Crepes, those exquisitely thin pancakes, are a French favorite that originated in Brittany during the Middle Ages.
The terraine was not suitable for popular summer wheat, but buckwheat flourished. Regional specialties developed, crepes being among the most famous.
There are two types of crepes: the savory galette that uses unsweetened buckwheat and the sweet crepe that uses slightly sweetened wheat flour.
Savory galettes are typically eaten at lunch or dinner. The batter is fried in a circular pan and filled with ham, eggs, ratatouille, mushroom, cheese and other ingredients.
As crepes become more popular around the world, fusion savory galettes have become more common and there are more gourmet and healthy offerings. Buckwheat crepes are gluten-free, for example, making them extra healthy.
Sweet crepes are typically eaten as dessert or for breakfast and are filled with such sweets as Nutella, powdered sugar, maple syrup, ice cream, fruit spreads and whipped cream.
The most famous is the crêpe Suzette, typically coated with orange liqueur and then set alight. It is said to have been an accidental invention of a teenage Paris waiter, Henri Charpentier, who was preparing crêpes for the Prince of Wales and guests. He accidentally set fire to the dish but tasted it and found its sweetness intoxicating. The prince agreed and named the dish after Suzette, a beautiful French woman among his guests.
Although the origins of this dish are debated, crepes have become ingrained in French culture. They are traditionally served on Candlemas on February 2, colloquially known as Le Jour des Crêpes or The Day of the Crêpes.
There’s a saying that if you can flip a crêpe into the air and catch it with a frying pan in your right hand while holding a gold coin in your left, then you will become wealthy in the year.
The rest of the world is finding it difficult to resist crêpes. While there are several crêperies across Shanghai, these four offer a range of simple classics to more extravagant fare while striving for an authentic Brittany dining experience.
La Creperie (Jing’an)
When Phillipe Ricard noticed that the former French concession was lacking a creperie, he started what has become an emerging chain. La Creperie first opened on Taojing Road in 2007 and has locations in Hong Kong and Vietnam. The second Shanghai eatery in Reel Mall seats more than 100 inside and on an outdoor patio.
Ambience: Nautical. There’s a charming seaside feel, with blue walls and lighthouse-shaped salt and pepper shakers. Anchors and other decor imported from northern France, as are crepe ingredients.
Who to invite: Weekend brunch sets range from 128 to 168 yuan, perfect for a laid-back feast with friends. The menu is extensive.
Food: Big. Everything is sizable, from hearty portions to its sizable menu. More than 30 savory galettes range from traditional favorites like the L’Echumal (French reblochon cheese, potatoes, sliced Bacon, onion, salad) to more exotic fare like the spicy La Nantaise. Many sweet crepes include standout options such as Le Defi, a mix of homemade caramel ice cream, cooked bananas and salted butter caramel. Fin de Clair oysters imported from Brittany are popular. Soups and salads available.
Drinks: Four types of imported French cider, wine, beer, cocktails, coffee, tea, soft drinks.
Recommended: The La Pino (salmon, spinach, egg, Salad) typifies the hearty size and mix of organic ingredients. Of course, Le Defi.
Cost: 272 yuan for two: La Piano savory crepe, La Pino, La Défi, and two cups of Val De Rance cider.
Address: 1/F, 1601 Nanjing Rd W.
Located on the quiet half of Wuding Road, this charming French restaurant fits into its increasingly hip north Jing’an area. It’s a few minutes from the Enoterra-Malabar block but offers an nice intimacy.
Ambience: Warm and cozy with brown wood, low lighting and soft music. Tables for two and four. Open kitchen.
Who to invite: Lunch sets range from 58 to 68 yuan. It’s good for lunch, a nice place for dates and an easy way to pre-game for nights out by nearby Café de Stagiares and other Jing’an bars.
Food: The focus is on simple favorites with authentic savory crepe classics and other specialties like escargot. Five different tartines are offered, from 58-62 yuan — it makes a nice snack to share. Sweet crepes are single, 30 yuan, and double, 35 yuan.
Drinks: Famille E. Duport cider from Normandy, wine, beer, coffee, tea, soft drinks.
Recommended: Super Complete, Flame Kuch (Sour cream, bacon, onion, Emmental cheese), tartine
Cost: 126 yuan for two, including flamekuch tartine and caramel crepe combo, and super complete galette and banana chocolate combo with two cups of cider.
Address: 1116 Wuding Rd
A staple in Hongkou neighborhood, O Delice has opened a second branch on Xinle Road. While crepes make the headlines, it’s not strictly a creperie. The menu is full of comfort foods and the restaurant has a loyal following at the prime location on Donghu Road.
Ambience: Simple with subtle nods to France like the white brick walls and French tiles that can be found in Paris. It’s open at 8am, making it popular for breakfast. During the day, it’s a comfortable place to work.
Who to invite: Friends looking for a different bite, families for weekend brunch, an evening date.
Food: A variety of affordable galettes ranging from 46 to 60 yuan. Sweet crepes range from 22 to 40 yuan, with new additions such as sabayon and vanilla ice cream coming soon. Waffles, sandwiches, soups, French stews and salads available, as are French-tinged pastas.
Drinks: Brute sweet cider from Brittany, smoothies, coffee, tea, wine.
Recommended: The La Complete (mixed beef in tomato sauce, Emmental, egg and garlic mushroom) is a highlight at 45 yuan. Also, Nutella and pan-fried bananas and crepes, goat cheese salad.
Cost: 191 yuan for two: La Complete, smoked salmon and mushrooms crepe, Nutella spread and banana crepe, two coffees (one Americano and one espresso)
Address: 208 Xinle Rd
What started as a home business selling organic yogurt and other produce has evolved into a Hongkou staple. Neighborhood demand compelled French couple Hano and Phillippe Jalllet to open a creperie offering an authentic northern French experience. It’s a family business, which adds an extra touch of warmth, but it’s only open during the day on weekdays.
Ambience: Cute and small. Seats around 30. Popular with families. Walls are hung with paintings of Brittany and ornaments come from northern France. There’s a display of organic produce available for delivery. It’s very community-oriented and organizes markets and bazaars.
Who to invite: A date or the family.
Food: Healthy. Hano was a doctor and the eatery specializes in organic produce. Ingredients are either homemade or imported ingredients and it’s noticeable with every bite. Authenticity is emphasized and all savory galettes and crepes following traditional recipes. Portions are large but healthy ingredients ensures they are not too hearty.
Drinks: While there’s cider from Brittany, yogurt-based smoothies shouldn’t be missed. Also offer a variety of coffees, teas and sodas.
Recommended: La Bolaignese.
Cost: 148 yuan for one: Bébéamie set (green salad, La Spéciale crepe, apple caramel crepe, yogurt, juice)