A year ago we went to Marseille. This month we’re heading off to Cannes. It occurs to me we failed to write-up our last batch of food exploits in Provence. This is what I can put together from last-year’s notes.
Go to the Fish Market and Buy Things
If you happen to have an apartment, rather than a hotel room, cook some fish.
Monday: toothy branzino-looking fish on the grilll; octopus salad.
Tuesday: little dover sole which we have a devil of a time deboning and skinning; cooked with capers.
You should expect to just say yes to whatever the server thinks your table needs. This will be a procession of dishes that make Americans think Italian, but it’s very Marseillaise. It begins with the awesome combination of cured olives and anchovies with fresh minced garlic and dijon mustard. Trust me it’s awesome. There will be pizza moitié-moitié (half anchovy half cheese). It’s a local specialty and oddly compelling. Squid with lardons. A big piece of beef. Salad. Order a second pizza if you’re still hungry (you won’t be).
Bar De La Marine
Because it’s featured in several movies, settled in at Bar de la Marine (15 Quai de Rive Neuve) for Pastis. Because you have to sit by the water and drink Pastis if it’s your first time in the south of France. It’s a rule.
The classic raw bar joint is still pretty great — this is one of those things where the only thing that matters is who has the best shellfish, and it’s them. They were renovating when we were there, so everything was a little more outdoors: point at the shellfish in a case at a stand in the middle of the square, take it to a table nearby, consume.
Make a reservation at least a day aheda and request the bouillabaisse — they need time to prepare so you must order ahead of time. Take the bus out to L’Epuisette. It’s a lovely ride. At the restaurant itself, the view is astounding and there’s a glassed-over hole in the entryway floor whereby you can see the sea rush in and out. If you use the restroom, your path will get you a closer look: the glassed-in, watery hole is actually an excavated lobster tank where the lobsters and such spend their time waiting for the guillotine. Avoid ordering an appetizer, as this bouillabaisse is a marathon, not a sprint. It will come at you in two waves: first a lovely fishy soup with crusty bread, then the fish itself will be served. It WILL be more than you can eat, so be prepared. The desserts are architecturally beautiful and delicious, but after that much fish don’t expect to eat much of them.
Four Des Navettes
Weirdest tourist kitch ever. If you’re in the neighborhood (near Abbaye Saint Victor), and you generally like biscotti with your coffee, pick up a bag of these for breakfast. If you’ve ever wanted to eat orange-blossom-scented hard-tack, this is your place. Apparently these “navettes” are historical boat-shaped cookie. I can think of a lot of historically-correct food we’ve left behind and good riddance. Hint: I’ll stick with macarons, thanks.
Best bar food ever: slice a log of chickpea-paste, then deep fry and salt it. I guess it’s the North African answer to wings or fries at a bar. Hike up to the Place de Lenche, a square lined with bars. The top left corner (NW corner) has a panisse stand that will be closed late at night, so aim for happy hour. Order lots, drink beer or wine and watch the Vieux Port down the hill.
On Thursdays and Fridays there is a little street fair along the Northeast side of the Vieux Port. They sell cheaper Savon de Marseille, ceramics, cacti, leather goods…and nougat in various flavors. Do not horde it, as it stales fairly quickly. Eat it asap.
O’bidul (79 rue de la Palud)
Amazing one-man-show restaurant (cook, waiter, busboy, entertainment). There are at most three appetizers, three mains, and three desserts. We ordered all of them. The menu changes with the seasons, and there’s a lovely selection of wines. Don’t let the photos of NYC adorning the walls dissuade you. This place is a gem.
Go to Maison Empereur (4 Rue des Recolettes)
It is the grand-daddy of all french kitchen gadget shops, and is built like a rabbit warren. It’s a fun place to lose an hour and wonder “what the hell does this thing do?”