From September to December 2013, I lived and studied in Paris, France, which is one of my favorite cities in the world. This post is the first in a series about the foods I tasted during my four months in Europe.
Perhaps what I love most about the French is their love of food. My host mom, who I called my “Madame”, once told me that the French never stop thinking about food. Before, during and after a meal, French people are thinking about their next meal. One night, my Madame and her daughter spent the entirety of our main course and dessert interrogating my Swiss housemate about her favorite brands of chocolate.
During my time abroad, I traveled to Belgium, England, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, Spain, Switzerland, and various places in France. This post is about my weekend trip to Nice, France, a seaside city in the South of France with a food culture that mixes French and Italian traditions.
On the Cote d’Azur, somewhere between the glamorous city of Cannes and the lavish principality of Monaco, there is a city painted with dusty pinks and deep yellows, where buildings wear caps of vibrant orange. The warm hues of the city contrast with the coastline’s natural landscape, a mélange of blues and greens. This seaside city is Nice, France’s second most popular tourist destination. With a food culture that mixes French and Italian traditions, Nice is as delicious as it is beautiful.
Nice is the birthplace of ratatouille and Salade Niçoise, but visitors to the city are more likely to fill up on fried foods than composed salads. At the open-air restaurants which line the streets of Nice’s old town, ordering is done by pointing. At one such restaurant, a glass case displays strips of fried fish, rounds of browned eggplant, and a variety of vegetables stuffed with beef. In the kitchen, rectangular slices of thick, sauce-laden pizza are cooked to order. The pizza comes topped with chunks of peppers, onions, tomatoes and zucchini, a kind of deconstructed ratatouille.
The restaurant also sells regional specialties, like spicy codfish bites known as “accra.” Accra is simple to make: codfish is shredded and then combined with flour, eggs, vegetables and spices to form a batter. Spoonfuls of the batter are then dropped into hot oil. Each bite of accra tastes of earth and sea, fishy and spicy and herbal. The fritter’s lightly crisp crust gives way to a dense, bread-like interior.
Stuffed, baked vegetables known as “petits farcis” have a place on nearly every menu in Nice; this shop is no exception. Eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, onions and spinach are stuffed with a mixture of beef, breadcrumbs and cheese and then baked. The vegetables are huge and filling.
Some customers order plates of accra or petits farcis, but the line that stretches around the corner and down the street is for something else: socca, chickpea pancakes that are unique to the region.
Socca is cooked to order on a hot griddle similar to a crepe pan. A woman uses a metal utensil to roughly chop the pancake before piling the pieces onto a glass plate. Socca is served simply, without sauce or garnish. The massive pancake has freckles of black and brown, and tastes of chickpeas, salt and oil.
At Nice’s Cours Saleya market, men and women sell candied fruit and bars of soap in colors that match the buildings. The wax-like fruit is vibrant in color but devoid of textural variations.
A local candy factory, Confiserie Florian, specializes in candied clementines. The small, translucent orange orbs, still dripping with syrup, sit in enormous metal bowls. Boxes of candied flowers and painted chocolates are forgotten next to the transfixing, shiny spheres.
A jewel in France’s Provence region, Nice is deliciously unforgettable.