Tuesday, 19 January 2021

A late Twelfth Night, and 'Popping to Paris' in Valencia

Queen for the day
Our neighbour Isabel being regal
Here in Spain, the great celebration associated with Christmas isn’t the day itself, but twelve days later, the Feast of the Kings. Twelfth Night, as we English rather pedantically but accurately call it. At any rate, it’s the big moment for the kids.

Being logical themselves, this is the moment when the Spanish give their kids presents. After all, it celebrates the day when the baby Jesus received presents, twelve days after his birth, from three Kings who came out of the East. Or possibly three wise men. The Bible’s not all that clear. In fact, they may even have been Magi, but since I have no idea what a Magus is, I discard that option.

Anyway, out here the great celebration is the Festival of the Kings, so for the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume it was Kings. Apparently, they brought gold, frankincense and myrrh. I suppose one useful thing out of the three is pretty much average for Christmas presents.

It’s not clear, from biblical scholars, whether any of them brought cake. But cake is served on 6 January in Spain. ‘Roscón’ it’s called, and very good it is. A bit like French brioche.

As for the French themselves, though, they serve ‘galette des rois’ for Twelfth Night. That roughly translates as Kings’ cake’. Does that make you think of Marie Antoinette and ‘let them eat cake’? I suppose that would be Queen’s Cake. And she didn't say it anyway.

French galette
Now, funnily enough, bringing together the themes of French and Spanish celebrations of ‘the Kings’ is exactly where I wanted to get to in this post. Isn’t it odd how serendipity sometimes guides the written word? 

Why do I say that? Because this year we celebrated ‘the Kings’ in Spain, with three of our Spanish neighbours, but in the French way. And not on the right day. It was too cold on 6 January and, if we have people around at all at the moment, it’s outside, to reduce the Covid risk. We had to wait until well after the day, but that doesn’t matter, because our French pâtisserie made it clear to us that they’d be supplying ‘galettes’ until the end of the month.

French patisserie? Yes, you read that right. We have our own French pâtisserie, in central Valencia. It’s called ‘Passage à Paris’, as you can see for yourself. I suppose the name could be translated as ‘popping over to Paris’. 

Nearly twenty years ago, as I learned from the ExpatValencia website, a young Frenchwoman was working as an analyst for the French railway company SNCF. I think that’s an analyst as in someone who looks at data and works some magic to get information from it, rather than someone who helps colleagues work out whether they’re crazy to be working there. She has rather specific features (légèrement typé, as she puts it), down to her father being Vietnamese, a background also reflected in her name, Nelly Tran Hoang. 

Back then, she liked to pop into a pâtisserie near her work, where she got to know the chef, Fabien Frebourg. Twenty years on, they’ve got married, produced two kids, opened and run two pâtisseries in succession in the Paris region, before deciding to leave an environment where they felt there was too little security and far too much drizzle and cold weather, to move to Valencia.

And another fortuitous happening: they actually live in the outlying neighbourhood of La Cañada, as do we, so we don’t have to travel into Valencia itself to get our cakes. We can just order them over the phone and collect them from her place when she gets home.

Fabien and Nelly
Phenomenal pâtissiers and almost neighbours of ours
Photo by Julie Strodau (@julie_stor)
So our neighbours had proper French galette with us. And nearly the traditional way. The custom is for the youngest person present to get under the table and call out the names, each of whom is served a slice, so that it’s entirely random who gets the ‘fève’. Normally, that means ‘bean’, but in this case it’s a little ceramic figure and whoever gets it is the King or Queen of the Feast of the Kings.

A ceramic fève from a galette
Can remove a dentistry crown, but grant a nice paper crown
The ‘youngest person present’ in our case was 63, so we didn’t ask her to get under the table. Instead, she just covered her eyes and called out names until everyone was served, and we could find out who was going to mount the throne for the day.

In our case, the Queen was our immediate neighbour Isabel, and very regal she looked wrapped in her shawl and wearing her crown.

Everyone enjoyed themselves. I don’t think they felt they were betraying their own national traditions by having excellent galette instead of roscón, especially as we were washing it down with fine Spanish cava. Which, indeed, made the enjoyment even greater.

A good day, and one for which we’re deeply grateful to Nelly and Fabien, and their inspired decision to give up grey Paris for sunny Valencia, so we can enjoy their Passage à Paris.

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