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RE-ENVISION: Galette Bretonne

RE-ENVISION is an ongoing series of research memos produced by our associates at Appetite. We trace the cultural genealogies of food from around the world to challenge commonly held beliefs about origin and authenticity. 

The galette bretonne originates in Brittany, a region on the Northwestern coast of France.  Specifically, it is from Haute-Bretagne (Upper Brittany, also known as Gallo country), whereas crepes are from Basse-Bretagne (Lower Brittany).  The former are thicker and wetter while the latter tend to be sweeter, thinner, and sometimes even crispy.1

The first recorded people to inhabit Brittany are the Celts, before Julius Caesar conquered the region in 56 BCE, incorporating it into the Roman Empire as Armorica (a Romanisation of the word for “seaside” in Celtic).  The name Brittany (“little Britain”) did not come into use until after the Romans left, when Celts fleeing Anglo-Saxon invaders migrated there in the 5th and 6th centuries.2  

The dish is characterised by its size and thinness, as well as the buckwheat flour used in its batter.3  A galette bretonne, like many French dishes, includes a liberal amount of butter, too, but the butter from Brittany is spiked with grains of sea salt, originally used to preserve it for maritime travel.4 The thickness of the galette varies, with areas in northern and eastern Brittany preparing a thicker crepe with a buckwheat-only batter, while some southern and western Brittany shops cut the buckwheat with a little bit of plain wheat flour.5 The buckwheat galettes, however, are almost always savoury, featuring classics like eggs, ham, and cheese.6 These ingredients, especially the buckwheat and ham, speak greatly to the history of the region.  

The ham curing process originates in China in approximately 4900 BCE.  It was brought to Brittany and France with the Romans after Julius Caesar conquered them and established trade routes with China.7  

The French Bayonne ham specifically is rumoured to have been invented after Gaston Fébus, Count of Foix, went boar hunting in the 14th century.  Fébus wounded a boar, but it managed to escape, only to be found months later preserved in the salty spring water at Salies-de-Béarn.  The salt preserved the meat, rendering it edible.  

There is also an earlier, albeit less well-documented, tradition of ham-making in France, as evidenced by French Gaul shipments of ham to the Roman emperor centuries before Fébus was even born.  In 1660, ham was even on the menu for the wedding feast of King Louis XIV and Maria Theresa of Spain.8  Thus, the traditional use of ham in galette bretonne would not have been possible without Caesar’s conquest of France, Roman-China trade routes, French boar hunting, and wedding feasts.

Buckwheat follows a similar path. Originally, it was cultivated largely in central and northeastern Asia, like in China in the fifth and sixth centuries.  It wasn’t until the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries that it was introduced into Europe via Turkey and Russia, and not into North America until colonisation.9  Buckwheat is a regenerative crop; it improves the health of the soil for cultivating other crops by encouraging beneficial insects and smothering weeds.10 For this reason, as well as its ability to grow in subpar earth with great speed, buckwheat is a relatively economical crop to farm.  It thrives in Brittany given its cool, moist climate.11

Buckwheat’s name derives from the seed’s appearance, which resembles that of the beech tree. We can thank the Dutch for this insight: “boekweit,” means beech-wheat. Despite its name, buckwheat is not a type of wheat at all. It is actually part of the rhubarb family and is considered a fruit.12

Buckwheat has many uses, including a long history of medicinal use in Chinese culture.  It has also been consumed in a wide array of Asian and Eastern European dishes, including cakes, noodles, and porridges.  The shoots are even served in some regions as a fresh vegetable.  Buckwheat is still consumed around the world, and frequently used in animal feed.  Finally, it is a great pollen support source for bee colonies; buckwheat-supported honey is prized in both China and India.13  

Buckwheat is foundational to many dishes around the world.  In China, it is used in wantuo and helao, cat’s-ear noodles, vermicelli, griddle cakes, and more.  It is also essential in Japanese soba and buckwheat roasted-groats, Korean mook, and Indian chillare, among many others from around the world.14

Even with all of these global uses, buckwheat holds a special significance in Brittany for its use in the galette bretonne.  There are numerous holidays that center around and/or feature galette bretonne, most notably on the so-called “Day of Crepes” or La Chandeleur (February 2nd), which has been deemed French Groundhog Day by many.15  It is said that on this day, children who can successfully flip a galette in one hand while holding a gold coin in the other will be guaranteed riches in the year to come. There are even claims that Napoleon blamed his 1812 defeat in Russia on a dropped crepe.16 

A 19th century newspaper, Horse and Hound, even detailed how the galette was at that time eaten to “economise” bread, and that it was believed that throwing small pieces of the hot galette to their fowl would cause them to lay eggs in abundance.17 In Quimper, the town most known for the galette bretonnes in Brittany, the smell of the crepes permeates the streets.  There is a museum dedicated to the history of crepes, a street named “Cooked Bread Alley,” and a “Butter Square.” Even the town’s patron saint has been sculpted on top of their Gothic cathedral holding a loaf of bread in his hand. Whereas elsewhere in France meals are accompanied by a baguette and wine, in Brittany the galette bretonne and Breton cider are the mainstays of every meal.18  

The Breton cider is a key part of Breton culture and cuisine.  France is the largest cider producing country in the world, and proud of it.  It has been made there since the Celtic Gauls began in the 1st century BCE, as well as under Roman rule (100-300 CE).  In the 9th century, Charlemagne even ordered that apple orchards be planted across Northern France so that he would always have a steady supply of cider.  In 1929, there were 100 million recorded apple and pear trees.  It was also used as an alternative to water during the Medieval times, when the fear induced by the plague compelled many French to turn from water to cider instead.19 Traditional galette making and cider fermentation are both longstanding, and their pairing is a testament to the history of French cuisine.

The Bretons are not alone in their techniques. Savoury pancakes are popular worldwide, from the dosas of India to boxty in Ireland, latkes in the Middle East to okonomiyaki in Japan, pupusas in El Salvador to arepas in Venezuela and Colombia, and many more.20  There is even evidence that Ancient Romans ate crepes that resemble today’s galette bretonnes in celebration of spring and the coming harvest.  With time and trade, new ingredients like the buckwheat that now characterizes the galette bretonne were added to the original recipe.21

Annotated Bibliography

“Buckwheat – an Overview | ScienceDirect Topics.” 

This article provides the synopsis of various other articles, book chapters, and  more relating to buckwheat. It gives a comprehensive overview of the history and cultivation of buckwheat and its spread across the globe.

French Cider, Inc. “Yes, France Is Known for Cider!” French Cider, Inc. Accessed February 27, 2020. 

The French Cider blog traces the history of cider making in France. This piece  notes the differences in popularity of french cider since its creation, and explains  its current significance in and impact on French culture.

“In Brittany, Crepes Are a Matter of Delicious Debate Everyone Agrees It Is Made with Butter, but beyond That Even Bretons Cannot Reach a Consensus on What Kinds of Flour or Filling Goes into the Region’s Most Versatile Foodstuff. – ProQuest.” Accessed February 27, 2020.

This is an article from a Canadian newspaper called The Globe and Mail that  focuses on the differences between various regional varieties of French crepes,  including the galette bretonne. It also highlights some key ingredients in the dish,  including salted butter. Finally, this newspaper article contextualizes some of the  culture surrounding crepes and the galette bretonne specifically.

Mullen, Tom. “Why Bayonne Ham Is Reputed Through France And The World.” Forbes. Accessed February 27, 2020. 

This article details the production of ham in France, specifically focusing on  bayonne ham. It relates various histories and mythologies about how French  ham was invented and popularised.

“Origin, Curiosities and Recipes of the Galette Bretonne.” Accessed February 27, 2020. 

This piece is important in providing an ancient historical analogue to the modern  galette bretonne. It explains how Ancient Romans cooked a dish that resembles  the modern day galette, grounding this dish in a deep historical tradition.


 “Brittany Region of France – Food & Gastronomy – Crêpes and Galettes,” Regions of France, accessed February 27, 2020,

“Brittany – History,” Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed February 27, 2020,

 “Fare of the Country; Breton Crepes, Savory Or Sweet – ProQuest,” accessed February 27, 2020,

4 “In Brittany, Crepes Are a Matter of Delicious Debate Everyone Agrees It Is Made with Butter, but beyond That Even Bretons Cannot Reach a Consensus on What Kinds of Flour or Filling Goes into the Region’s Most Versatile Foodstuff. – ProQuest,” accessed February 27, 2020.

Ligaya Mishan, “Crêpes Canaveral Spreads Itself Thin,” The New York Times, May 21, 2015, sec. Food,

6 “In Brittany, Crepes Are a Matter of Delicious Debate Everyone Agrees It Is Made with Butter, but beyond That Even Bretons Cannot Reach a Consensus on What Kinds of Flour or Filling Goes into the Region’s Most Versatile Foodstuff. – ProQuest.”

7 “Where Does Ham Come From?,” The Spruce Eats, accessed February 27, 2020,

8 Tom Mullen, “Why Bayonne Ham Is Reputed Through France And The World,” Forbes, accessed February 27, 2020,

9 “Buckwheat – an Overview | ScienceDirect Topics,” accessed February 27, 2020,

10 “Bulgur | Description, History, Preparation, & Nutrition,” Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed February 27, 2020,

11 “What Is Buckwheat? An Incredible Plant with a Long History,” Hullo (blog), December 16, 2015,

12 “What Is Buckwheat?”

13 “Buckwheat – an Overview | ScienceDirect Topics.”

14 Ibid.

15 “The History of Crepes,” accessed February 27, 2020,

16  “In Brittany, Crepes Are a Matter of Delicious Debate Everyone Agrees It Is Made with Butter, but beyond That Even Bretons Cannot Reach a Consensus on What Kinds of Flour or Filling Goes into the Region’s Most Versatile Foodstuff. – ProQuest.”

17 “H. M. Agriculture,” Horse and Hound, June 15, 1889, Nineteenth Century UK Periodicals.

18  “Off Brittany’s Craggy Coast Waters Teem with Seafood – ProQuest,” accessed February 27, 2020,

19 French Cider Inc, “Yes, France Is Known for Cider!,” French Cider, Inc., accessed February 27, 2020,

20  “Around the World in 21 Savory Pancakes | Extra Crispy | MyRecipes,” accessed February 27, 2020,

21 “Origin, Curiosities and Recipes of the Galette Bretonne,” accessed February 27, 2020,