Back in December, my colleague invited me to come spend a weekend with her in Cambrai, a neighboring city just south of Valenciennes and Lille. Delighted for a change of scenery, I gladly accepted.
We spent the cold December evenings soaking up the warm suds of her outdoor jacuzzi and indulging in typical French cuisine, and the days exploring the town, which included a Christmas market, a Chinese lunch buffet, and a side trip to Caudry’s Lace Museum as well as an abandoned abbaye turned into a bustling “American themed” Christmas market (for which I got free entry upon the presentation of my passport).
Cambrai is your typical, quaint, northern France town. It was a center of two battles during the end of World War I, during which the first successful use of tanks took place. Cambrai, like surrounding towns, has a belfry and a town center. I especially enjoyed the Flemish architecture surrounding La Place Aristide Briand.
Perhaps the most distinctive part of Cambrai are its famous candies, Les bêtises de Cambrai (bêtises is also a word which roughly translates to “monkey business” or “nonsense” or “stupid mistake”.) I had never tasted this delicacy before arriving in the north, but now I am simply obsessed. Legend has it that these sweets were invented by accident by a man named Emile Afchain, the son of a confectioner. He had been given specific instructions for making a specific kind of candy, and completely messed it up. His mother, very critical of him, shouted, “Ils sont ratés tes bon bons! Tu n’es bon à rien! Tu as encore fait des bêtises!” (“Your candies are completely ruined now, you are not good at anything and you again made stupid mistakes!”) Regardless, Afchain discovered that his “mistake” actually ended up being widely popular, and on continuous demand. From there his candies became known as Les Bêtises de Cambrai.
Have you ever enjoyed a Bêtise de Cambrai?