Les Niniches de Quiberon

Les Niniches de Quiberon

When I was a child, my family spent a week in Brittany every year during the spring break. The place where we went most often was Carnac, on the South coast of Brittany, a little town famous for its stunning prehistoric menhir alignments. It was always quite a gamble on the weather, as that time of year has equal chances of being brightly sunny, or grimly overcast and even thunderous. But I would be hard-pressed to choose the kind of weather I preferred : of course I loved riding my bike in the sun until I had sunburns on the backs of my hands, and building sandcastles that we fought to protect against the rising tide ; but I also have great memories of watching storms from the safety of the seaside, in awe of the strength with which the waves came crashing onto the pier. Getting dressed from head to toe in waterproof gear, walking on the beach against the fierce wind, flying kites, and coming home, the four of us red-cheeked, drippy-nosed, hardly seeing a thing through our soaked and salty glasses.

Of course, I also have many fond food memories of those vacations. In Carnac we knew every crêperie, every bakery and which one had the best kouign aman, a caramelized flaked pastry involving rather indecent amounts of butter, every ice-cream parlor and which one had the best waffle cones and flavors.

But my personal favorite, the treat I looked forward to the most, was Les Niniches : a hard candy in the shape of a long, thin cylinder, in a colored wrapping, with a little stick to hold it.

Les Niniches are in fact a specialty from Quiberon, a nearby town built on a peninsula, in a geographical configuration blessed with the lovely French word “presqu’île“, meaning “almost island”. How pretty is that? Originally they were sold in Quiberon only, but as their popularity grew, the Confiserie d’Armorine who makes them widened their distribution scope and, in particular, opened a Niniche store in Carnac, to my delight.

There are several reasons why I loved Niniches. The first, and most obvious one, was the name : I don’t know how it sounds to the general public or to an English ear, but a word half-way between “nunuche” (silly or daft) and “nichon” (tits) was a sure-fire way to send my sister and I into fits of giggles, repeating it over and over in the backseat of the car.

But a name isn’t enough to make or break a candy, and the great appeal of Les Niniches is the huge variety of flavors on offer. Many fruit flavors, from strawberry to melon, pear to banana, but also many more interesting ones, to my palate at least : pear-chocolate, flaky praline, caramel-coconut, pistachio, nougat-sesame… These flavors are displayed behind the large counter in Niniche stores, where the wall is divided into several dozens of compartments, each one containing a few handfuls of Niniches in that particular flavor.

I already suffered from chronic indecisiveness at the time, and I could stand behind that counter for quite a while, studying the flavors, trying to decide which ones I liked best, which ones I could get for my friends and family, and whether I should go for the tried-and-true classics or venture out into unexplored territories. I would then walk away, clutching my bounty in a little paper bag with a beach cabin drawn on it, peeking inside to relish in the thought of the flavors I had chosen.

And they are, of course, a delight to eat, too. Too long to put entirely in your mouth, you start by sucking on the top part, until it gets thinner and thinner and you can snap it off, then chew on it and fill the crevices of your teeth with caramel. You then get back to the candy on the stick and work at it again, until there is but a little piece remaining on the stick, which you can bite on, splitting it in two. Even though I probably knew at the time how dangerous it was, a Niniche was a particularly pleasant companion to a bike ride along the beach.

The Niniches you see on the picture here, were found at the boulangerie Le Grenier à Pain on the rue des Abbesses. Not as many flavors to choose from there, but all the right ones, and I happily bought myself (and the kid in me) half a dozen.

  • I’ve always known about niniches, even before I moved to Brittany, where in fact I haven’t found any yet. Well, maybe I’m not looking!
    I grew up in Arcachon near Bordeaux, and right next to the best ice creams (“Le cornet d’Amour”), there was this small niniches ‘maker’. He made them in lots of flavors and sizes but also had two different kinds. The niniches dures (hard ones like in your picture and the niniches molles (soft very chewy ones). We would almost always end up buying the soft ones with my sister because they were made in front of your very eyes. It was also so fun to eat, even though it is much quicker than the hard niniches than you can savor…

  • John Chypre

    Are they phallic? As suggested by their form & and the relish females seem to have when devouring & pls note they’re both soft & hard . . . Freud, thou should be living in ths hour . . . John Chypre in the woods near Peacham, Vermont

  • John Chypre

    an addendum: “niniches” plays upon “nichon” tonally & … And the piece de resistance: “a little town famous . . . menhir alignments” and what prithee are they all about? John Chypre who is chyprion.

  • Ninou – I had completely forgotten, but now that you mention it, I do remember that there was a corner where you could watch them make the Niniches, but I think they were the hard candy only, I don’t think I ever tasted the soft ones. Where in Brittany do you live now?

    John – Thanks for the tasteful comment! :) I was of course well aware of the suggestive vocabulary issue, but in a way there is something sensual/sexual about any type of food and food experience, not just when you talk about something that’s long, thin, and that you suck on — don’t you think?

  • tanguy

    Hi Clotilde. I’ve spent my holidays in Carnac for 25 years now, so I now quite well the “Niniche” thing. And yes, they made soft ones in front of you (so that you could eat them “caramel au beurre salé” nice and hot).
    And for the rest of you, yes, there will always be sex jokes about niniches, because once you’ve seen the shape the hot ones can take, yes, you dare say they look like phallus…
    But that’s all part of the same pleasure. Food (not s*x) you perverts!!!!)

  • john Chypre

    Repartee to your “don’t you think?” That’s what “La Baguette, par Jean-Paul… is all about; a synthesis of sexy models & food. Also the scene in Fielding’s Tom Jones where they eat before they meat (sic) … on & on and strangely Jean Paul Sartre doesn’t have much to say about this.

  • kelli ann

    there is something sensual and satisfying about food experiences, from shopping in the market right through to the after-dinner coffee (and, for those who do partake, cigarette…)

    nothing is better, and more necessary, than (both) sex and food.

  • Désolée de ne pas être capable d’écrire en Anglais. Je me souviens avec délice de ces niniches qu’on mangeait tous les soirs après avoir couru derrière les paquets de mousse le long de la côte sauvage. C’était merveilleux.

  • Tanguy – You know what? I remember now that Easter time was still off-season, and there weren’t enough potential customers so they didn’t make the soft ones! I did see them make them once, when I was there in the summertime, on a surprise getaway for my birthday, organized by Maxence…

    Sophie – Aaah oui, la côte sauvage! La course contre les vagues! De l’eau dans mes bottes! Merveilleux souvenirs, en effet…

  • i live in israel and my brother once wanted to import niniches into our country, but unfortunately it never actually happened, we love niniches!

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