If your holiday plans include a visit to Nice, France, I’m sure you’ll want to try some of the local specialties. Niçoise food is simple, Mediterranean fare based on fresh ingredients and lots of fish. One old Niçois saying says: Fish are born in water, but they die in oil.
Here are just a few of the dishes you might want to try:
Salade Niçoise – People all over the world know of the Niçoise salad. But in Nice, there has been quite a controversy since a French TV chef added green beans and boiled potatoes to what he called a Salade Niçoise. Everyone in Nice protested and offered their own recipe for a real Niçoise salad, and as it turns out, there isn’t one, fixed recipe. However, certain “rules” were established.
First of all, everyone agreed that the only cooked items to go in a Niçoise salad are boiled eggs and cooked tuna – but definitely no cooked vegetables. Otherwise you can use your judgment for most other vegetables. However, there is no lettuce and the general consensus is that cucumbers are also to be avoided.
Jacques Médecin, was a former mayor of Nice who fled to Uruguay in 1990 to escape facing corruption charges. But before his problems with the law, he published a Niçois cookbook that his Niçoise grandmother dictated to him. It’s still quite popular today. (See the link at the bottom of the article.)
Here is a recipe for a Niçoise salad according to Jacques Médecin: tomato, cucumber (very controversial), artichoke, broad beans, green pepper, onions, olives, garlic, hard-boiled egg, basil, tuna or anchovies (not both), radish (optional) olive oil, salt, and pepper. No vinegar, no lettuce, no cooked vegetables.
Pan bagnat– Pan bagnat is basically a Niçoise salad on a big bun. A “real” pan bagnat should not have any lettuce or mayonnaise. The name means “wet bread or bathing bread” because many years ago, it was made from stale bread (waste not want not as my grandmother used to say). The stale bread would be softened up with water before adding other ingredients. Today crusty, fresh bread is used (as far as we know) and is rubbed with garlic before being filled with the “official” Niçoise salad ingredients.
Pissaladière– An onion tart with LOTS of onions and often an anchovy sauce.
Fougasse/Fougassette– A thin bread with cut-out sections in various shapes. In days gone by, it was used by the bakers to test the heat of their ovens before they baked their “real bread”. Then it would be eaten as a snack by the bakers or given out to customers in addition to a bread purchase. Today it has earned its own place on the bakery shelf. You can find plain fougasse, or it can be flavored with olives, tomatoes, cheese, etc. There is also a sweet version, known as the fougassette which is flavored with fruit.
Tourte de blette– A sweet and sour dessert made of chard (the blette), cheese, raisins, and fruit.
Other specialties to discover: les petits farcis, la daube Niçoise, ratatouille Niçoise, la soupe au pistou, and, of course, socca, the famous chickpea pancake which you can read about here.
Which one is your favorite ?
*This article is an excerpt from my book, Curious Histories of Nice, France.
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