's culinary pride appears even on its flags.

The Child of the Gallo Nation While the idea of combining sausage and galette may have taken several centuries, once adopted, the region's new mascot surges in popularity. Rather than cheering for the Rennes soccer team—whose track record leaves something to be desired—the residents of the Ille-et-Vilaine department turn instead to this new delicacy as an outlet for their regional pride. The dish quickly becomes a veritable emblem of local identity, spreading beyond the borders of the 35th department, and eventually forging a bond amongst residents of the entire Gallo nation—a territory whose borders extend to Saint-Brieuc, Vannes, and Châteaubriant. Benjamin Keltz offers a reason for the phenomenon: "This part of Brittany had but few emblems in the past—and even felt overshadowed by the Finistère, the western part of Brittany, whose local language is alive and strong. The galette-saucisse filled a void and, in a certain way, has crystallized the image of Rennes, which is more of a pit stop, a crossroads."

Though you can now satisfy your galette-saucisse fix with a trip to the local Carrefour supermarket or Ikea, this sense of community identity emerged in collective settings. "The galette-saucisse is eaten in a group while standing up—elements that foster conviviality and kinship," says Benjamin Keltz. To eat your galette-saucisse in plain sight—at home or outdoors—is to pledge your allegiance to the Gallo community (and, while you're at it, quell your hunger for a few hours).

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Galettes of joy and smiles.

Fiercely Defended Values "We currently have 3,500 members from across the world." These are the words of Xavier, co-founder of the association for the Protection of the Breton Galette-Saucisse (whose acronym, in French, is SGSB). We met at the headquarters of Roazhon Celtic Kop, a fan club for Rennes soccer supporters, before the game against Bordeaux. The activist defended his cause: "The goal of our organization is to promote the galette-saucisse outside of the region, but also, and more importantly, maintain the quality of the product." The SGSB has drafted a list of ten commandments, which serve as a theoretical framework and are meant to preserve the spirit of the dish. Some examples: "You, sausage, shall not weigh less than 120 grams;" "You shall cost no more than two euros;" "You shall always be served with a smile."

Out in the field, the members of the association lead operations into key locations like Roazhon Park or the Marché des Lices (another epicenter of galette-saucisse consumption), and don't hesitate to voice their disapproval to restaurateurs whenever quality is lagging. The organization's electorate knows how to show its appreciation: The SGSB made its way into the 1997 legislative elections and garnered 2.1% of votes—a story that people still laugh about. What if culinary politics amounted to what Manuel Valls was doing a few months ago, when he was spotted with a galette-saucisse in hand on the Marché des Lices?

A hoodie that serves as the battle dress of the SGSB association.

Victor and his sausage grill.

The Gildas Touch After shaking a few hands, Xavier recommends that I meet Gildas at his stall "Plaisir du Breton" (The Breton Treat). "You'll see, right across the Football bar," he says. Ten or so stands have chosen to set up shop on either side of the Rue de Lorient, which borders Roazhon Park. The atmosphere is electric as the smells of the grill draw in die-hard soccer fans. On the left side of the road, the bar's bright red awning commands attention, and stands next to a large mural of a galette-saucisse.

Fresque- (c) -Guillaume BlotStand- (c) -Guillaume Blot

Sausage truck beats ice cream truck.

From there, a quick turn towards the right will lead you to the white "Plaisir du Breton" truck, whose yellow awning hangs across the street. While he flips sausages "from Mr. Pierrès, a butcher in Montfort-sur-Meu," Gildas agrees to answer my questions. "It's now been ten years since I took over the family business. My father used to do the grilling. He served galettes-saucisses by the stadium for 28 years." In terms of quantity, he sells "between 200 and 300 per game, which varies depending on the opponent, the weather, and the time of day." This fluctuation in sales is also the case for Philippe, who operates the Stalfor stand: "When the game is at 5 PM, like today, I'll sell only a third of what I sell on a good day. Sales are best when a game starts at 8PM, though 2PM on a Sunday is pretty good too."

The-Plaisir du Breton-(c) -Guillaume BlotGildas- (c) -Guillaume Blot

Gildas, a galette-saucisse specialist.

While Gildas grills his sausages a few hours before the game (he then keeps them in large covered bins, then briefly throws them back onto the grill), others use a bain-marie to bump up the inner temperature before putting them on the grill. Some others choose to reheat them in a pan, though the practice is less common. As for the recipe for the actual galettes? "That's Cécile's territory; you can consult directly with her in the truck," Gildas tells me.

Cécile- (c) -Guillaume Blot

Cécile and her biligs.

A few feet away, Cécile is hard at work with six Krampouz billigs, the nickname given to the traditional circular plaques used to cook crêpes and galettes. Sitting next to her are two immense jars of batter, which was "prepared this morning" and totals about 20 liters—a volume that progressively diminishes with each scoop of the batter. To make a galette, she starts by pouring a bit of sunflower seed oil onto the plaque, then deposits the batter and lets the magic happen. She stacks the galettes horizontally in two huge piles to her right.

Pâte- (c) -Guillaume Blot

Pleasure batter.

Half an hour before kick-off at Roazhon Park, things start to get serious—the galette race is on. Synchronization inside the truck is key: "The customer orders; I turn to Gildas who takes a sausage off the fire and places it onto a galette folded in half. I then ask the customer if he wants it plain, or with mustard, ketchup, or mayo. I season as directed, then roll the ensemble around a napkin. After collecting the 2.5 euros, I hand over the galette-saucisse," quickly explains someone working the Plaisir stand.

RECIPE:   The Breton Galette-Saucisse

Cheers!

With many options for customization, everyone has their own way of doing it: "On the subject of mayo and co, purists will argue that the real galette-saucisse should be eaten plain," comments Gildas, before listing the possibilities. "I first ask the customer if he wants me to reheat the galette on the billig, then I ask if he wants to eat it on the go or wait a while, in which case I wrap it in aluminum." Further down, other vendors offer even more alternatives: double galette, double sausage, garnishes of yellow onion, cheese, ham or fries. All they're doing, they say, is responding to demand. Yolande and Claude, who have held season passes to the Stade Rennais for at least fifteen years, tell me they like to keep things traditional: "We like it plain, with a cold galette." Gwenaëlle agrees: "Plain for me, so I can taste the butter in the galette." Meanwhile, other supporters aren't afraid to pimp their snack, loading up on add-ons as freely as one might stuff a burrito.
Small-bearings (c) -Guillaume BlotTrio- (c) -Guillaume Blot

Patrick, Gwen and Jacques, around the stadium.

Patrick, another regular, prefers his galette with mustard, "to help with digestion." This is apparently the most respectable condiment option, according to Benjamin Keltz, who explains that the first galettes-saucisses were served "with a ton of pepper." Hugo, who is hanging out near the stadium, likes to go all out: "I like the onion-cheese-sausage combo." As for drinks? "Cider is historically linked to the galette-saucisse," says Benjamin Keltz, "but personally, I prefer a local beer—the Duchesse Anne, for example, which you can find in nearby bars," since the food trucks by the stadium aren't allowed to serve alcohol.

A Huge Hit, Even in Russia Not everyone, then, seems to agree on taste, but the emotional connection is universal: All Bretons have fond memories of the treat. "The galette-saucisse reminds me of going to the stadium when I was little, and struggled to eat it properly," laughs Paul. Patrick and Jacques talk about enjoying one at "every game; the two go hand in hand." Hugo, meanwhile, jokes that he comes here "more for the galette-saucisse than the soccer game."

While the delicacy has many supporters willing to sing its praises, some have taken the expression quite literally. On the soccer field one day, before a game—while last-minute orders were being placed in the trucks outside—Jacky Sourget decidedto belt out a tune that has practically become the official hymn of the Stade Rennais: Galette-saucisse, je t'aime (Galette-Saucisse, I Love You). It was in 2012, on a January morning, and souvenirs of this heroic act have stayed with him since.

"We were freezing that morning to film the video," he remembers. "Rennes' own Patrick Sébastien," as Benjamin Keltz has nicknamed him, tacked the lyrics of the RCK's favorite song onto the famous tune "51 je t'aime." "I was in a bar when the idea came to me to do a cover of Galette-saucisse, je t'aime in order to rouse the crowd. I talked it over with a few friends, and we quickly recorded in the studio. We even managed to bring in Brittany's best drummer," says Jacky, beaming. 300,000 views later, and after becoming "a brief club hit in Russia," the song is now constantly heard at matches and various gatherings. Enough, perhaps, to induce indigestion in some—but not this journalist.

When not traveling through France in search of the best buvettes, Guillaume Blot swallows sausage patties by the dozen on Twitter.