Sun-drenched lavender fields, the buzzing of the cicadas and the flavorful cuisine. Here’s a look at some of Provence’s signature dishes.
I have been living in Italy for several years and my love for my adopted country is nourished by a common ground with French heritage: How we relish gastronomic pleasure.
I adore southwest France, where I’m from, and I do long for the sun-soaked tomatoes, the enchanting fragrance of aromatic herbs and the intoxicating aroma of olive oil. If there is a region in France whose cuisine encompasses all these ingredients, it’s Provence! Provence does remind me a bit of Italy–its climate, colors, landscapes and the Mediterranean coast–, and all this combined with the rigor of France make Provence feel like paradise on earth (#expatenitalie).
The Provençal region lies at the crossroads of different cultures, Ligurian, Greek and Roman, all of which have influenced the cuisine. The climate and the mainly hilly territory, bordered by a coastline with steep cliffs lush with fruit, vegetables, flowers and vines. Here’s an overview of the culinary specialties in some of the region’s top cities.
Marseille has stolen the hearts of many travelers and for good reason! The Phocaean city on the Mediterranean is marked by a strong identity as a colorful cosmopolitan. Discover the popular district of Le Panier, daily animated by a village life and a warm atmosphere, located near the fish market of the Old Port. If there is one thing that unites the people of Marseille: Local eats! So take a stroll in the Calanques then taste some of the city’s signature dishes.
It’s impossible to find a dish more typically Marseilles than bouillabaisse, a true emblem of the city that dates back to the Greek settlers. This “poor man’s” fish soup was prepared with the remains of the fisherman’s unsold leftovers is flavored with garlic croutons and Rouille sauce. A bouillabaisse charter created in 1980 establishes the specific ingredients to be used and requires the fish to be cut in front of the customer to make the dish in accordance with tradition.
We know that the French hold the aperitif tradition near and dear to their hearts…especially in Marseillais where pastis is the aperitif standard. An aniseed drink, Pastis is an emblem in the south of France often sipped at outdoor cafés or while playing petanque. Pair your pastis with tapenade and crudités dipped in a tasty garlic sauce.
To make your coffee even tastier, dip some navettes into it. These small boat-shaped, orange-blossom-flavored biscuits can be enjoyed at any time (or day!) of the year, and they are prepared in Provence for the Chandeleur religious holiday (2 February), in lieu of pancakes, which the rest of the French feed upon.
The Côte d’ Azur is a coastline situated characterized by authentic hinterland and dreamy beaches. Nice is a world-famous seaside resort with fascinating cultural and architectural heritage. Explore the boutiques, museums, trendy bars and clubs of Old Nice. See the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St Nicholas and take an obligatory evening walk on the Promenade des Anglais. The city abounds with charming markets, delicious ice cream shops and restaurants where you can savor the delicious Niçoise cuisine. Don’t leave the capital of the Côte d’ Azur without having at least tasted these three local specialties.
Ratatouille, a French classic and a must-eat in Provence, originated in Nice. Each family has its own recipe, with some calling for a hint of chili pepper, a drop of white wine or even a touch of sugar. This nutritious, easy-to-prepare, low-calorie dish resonates in Italy and more precisely in Sicily, where caponata, served hot or cold, is particularly popular.
2. Pistou soup
Pistou soup, a mainstay of the Niçoise cuisine, traces its origins to Genoa. This summer soup is made with vegetables and pasta, all generously seasoned with pistou, a mixture of garlic, fresh basil and olive oil rigorously crushed but without the addition of parmesan or pine nuts, similar to Ligurian pesto.
3. Pissaladière and socca
At tea time, everyone hurries to get their share of pissaladière or socca. Pissaladière consists of a bread dough filled with caramelized onions, olives and pissalat, a fried sardine and anchovy puree. The socca is also an essential part of Niçoise gastronomy that comes from Italy. Similar to Genoese farinata, a baked chickpea batter pancake, socca is believed to have been imported by the Genoese immigrant workers who ate it for their merenda, or afternoon snack.
Obviously, Provence does not stop at Nice and Marseille, and its culinary specialties are still numerous. Calissons d’ Aix are an emblematic confectionery from Aix-en-Provence, made with candied melon and ground almonds topped with ice cream. The most authentic version of Tarte Tropézienne can only be tasted in Saint-Tropez.
If this article has made you hungry, there is only one solution: plan a trip to Provence!