Food Finds in the Nice Old Town 

When you come to Nice, bring your appetite, as the streets of the Old Town are full of Nice food specialties to discover.  Especially if you’ve rented a holiday apartment, here’s what to eat while in Nice, and where to buy it.

By far the best time for food shopping is the mornings.  The streets of the Old Town are a different world, quiet and serene, and without all the tourist hubbub.  You can take your time and interact with the shopkeepers, who take pride in their products and love to dispense their advice on the best techniques and preparations.

Selling home-made ravioli in Old NiceFresh Pasta:   La Mason Barale has been making fresh raviolis since 1892; look to the blackboard for the daily selection, which ranges from traditional Niçoise to almost avant-garde, such as toasted-almond-and-green-olive ravioli, or my favorite: candied lemon, ginger and ricotta ravioli.  Mason Barale is open mornings only, and you can choose your ravioli, then your sauce, then your cheese: one-stop-shopping for an extraordinary meal that will take just 5 minutes to prepare.  

Mushrooms and asparagus in the Cours Saleya open air market

Produce:  Shop the local-producers side of Cours Saleya Market, across from the church, where you’ll find the old authentic farmers, straight out of Pagnol.  This is also where you find the specialty and organic (bio) farmers.  The best deals are after the cannon goes off at noon, when they start grouping things in pans which then go for 1.50€ or 2€. 

Bakeries:  The consensus on the best bakery in Nice is Zielenska Bakery at 4 rue Jules Gilly just off Cours Saleya, which is more expensive than some of the others, but is the real deal with the highest standards, ancient ways, and no corners cut.  Other Old Town favs include Marinette, on the street just behind the Cathedral (a lovely setting to have a morning coffee…), the L’Olivier boulangerie at 12 boulevard Jean Jaures, and the little mom-and-pop bakery La Capeline boulangerie at 12 rue Centrale.  

A couple of insider bakery tips:

  • Americans use their index finger to signal ‘one’, but in Europe the thumb means one, so that gesture with the index finger means ‘two’.  This mixed message causes much confusion, like getting 2 croissants when you only wanted one.
  • Boulanger de France sign to signal all goods baked in-houseIn general, always look for the Boulanger de France logo, which certifies that the bakery makes everything themselves.   
  • Instead of ordering a baguette (often mass produced before being baked on site), ask for a ‘ baguette de tradition’ (or just ‘tradi’) also known as a baguette a l’ancienne, which is (by law) made entirely in-house with sourdough starter, and thus more flavorful.  

Poulet Roti:  Don’t miss the classic French rotisserie-chicken: my vote for the most tender, juicy and delicious is found at the Boucherie Djebali for 6€; to find it go up the hill from Place Rossetti, then left on rue Droite …then just follow your nose.   They are open ‘til 8 every night, even on Sundays.

fish market in Nice FranceSeafood:  There is a small daily morning fish market that has been enthralling seagulls for centuries around the stone fish fountain at place Saint- François in the Old Town (just follow the seagulls to find it). 

…But my favorite fish market is much bigger, in the Marche de la Liberation on the other side of Nice.  Take the tramway and get off at the Vernier stop, then just cross the street to find this dazzling fish fantasia.   Both markets open Tues-Sunday mornings.

Or… to really go to the source, head over to the Port where you can buy direct from the fishermen.  Each morning at around 10am, Steve and Loic each pull their little skiff up to the dock with their morning’s catch and then sell it direct from 10:30 to noon on Quai Lunel, right out of the water with no middle man.  The prices are not really lower, but you can’t beat that for fresh!   The stand is very small and has no sign, but it is directly across from the Nuits Blanches discotheque.

On weekends only, you can find fresh oysters (huitres) at the Cours Saleya market.  The young enterprising producer, Benjamin Ciano, drives an 8-hour round-trip every Saturday and then again on Sunday, to bring these beauties from his oyster beds in Bouzigues (near Montpellier) directly to Nice.  For a small supplement he’ll even open them for you, and he has a little table set up behind his stand in case you want to slurp them right there, with a glass of white wine.

Check out a whole page on all the great open-air markets in Nice

Busy butchers in Old NiceMeat:  Boucherie Saint-François (near the Old Town fish market) is worth the wait in the ever-present line.  The butchers wrap up your order, jab a number through the bag, and toss the whole thing up onto a conveyor belt that pelts the poor cashier with everyone’s meat order.  Remember your number (in French), as she’ll call it out when it’s time to pay.  Don’t miss this butcher at Christmas time, when it’s all decked out with feathered pheasants and a whole wild boar in the front!  This butcher is the biggest, the best price and the most colorful, but other butchers on the same street are also great and I buy certain favorites from each.

Porchetta stuffed pigFor something really different, try porchetta: a whole pig that has been hollowed out and then re-stuffed with chunks of meat, fat, local herbs and lots of garlic before being roasted on a spit, then served in large thin slices.  You’ll see one just past Place Saint-François toward place Garibaldi at Charcuterie Ghibaudo, founded in 1877.

Cheese: Although this highly aromatic boutique is relatively new, its pedigree is not: its owner, Laurent Viterbo, comes from a family of local cheese makers and merchants going back to his grandfather.  Lou Froumai (Old Nissart for The Cheese) features a truly impressive selection of local and specialty cheeses, and can be found, just off Place Rosetti near the church… just follow your nose.

trays of olives at the Cours Saleya open air market in NiceOlives:  Head to the Marche Cours Saleya for several olive merchants with an array of choices, and be sure to try the tiny but flavorful Niçoise olives that cost almost nothing here, but are very exclusive anywhere else.   Another stand, near Place Garibaldi, has amazing sardine-stuffed green olives with onions, which are deceptively delicious.

Olive Oils: drop by La Oliviera on rue de Collet to do a comparative tasting and let Nadim share his passion for the varied and delicious olive oils of the region, each of which has a story.  Another well-known olive oil boutique is Nicolas Alziari at 14 rue Francois de Paul near the Opera.

Auer 100-year-old chocolate shop in Nice FranceChocolates:  The oldest and most beautiful is Maison Auer, across from the Opera, where the traditional fabrication of fine chocolate and candied fruit has been passed down from father to son since 1820.  This used to be the favorite tea room of Queen Victoria when she wintered in Nice, and since that time the decor has not changed an iota; they even kept the Tea Room sign above the door despite the fact there is no longer a tea room.  This shop is as much a treat for the eyes as the palette.   

Another  chocolate shop in the old town has a hidden tea room:  L’Art Gourmand, just off Place Palais du Justice, where you’ll find a little upstairs mezzanine Salon d’Thé that is not only warm and cosy, but is filled with the aroma of chocolate. Perfect for a artisanal Italian-style hot chocolate on a chilly winter afternoon.

Fresh Roasted Coffee Beans:  Once again, follow your nose… the Brulerie des Cafés Indian roasts their own and it’s worth going for the smell alone!  Mostly a bean-seller, they also have fine teas in bulk as well as a little coffee bar so you can try before you buy and they are happy to explain the differences and nuances of the different blends…   Find them on just off Place Rossetti near the church, and also on Rue Pairolière.

Wines stocked in French wine store in NiceWine:  Cave Caprioglio is a 100-year-old 3rd-generation family wine shop that takes you back in time with its authentic ambiance and wine-cask aromas, complemented with friendly advice and perfect English.  The cave features a great selection of carefully chosen bottles, from inexpensive wines all the way up to the grand cru’s …but the locals still bring in their empties to have them filled from the giant casks on the wall.

Cave de la Tour sidewalk seating with wine barrel tablesAnother charming wine shop is La Cave de la Tour, on the other end of the Old Town.  This one has also been a fixture in Vieux Nice life since the ’40’s, and features a wine bar so you can sally up to the wine casks and try before you buy. They also do a nice little home-cooked lunch…

Both of these wine sellers also have wine from the casks, so you can be super ecologique and recycle your wine bottles!

A glass of green absinth with special spoonHave you ever tried Absinthe?  Illegal for the last 70-odd years, this strong and semi-hallucinatory drink inspired the most creative Parisian minds of the early 20th century, including Van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Modigliani, Hemingway and Toulouse-Lautrec. Nowadays the active ingredient in the ‘green fairy’ is tightly controlled; with a fraction of the original dose it is once again legal and is enjoying a popular resurgence.  There is a specific way to drink it, with water poured in over a sugar cube on a special spoon, or even flamed.   You can pick up a small starter bottle at Cave Caprioglio to try it.  If you go to Antibes, there is an must-see actual Absynthe Bar where you sip and sample!

Ice cream stand with 100 flavorsIce cream:  Fenocchio is the eye-popping ice cream stand on place Rossetti, with nearly 100 amazing flavors, like an ice cream kaleidoscope. Here you will find flavors found nowhere else, such as rose, jasmine, rosemary, tomato/basil, ginger, lychee, and rhubarb. Insider tip to avoid the line: Fenocchio has a second location 1 minute away with half the crowd: turn up the hill and take the first right on rue Benoit Bunico, then walk 3 short blocks toward Cours Saleya.

But many locals feel that Fenocchio’s success has maybe gone to its head, with shrinking portions, high prices, and maybe not quite as homemade as in earlier days…

So the consensus for best ice cream in Old Nice now goes to Gelateria Azzurro, just across the square and a few steps down the street (on the same side as the church, not the one on the angle!) Here they will let you sample up to 4 flavors to try before you buy, but know that they are cash only.

Other strong contenders include Fior di Amarena also at Place Rossetti, and Oui, Jelato on rue de la Préfecture at the Palais du Justice town square: the selections are smaller, but the prices are better and portions bigger, and if you like a really creamy gelato, this is for you.

Photo credits:  All photos by Best of Nice Blog except: Fish Market courtesy of Mary Payne;  Porchetta by Patrice Semeria, Boulangerie by Welleschik, and Absinthe by Eric Litton, all three licensed under Creative Commons 

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