I’m not fond of touristy cities especially when they come with an expensive price tag. Like Rome, I was turned off by Nice for a few years as I couldn’t find the local side of this city. Especially when it came to food. Even when I returned last fall I met Anna, a 24-year-old girl from Russia who I bunked with at the luxury beach hostel we both stayed at. We spent our first night walking around the city looking for a bite to eat. Of course, being in the south of France, by the water we wouldn’t settle for anything other than French or seafood. We walked a solid 30 minutes along the main rue Massena and the back streets only to find restaurants serving terrible versions of Italian pasta and pizza. Does any one serve French cuisine in Nice?
I later learned local foods and specialities of the Cote d’Azur are hidden secrets locals have. I was invited on a local gastronomy tour in the Old Town with Marion. I got to spend the day with her as she took me into the food shops, cafés, and markets she goes to everyday. I couldn’t believe how many different kinds of provencal food I never knew existed and had been missing out on. So, off we went! We sampled 9 local specialties of Nice I would have never discovered if it wasn’t for a local.
Cours Saleya is the pedestrian street in the Old Town (Vieux Nice as the locals call it) which runs parallel to the sea and is home to the vibrant morning marché. Every day except Mondays, this is where locals come to do their shopping for fresh provençal fruits, vegetables, fish and ruby red cherry tomatoes or cerises rubis. There is an antique market on Mondays and a blooming flower market daily. I even met Marion’s florist who arranged her wedding flowers!
Tip: Get one of those straw baskets to carry your groceries. It’s very provençal.
The Niçoise have put their well-known Niçoise salad (tomatoes, tuna, hard-boiled eggs, Niçoise olives, and anchovies, dressed in a vinaigrette) into a sandwich. It’s a cool local take on a famous dish.
Tip: You can find it in a boulangerie.
Being so close to Italy, one of the most interesting facts I learned is that the Niçoise don’t do pizza. They have pissaladière. A spongy baked dough topped with caramelized onion and anchovies. This was delicious!
Tip: Don’t call it pizza.
This is the kind of authentic street food I live for. Secret street food that even locals have a hard time finding and when you find it, it feels like you just cracked a Dan Brown code. Socca is olive oil in a giant fried chickpea crêpe. It’s one of the most local and traditional foods of Nice and, at one time, real socca could only be produced in a traditional Niçoise home made in small batches. Recently, small socca stalls started popping up in the city with owners trying to make a name for themselves but the Niçoise are picky eaters and hard to impress – sometimes they complained it was too oily, too crispy, too thick, or not thin enough. After a lot of trying, many socca businesses closed their doors. When I was in Nice, a new socca stall had just opened a few months earlier and Marion called it a god-sent to the city! The socca lady here makes the best, real, and most authentic socca in all of Nice like no one has been able to replicate before. The Niçoise have been waiting a long time for good socca and they finally got it.
Tip: There is no address since it’s just a stall in the middle of a street. Walk to the end of Cours Saleya toward Castle Hill (look for the line up). The way they serve it makes it well worth the wait – for 3€ she scrapes it off a gigantic hot griddle into a 8×11 piece of white paper she turns into a cone.
The Niçoise have put their own spin on Italian focaccia bread, sprinkling it with icing sugar or flavouring with orange flower (fougassette aux fleurs d’oranger).
Tip: You should break the fougasse by hand and never cut it if you do not want to have bad luck for the rest of the year. Just for this reason it’s fun to buy one! It’s also shaped like a leaf.
The French have about 400 different types of cheeses and each region has their own specialty. In Normandy, I devoured Camembert and in Nice it was Brebis and Banon, soft provençal cheese made from goat’s milk. If you get invited for dinner at a local Niçoise home they will likely have these around. And ten other kinds.
Tip: Lou Froumaï on rue Flaminius Raiberti (Marion’s favourite cheese shop).
Torta de blea
Marion warned me in advance.
“It doesn’t look appetizing.”
She was right. A flaky pastry with icing sugar then a chunk of spinach in the middle didn’t seem like a good marriage for a dessert. This was completely false and I couldn’t get enough of it! I even bought a pâte feuilletée to take on the plane with me so I could attempt to replicate it at home. It’s also called tourte de blettes.
Tip: This specialty comes in both sweet (sucrée) and savoury (salées) so you can have one as your main meal and a second for dessert!
A syrup with a really strong almond taste and French orange flower. It goes well as a cocktail mix but Marion and I enjoyed it with apéro (aperitif time which is 5-6pm in Nice).
Tip: It’s pronounced or-zsa. Like Zsa Zsa Gabor.
I don’t have a photo of this one. I drank it before I remembered to take one.
The French speak of provençal olive oils the same way they speak of fine wines. Delicate and sophisticated sometimes with notes of almond, green apple, orange, lemon, even chocolate or truffle. I had no idea about the well-appreciated olive oil culture in France. France produces only a teeny tiny fraction compared to Italy and Spain (60% of the world’s production vs less than 2% in France) but the quality is superior and consequently more expensive since it’s not made on a commercial scale.
Tip: Première Pression (3 rue Antoine Vollon) is an olive oil shop featuring a range of oils from 36 small olive producers in Provence. Only 15 of these olive oil shops exist in all of France so it’s a rare specialty. Grab a plastic spoon because you can taste just about everything here. Also, bring a small bottle for the oil dispenser on-site. You can create your own concoction to take home.
Merci à Marion de m’ accueillir sur sa tour alimentaire locale.