The ubiquitous Salade Niçoise is Nice’s big claim to fame, but there are so many more local food specialties to discover…
The yellow zucchini flower is a staple of Niçoise cuisine. The fleur de courgette is served one of two ways: battered and deep-fried to make a sort of flower fritter called a beignet, or farci style where the big blossom is stuffed with meat and spices and then baked. The best place to try the fleur de courgette fritter is La Merenda (see below) with very simple Niçoise cuisine but of top quality: the pasta pesto absolutely sings, and the fleurs de courgettes are a dream. If you want to try the stuffed variety, I recommend La Oliviera’s vegetarian stuffed zucchini flower, which is non-traditional (they are usually stuffed with meat), but absolutely delicious.
Socca is the traditional peasant snack; resembling a large chick pea pancake, it is best eaten right out of the oven with lots of pepper and glass of rosé. Try it from Theresa Socca every day at the Cours Saleya open-air market (best ambiance), at Chez Pipo in the Port (best socca), or from numerous socca stands around the old town… but don’t buy anything that is pre-plated… Socca must come straight off the pan.
Other must-trys include the Pissaladière (a savory tart of caramelized onions, garnished with Niçoise olives, and anchovies) and the Tourte de Blettes, a delicious tart made with swiss chard, raisins and pine nuts. All these can be found at Lou Pilha Leva, at Place Centrale, which also has my favorite mussels with French fries (moules frites).
Another local specialty is the Petits Farcis Niçoise, which means little stuffed vegetables Nice style… but attention: they are most decidedly not vegetarian and are stuffed with a savory mixture of meat and swiss chard before baking.
Nice also has its signature sandwich: the Pan Bagnat, which means ‘bathed bread’ because the bread is ‘bathed’ in olive oil. It has tuna, hard boiled egg, tomato, radish, red peppers, mesclun greens, a couple of Niçoise olives, and an anchovy. Don’t by a pre-made one, get one that is made to order. La Clocher at Place Rosetti makes a great one, as does the L’Olivier bakery at 12 boulevard Jean Jaures.
Another item that you probably don’t have at home is 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. It’s an Italian specialty that’s served in large thin slices, and whereas it can be kind of a gruesome sight sitting outside the butcher’s, just think of it as Italian-style lunch meat.
Other local products that I love: the tiny Niçoise olives (buy from the numerous olive stands in the Marche Cours Saleya, my favorite is the Youpi Olive man), local goat cheeses (chèvres), and the terrific fresh ravioli shops around the Old Town. For info on where to buy, click on Food Finds in the Old Town.
For a really fun crash-course in Niçoise cuisine, consider taking the Taste of Nice walking/tasting tour that will have you eating your way all through the town. Lots of food, fun history, great guides, fun and relaxed… and a bargain at only 75€ for a 4-5 hour tour that covers breakfast and lunch, offered at 10am daily except on Sundays.
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