“A giant food festival and other gourmet delights are tasty reasons to visit Rouen, France”
It’s called the Fête du Ventre (roughly translated to the Belly Festival) and as the name hints, you’d better arrive hungry. The annual gourmet event held each October brings hundreds of producers from across Normandy into Rouen, the second largest city in Normandy, and treats tens of thousands of visitors to Normandy’s gustatory delights.
For 2023 the festival dates are Saturday, October 14 and Sunday, October 15, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The beautiful city of Rouen, on the banks of the Seine River is world-famous for being the town where a 19-year-old Joan of Arc was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431. Impressionists such as Claude Monet painted unforgettable works here too, and abundant churches earned the medieval city the moniker “City of One-Hundred Church Towers”. Typical half-timbered houses scatter around the picturesque old town while France’s tallest church, Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen is a sight to behold any time of year.
On the market square, a tall cross shows where Joan of Arc was burned and next to it is a spectacular modern church built in 1979 reusing remarkable 16th century stained glass.
But for one weekend in October in Rouen, all eyes and tastebuds turn to the pedestrian-friendly old town, proudly called the “largest French outdoor shopping centre” by locals, when La Fête du Ventre moves into the market square and its surrounding streets, turning it into a mouth watering two days.
Rouen’s market square
La Fete du Ventre
La Fête du Ventre was created in the 1930s and now, no less than 160 producers arrive each October to share their fruits and vegetables, locally-made cheeses, chocolates, alcoholic beverages, pastries and other regional products. The festival also holds workshops, demonstrations, and other events that shed light on the regional cuisine. Close to 150,000 hungry and curious visitors and residents alike come to sip and nibble gourmet specialties from around the region.
Dressed in traditional costumes, local producers and farmers invite you to taste and buy typical Normandy delights such as local apples, cheese, cider, pommeau, Calvados, foie gras, snails, honey, jams, seafood, biscuits, and so much more. You can also drink beer and cider made on the spot, and eat specialities cooked in front of you by local chefs. There is so much to try, but we have a few suggestions.
Do taste a the Douillon d’Elbeuf, a local specialty made with a whole hollow apple filled with jam, wrapped in puff pastry and cooked in a hot oven. Wow! It tastes as good as it sounds, and is even better with a nice cup of tea or coffee.
You should also try a Mirliton, a yummy tartlet filled with a vanilla, orange blossom and almond cream, and a specialty of the city of Rouen.
The picturesque streets of Rouen are the stage for tasty food festival
The Duclair duck, king of the party!
If there were only one speciality to taste it would undoubtedly be the “Canard au Sang” or duck in blood sauce. It is also called canard à la rouennaise, and is a dish that cannot be missed during your stay. It was created in the early 19th century by Père Denise, a former innkeeper at Duclair, a nearby village of the Seine Valley. Check out the recipe here!
You might also hear the term pressed duck. What is it? In short: a roasted duck carcass is slowly pressed and crushed between two silver metal plates to extract the remaining juice and blood. That juice is used to make the rouennaise sauce and served on top of slices of cooked duck breast.
All this to say—duck is serious business in Rouen, with an official association called the “Order of the Duck” founded in 1986 to maintain the culinary traditions of Rouen, including its beloved duck recipe. There are two categories members: the Masters Canardiers and the gentlemen and ladies Canardiers.
The Master Canardier is a professional who has been through a demanding training regimen during which he or she learned how to make the pressed duck following very specific rules.
La Couronne is the oldest restaurant in France
A good restaurant pressed duck must be prepared at your table and served by a Master Canardier. On Rouen’s Place du Marché, head to La Couronne to be sure you will get one of the best if not the best Canard au Sang in town.
La Couronne (The Crown) was founded in 1345 and is the oldest inn in France. It is set in a beautiful timber house and has six different rooms and lounges decorated in typical Normandy style where you will enjoy your meal in a warm and cosy atmosphere.
When weather allows, you can also dine on the outside terrace and enjoy lively Place du Marché people watching.
Countless famous people have dined at La Couronne. Escoffier, known as the “king of cooks and cook of the kings”, Julia Child, the renowned American chef who had her first French meal here. The meal was so good, it is said she introduced butter into her recipes after having lunch at La Couronne and was inspired to dedicate her life to teaching the art of French cooking. The menu she and her husband enjoyed at that time is still served today.
Many artists and politicians have dined here too, including Salvador Dali, John Wayne, Brigitte Bardot, Princess Grace of Monaco, Lord Louis Mountbatten, and others.
Cutting off the duck fillets
We had the great pleasure to enjoy a pressed duck at La Couronne and will remember this dinner, or should I say show, as a one-of-a-kind experience. The duckling was entirely prepared right in front of our table by the Master Canardier. He arrived pushing a trolley with an impressive old silver press and a portable stove to prepare the duck. It truly was a performance and we, along with the other guests of the restaurant, were the audience.
The master canardier at work with the duck press
First the duckling is quickly roasted but not fully cooked. The fillets and legs are skillfully removed to be prepared separately. The carcass, the liver and the skin are placed into the duck press to get the duck’s juice, which is blended with red Burgundy wine, Calvados, minced shallots, the duck’s liver and butter to make a fantastic gravy sauce.
Tableside preparation of the pressed duck is quite a show
The fillets are chopped then flambé with Calvados and topped with the sauce. We then enjoyed the first service of our pressed duck served with vegetable. A true delight! T
To make some room for the rest of our meal we had a “trou normand”. The trou normand, translated to Normandy hole, is a small glass of Calvados that is said to help empty your stomach and make room for the rest of the meal.
At La Couronne they have improved the recipe and we had a delicious pear sorbet topped with a drop of Calvados. I don’t know if it effectively emptied our stomach but it tasted great.
But back to the duck! Next the legs and wings were served as fritters with a salad—crunchy and delicious!
Delicious duck fillet topped with the sumptuous rouennaise sauce
Believe it or not we still had room for dessert!
Frederic had an impressive Calvados soufflé and I enjoyed a marvellous crème brulée with Tonka bean.
Perfectly-made Calvados soufflé
By then, we were finally full, but perfectly happy to have experienced a traditional dish from Rouen.
Where to Stay
During our City Break in Rouen we stayed a few days at the five-star Autograph Collection Hotel Bourgtheroulde by Marriott. Set in a magnificent Renaissance building right in the old town centre, making it easy to eat our way around the festival.
BeSeeingYou In: Rouen
Good to know: You can get to Rouen by train from Paris in1 hour, 22 minutes and by car in about the same time from Le Havre
WOW! Factor: Claude Monet created more than 30 paintings featuring the facade of Notre Dame Cathedral in Rouen
Tip: If you can’t visit during the festival, book a gourmet tasting tour of the city
Author bio: Annick Dournes
Photos: ©Frederic de Poligny or ©Annick Dournes