Fantastic gastronomy to
enjoy in the Cote d'Azur.
As well as beautiful rolling countryside, endless vinyards, purple fields of lavender, sandy beaches and the clear blue waters of the Med, the Cote d'Azur has delicious foods to complement its fine wines! For many people, a key part of their holiday is sampling the local cuisine. In the Cote d'Azur, this experience can begin with gathering the ingredients as it is so much fun wandering around the local markets and buying fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs. Every town and many villages have a weekly – if not twice weekly- market and it is lovely to start the day early and to walk around the stalls in the sunshine. In some markets, there are stalls selling portions of ready-made traditional dishes – what a great idea!
Explore your local market AT THE CÔTE D'AZUR.
In the local market you will find stalls selling some of the delicious local cheeses including Banon (traditionally wrapped in chestnut leaves), Faisselle and Poire d'Âne as well as fromage de chèvre (goats’ cheese) and fromage de brebis (sheeps cheese). There are often stalls selling the local honey which is golden in colour and flavoured by the array of wild flowers visited by the bees. There will be stalls laden with locally grown fruit including apricots, apples and pears and of course at least one selling escargot – snails. Locally made olive oil is excellent and watch out too for rice grown in the Carmargue – the latest 'red rice' is much loved by local gourmets! On the market stalls, you will find local fruit liqueurs – liqueur de myrtille (blueberry) and de poire (pear). Between November and March, there will be one market stall that will be particularly busy because it is 'truffle season'. Carpentras is the local centre for finding the 'black diamonds' and these are on sale at all the markets. The taste of truffle is strong and pungent and should be used sparingly – just a grating on top of salads or mixed into beaten eggs for an omelette- wow! Of course, whilst you are in the market, it is well worth buying a bag or two of the quintessential mixture of local herbs to enhance your cooking once you are home – Herbes de Provence.
Enjoy really good fresh fish and seafood.
If you are staying close to a harbour, it will be well worth finding out if the fishermen sell their catch first thing in the morning. If not, there is bound to be a fish stall in the local market. If you don't want to cook yourself, then enjoy a meal in the sunshine at one of the restaurants overlooking the harbour! The fish on sale includes glistening Sea Bream. Monkfish, Sea Bass, Crayfish and Sardines as seasonal favourites like Mussels, Prawns and Oysters. If you are visiting the Cote d'Azur in January/ February you may well have the chance to sample Sea Urchin too! As well as serving all the different fish, simply cooked to maximise on their flavour, local restaurants have a delicious seafood platter on their menu too The Cote d'Azur has a wide selection of different restaurants to choose from including Michelin starred restaurants offering gourmet cuisine, to small family-run restaurants which are packed with local diners – always a good sign! As well as different types of restaurants, there is also a choice in location. Some restaurants offer stunning views of the coast with the chance to relax over dinner as the sun sinks below the horizon. There are often several restaurants strung along the fishing harbours and they will definitely have dishes made with the day's catch on their menu. Other restaurants overlook pretty squares in the cities, towns and villages and in the summer months, their tables spill out onto the pavement, adding a colourful ambience to dining.
A restaurant to suit everyone...
The French love good food – it is their national pastime – and of course, for many years French chefs dominated the world food stage. Many of the classic French dishes have become popular the world over including Coq au Vin, Boeuf Bourguignon and Cassoulet, - not to mention such irresistible sweet temptations as Profiteroles, Creme Brûlée and Mille-Feuille. It comes as no surprise that France has the highest number of Michelin starred restaurants - 195. The Cote d'Azur has 27 Michelin starred restaurants including one that holds the prestigious award of three Michelin stars. This is Le Louix XV – Alain Ducasse à L' Hotel de Paris in the heart of Monte Carlo - 'It is here that Alain Ducasse forged his style, imposing his new exacting and masterful culinary classicism, always guided by the true character of the ingredients'. There are five restaurants in the Cote d'Azur with two Michelin stars. Two of the restaurants are in Nice - Flaveur on Rue Gubernatis and Le Chantecler situated on the famous Promenade des Anglais. Le Chèvre d'Or is in the town of Èze, whilst Hostellerie Jérôme is situated in La Turbie. The fifth two-star Michelin restaurants is also in Monte Carlo – Joël Robuchon.
Whilst there is something very special about dining in a Michelin-starred restaurant, the authentic taste of the French Riviera can be enjoyed in so many of the restaurants in the area. There are some wonderful local dishes to enjoy that reflect the colourful character of the region. A great way to experiment with the local cuisine is to enjoy your main meal at lunchtime! Many of the restaurants offer 'Plat du Jour' during the day and this is not only the perfect way to enjoy traditional dishes, but because it is a set menu it really is terrific value! Often the Plat du Jour (dish of the day) is a three-course meal costing on average €15-19 and this can include a complimentary bichon of house wine!
So many delicious regional dishes IN THE CÔTE D'AZUR
There are a number of delicious regional dishes to look for on the menu. Most of them are available all year round... Bouillabaisse must be one of the best loved dishes – especially in the city of Marseilles from where it originates. This delicious fish soup evolved as the perfect way to use the various smaller fishes caught in the fishermen's nets. The fishermen would cook the fish in sea in a large pot of sea water as they sat mending their nets. Over the years, the dish has evolved and today, it is a perennially popular dish. Bouillabaisse is made using up to six different types of fish and shellfish. These are cooked in a rich fish stock with chopped tomatoes and onions, with plenty of garlic and fresh herbs to enhance the flavour and saffron to give the soup extra colour. This soup is served with floating croutons topped with Rouille - a spicy garlic garnish - and a basket filled with freshly cut baguette. Bouillabaisse really can be a main meal soup! Ratatouille is another well-known dish from the Cote d'Azur, this delicious and colourful vegetable casserole was first created in Nice. Ratatouille uses all the vegetables that are grown in the area – tomatoes, onions, courgettes, aubergines and peppers. The vegetables are cooked in the oven with plenty of garlic and fresh herbs. Ratatouille is perfect as a main dish at lunchtime, accompanied by slices of baguette, or it is often served as a side dish to a good steak or pork as it complements both perfectly. Another popular dish that also has its origins in Nice is Daube, which is a hearty casserole of beef and vegetables cooked in red wine. In the city, you can also get a variation on a theme which is Raviolis à la Daube. The ravioli is carefully stuffed with small cooked pieces of the beef and served in the delicious red wine sauce. Probably the best-known dish from the city that can be found recreated in many countries is the colourful Niçoise Salade made with hard boiled eggs, tuna, beans and olives.
Bread is a real speciality in Nice and a wander in the Old Town will reveal bakeries selling bread flavoured with olives, rosemary and walnuts – amongst others! The delicious snack Pan Bagnat originates from Nice too. Thrifty housewives found that stale bread could be moistened and topped with onion, garlic and tomato to make a really tasty bite to eat. You may well spot Pissaladière on sale too. This is another portable snack that is a little like a small pizza topped with thick anchovy sauce. Apéritifs are very popular in the Cote d'Azur and a popular drink that was invented is the aniseed tasting liqueur pastis which turns a milky colour when water is added. What better accompaniment to a glass of pastis than another classic – tapenade? Tapenade is a richly-flavoured olive dip that is made with crushed black olives, anchovies, capers and olive oil, but having said that, tapenade is one of those dishes that every family has its own recipe for and you will find some tapenades made with tomatoes and other with green olives, all taste good scooped onto crusty croutons made from baguette! If you are exploring the mountain villages, there will be some delicious foods to sample including potato and spinach fritters that have been sprinkled with local herbs. There are local sausages to enjoy too – many are made using local herbs just as they have been made since the 17th century.
And of course, the perfect accompaniment...
The perfect coincidence is that as well as many exceptionally good local dishes to try, the Cote d'Azur (which is part of the region of Provence) is a major wine producing area in France! Vines were first grown in the area and today, 160 million bottles are produced and many of them exported. So, what better accompaniment to your meal than an excellent local wine? The local red wines are rich in colour and also rich in taste and full-bodied, whilst the whites are soft and silky smooth on the palate. It is rosé wine that the area is particularly well known as it is France's main rosé producing area – accounting for 45% of the country's total rosé production – what better way to enjoy a memorable meal in the Cote d'Azur... Bon appétit!