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?
If you enjoyed this, why not PIN it!
Credit for photos: pan bagnat, petits farcis and pissaladière thanks to Pesto & Pistou, socca with glass of rosé thanks to A Taste of Nice, soupe au pistou Wikimedia Commons (V.Mourre)
One of the best meat free options can be crêpes which come with all sorts of different toppings. I should think it would be fine to ask for no tuna and there are also usually a number of good salads with goats cheese for example.
So excited to find this post. I was worried about finding meat free options in Provence, but you’ve given us so many options to look out for. I assume some of the foods with tuna can be made fish free. Everything sounds delicious! Saving this, and sharing it with my family who will be with us in Provence.
Yum! Yum! Yum! One of my favorite things was visiting the market in Saint Remy and sampling all the delicious tapenades! #allaboutfrance
You have me salivating Phoebe! They all look delicious. I love Provence: it’s fresh ingredients are divine. I certainly didn’t try all these dishes when I visited so guess I’m going to have to bank! #allaboutfrance
I think you should join that sect Curtis as life without onions must be very tricky!
That’s interesting Annabelle, I wonder how you knew about it as it’s very local to Nice and almost unheard of.
You have just reminded me of Socca. It was one of the first breads our girl tried as a baby. We used to make it quite often but haven’t done so in years! Need to fix that.
Some there I haven’t yet tried but the list as a whole is perfect except for pissalasiere – I don’t like onions! Which, as you can imagine, is quite a handicap in life. Apparently there’s a sect in India which forbids onions – I’m thinking of joining.
Your fish soups are much more typical of Marseille than Nice, but the variety’s what I love about this area and France in general.
Thank you Richard, such lovely words to read.
Cassoulet is a delight, but perhaps not in the middle of summer, and all the time!
Indeed Catherine, and summer starts and lasts a lot longer here than in most of Europe!
What beautiful photos! I’m now feeling very hungry. I’ve tried some of the dishes but not all; something to look forward to enjoying! Over here, in Castelnaudary, it’s cassoulet all the way!
Phoebe- I think this is one of my favorites of all your posts! Beautiful pictures and words that really evoke some vivid sensory memories of a hot afternoon spent [i]a table[/i] in Provence — we especially liked the tapenades and petits farcis, but I’d certainly try EVERYTHING on this list!
It’s interesting to see this list because as I’m on a different part of Provence, we have some different dishes. For example, I’d never heard of the pan bagnat. We also rarely eat salade Nicoise here in the Bouches du Rhone. Instead, we eat a lot of goat cheese salad. My favourite dishes would have to be soup Ã Â la barighoule and fish soup spiced with a little paprika and saffron. Yum!
Compliments to the chef. It does look like you are willing summer on…and why wouldn’t you with such tempting possibilities!
When are you coming to stay then Emily?
Summer on a plate (mostly) all year round here!
my husband could eat pan bagnat every day of his life and not get sick of it!
It sure is Susie.
Socca’s absolutely great, you’ve got to try it one day.
Maybe you could write a guest post for me on wine Jill, you’re the expert, not me.
You’ll never find socca as far west as you Julie, it’s really very local to Nice
lucky you Margo in Nice, you are spoilt for choice!
you’ll love it Annette
the beignets are much rarer, and only available for a very short season, unlike socca which is all year round.
One of my favourites from this list too.
Yum – you’ve made my mouth water Phoebe. I love all of these, but especially Pissaladière, I just can’t go past the saltiness of the anchovy paste and the sweetness of the onions. #AllAboutFrance
The last time I was in Nice I ate socca and drank rosé and it was heavenly! I only wish I had found some beignets de fleurs de courgettes.
Pan bagnat is a definate one for me to try out on my family. Tuna is one of my favourites for baguettes and sandwiches. Thanks for the new ideas. #AllAboutFrance
Yum! Read this just in time for lunch. Now the hard part is choosing because I like them all. Thanks for whetting my appetite!
I had Soupe de Pistou for the first time last year when I went for supper at a neighbour’s house and it was delicious, as are the other foods you mention. The one I haven’t come across in our part of Provence is Socca, so I really must keep an eye out for that when I’m next near Nice. #AllAboutFrance
It always seem like Nice needs it’s own little notation…Provençal food and niçoise food! It really is an interesting spot for food, with the French and Italian influences and all the generosity of the sea. Lovely suggestions here… you’ll have to add a wine pairing for each!!
I made the mistake of reading this just when I need to go and cook dinner, and now my mouth is watering! What bounty there is in Provence, it’s impressive. I’d love to try the Socca. #AllAboutFrance
For pescatarians like us, all these dishes are a mouth-watering dream come true. We eat loads of Mediterranean food, not only delicious but healthy too. 🙂
Great post! I always take my friends and family to try these! Pan bag any and the fleur de courgette are my favorite!
Pan Bagnat sounds delicious! In fact, these all do. Summer on a plate. I want some! #AllAboutFrance
Not only have you made me hungry, but you have also made me LONG for summer…
The soup is actually very tasty, I think you’d like it Ww Hiham.
It is delicious Kara, you must come over here and try it!
It takes a bit of practice Richard, JF can make it quite well, though it never is as good as the original cooked in a woodfired oven.
Ww Hiham and I tried making Socca at home in the UK after a visit to Lou Messugo. It wasn’t a great success. We were left with about three kilos of unused chickpea flour! Best to stick to these delicious things in their own native surroundings.
I would love to try Socca, it looks and sounds delicious
The vegetable soup doesn’t do a lot for me but I love all the others and only discovered the Socca on a visit to nice from Lou Messugo. So there you go