Crepe Night in Neuchatel

DSC_0833If there’s one single thing I can advocate for as a traveler, it’s to dine in someone’s home. Restaruants, street food, cafes, bistros, and other options aside (which I don’t deny have their own special places in my heart), there really is no other way to experience local cooking practices than inside the comfort of a person’s most sacred space—their home.

There’s also really no other way to experience a crepe party.

In the United States, we like to gather around the dinner table too, of course: we have potlucks, dinner parties, and even, dare I say, fondue parties. But none of the foodcentric parties I’ve ever been to involved spinning thin batter onto small round circles on a heated platform, flipping them with spatulas when they start bubbling on top, and then pulling them off and filling them with a delicious selection of cooked meats, vegetables, cheeses, and sauces. Oh yes, and lots and lots of wine.

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The word “crepe” comes from the French crêpe, meaning “curled” (if you’ve ever seen a crepe, you can understand why this is such an appropriate word given its appearance). Though modern crepes are often compared to the Ethiopian injera, the Spanish tortilla, the Indian dosa and the Mexican sope, crepes, in my opinion, are in a category all their own. For one, they taste the most like pancakes (the building blocks of my Saturday morning memories as a child), and secondly, they work so ridiculously well with any filling you could possibly imagine.

If you’re going to have a crepe party, the first order of business is to know your crepe categories. The two most common categories for crepes are savory (think yummy flavors of umami, the meaty goodness that renders it so difficult for so many of us to turn vegetarian), and sweet (think chocolate, powdered sugar, biscotti, apple pie, etc…). Most meals, not surprisingly, start with the savory. To do this, my friend Valentine’s mom Emilie spent hours before our arrival slow-cooking a number of meaty, stew-like dishes, full of sliced ham, pulled chicken in a tomato-based sauce, and mushrooms in a cream sauce. After all of the dishes were cooked, she crumbled a light white cheese into a bowl and put all the bowls around the crepe maker, a large non-stick skillet on a raised platform with six little griddles.

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Then, you EAT.

Here is a quick, American girl’s take on the art of making crepes:

1. Whip up the crepe batter using wheat flour, eggs, milk, and water. (Here’s a pretty good recipe, at least from the looks of it).

2. Saute, grill, and slow-cook your savory stews to put inside the crepes.

3. Crumble up some cheese, cut up some meat, arrange everything nicely on the table.

4. Pour the batter onto the crepe maker in small, rounded spoonfuls.

5. Wait until the batter bubbles, then flip it with a spatula.

6. Cook til done, then pile on the accoutrements, fold in half, cook a few seconds more, then remove with the spatula and place on your plate.

7. Then, get your next one cooking while you eat the one on your plate.

Repeat until you can’t possibly eat another crepe.

And then start the sweet ones. Nutella, biscottti cookie cream, fruits, powdered sugar….oh, the options!

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Crepe “night” should really be crepe “nights,” as in, I ate crepes for four out of the eight days I was in Switzerland last month (to be frank, I probably could have eaten those decadent thin pancakes for every meal and never gotten tired of them, but my first crepe party was something to remember. In one night, I learned just a little bit about the art of Swiss French cooking and spent the evening catching up with very dear friends.

Lucky for me, somebody does sell these extraordinary little mini crepe-making machines over here, but I’m not endorsing this particular model because I haven’t actually gotten around to buying one. In the meantime, though, I’m comforted knowing that, someday, I could try to recreate the magical evening that was my Swiss crepe night.

Oh yes, and here’s yours truly eating another savory crepe at a creperie the next evening:

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Article and photographs by Kristin Winet.

A special thanks to Emilie Dardenne for welcoming me into her home and preparing this tasty feast!

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