A significant part of any visitor’s time in Provence Côte d’Azur is likely to be taken up by food. Whether you’re eating in restaurants or cooking for yourself, either way you’re sure to find you spend a serious amount of time savouring and delighting in the wealth of fresh produce and local specialities. Long lazy lunches on a shady terrace, with the sound of cicadas chirping, washed down with plenty of chilled rosé is one of the things Provence is all about. Visiting markets and choosing your sun-ripened fruit and veg, golden olive oil, fresh goats cheese and local saucisson is another must-do. With this in mind, I thought I’d put together a list of top 8 must-try foods from Provence.
Socca is a delicious large chickpea pancake, cooked on a copper dish about a metre wide in a wood-fired oven, consisting of chickpea flour, olive oil, salt and water. It should be very thin and slightly burnt on the top. It is served in little scrapings, piping hot with lots of pepper and ideally a glass of cold rosé. Socca is the perfect street food, found easily in the Old Town of Nice and often served at markets and village fairs in the area immediately around Nice but unfortunately not easily found further afield in Provence.
Probably the most famous of my chosen dishes, salade niçoise or salad from Nice, is served in restaurants all over the world, but nothing beats eating it in situ. There is debate over the exact ingredients with some chefs using lettuce and others not, but purists tend to agree on one thing: there should be no green beans or potatoes. So a proper salade niçoise would typically contain tomatoes, green peppers, red onion or spring onion, cucumber, hard-boiled eggs, tuna, olive oil and olives from Nice. Many would also add small purple artichokes, young broad beans, celery, basil, radishes and anchovies. It can be served with a classic French vinaigrette or just a drizzle of olive oil.
Beignets de Fleurs de Courgettes
This dish says summer in Provence like few others. Beignets de fleurs de courgettes translates as courgette flower fritters and you can only find the flowers in the markets in summer. So they just can’t be made at other times of the year. An equally delicious alternative to deep-fried flowers in batter is fleurs de courgettes farcis where the flower is stuffed with a light sheep’s cheese (brousse, similar to ricotta in texture) and mint, drizzled with olive oil and baked.
Petits farcis literally means “little stuffed or stuffed littles” which results in some pretty funny menu translations as there’s no noun explaining what exactly is stuffed. In fact what they turn out to be are typical Mediterranean vegetables, usually aubergines, courgette, peppers and tomatoes, stuffed with seasoned mincemeat and breadcrumbs, slowly oven-cooked.
Tapenade is a typically southern dish made with olives, capers, anchovies and olive oil, chopped finely or blended together into a paste. Its name comes from the Provençal word for capers, “tapenas”. You’ll see piles of fresh tapenade in markets which you can buy by the fist-full, with variations including green olive paste, and you can also get it in jars, perfect for little gifts to take back home. It’s delicious on baguette for an apéritif snack, to go with a glass or two of rosé, or served as an accompaniment to fish, salads and meat.
Pissaladière doesn’t look great, but trust me, it tastes wonderful. The name comes from “peis salats” which means anchovy purée in Nissart, giving a clue as to one of the ingredients. It is in fact a sort of onion and anchovy tart. It consists of a base made of a reasonably thick, and very soft, bread-like dough topped with a generous covering of lightly caramelised onions that should melt in the mouth. Some people add whole anchovy fillets on top, others spread anchovy paste on the base before adding the onions. Both versions are authentic and delicious. Pissaladière is dotted with black olives and can be served cold or warm but not hot.
Soupe au Pistou
Pistou is the Provençal equivalent of pesto made without pine nuts, but this dish is more than just pesto soup. It is a rich fragrant summer vegetable soup, flavoured with basil, garlic and olive oil. Once again, the exact ingredients may vary but normally include a variety of summer beans (green, broad, kidney, French), tomatoes, potatoes, courgettes, leeks and celery and usually some small pasta shapes.
Pan bagnat is the perfect lunchtime picnic sandwich. A big round crusty bread roll, stuffed with tuna, tomato, onion, basil, slices of hard boiled egg, anchovy, radish, green pepper, black olives and plenty of olive oil – basically a salade niçoise in bread. The name comes from Italian pane bagnato meaning wet bread, which indicates just how much olive oil should be used – loads! Don’t expect to look elegant when eating this delight; you’ll have oil dripping everywhere. Great for eating on the beach – just jump in the sea to rinse off when you’ve finished.
This little list is just a taster of what’s on offer in the foodie paradise that is the South of France, I haven’t even touched upon desserts or drinks….
Read more about food from Nice: A gastronomic tour of Nice
Do you have a favourite southern French dish? Do any of these specialities tickle your fancy?
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