One of the clichés about Europe and France in particular is the omnipresence of bread. And not just any bread, but crackly, crispy crust with soft and tender innards bread. I'm happy to report and say that this cliché isn't going anywhere soon, and we were very glad last week to contribute to the average daily consumption of bread in France.
Croissants at the morning market on the Cours Saleya.
My husband had a conference for work and (lucky us!) it was held in the south of France - in Nice, to be exact. Nice is a coastal city on the Cote d'Azur, very close to Italy; it used to belong to Italy, in fact, and its local cuisine draws much inspiration from the Mediterranean. The sun and warm weather reminded us of both California and the Italian coast; palm trees and blue-stoned beaches are icons of the city.
A selection of local food, including pissaladière - a focaccia or pizza with onions and olives - petits farcis, vegetables stuffed with meat; and beignets, fried vegetables like eggplant or zucchini.
It also used to be a very poor region, and the authentic local cuisine reflects that as well. Chickpeas and chickpea flour, olives and olive oil, chard and other greens, tomatoes and onions all figure prominently.
The food of course was the highlight, and as we head into the holidays and fall I actually found a great deal of inspiration in this bright, sunny city. Watch for more soon on the real meaning of panisse (as in Chez Panisse), a cooking class with a wonderful guide to Nicoise cuisine, a dinner for six in an unfamiliar apartment, interesting things from the French grocery store, a market tour from Nice's famous Cours Saleya, and notes from an ambassador for some of the best olive oil you'll ever find.
Socca, a distinctive local street food made from chickpea flour. It's very thin, like a crepe, and cooked in a wood burning oven. It's served piping hot with salt and pepper - it's utterly delicious.
Oh, and bread. Lots and lots of bread. We sighed to leave "our" boulangerie behind; it was just around the corner and open later than other bakeries. You could go in nearly any time of day and be handed a baguette, piping hot from the oven and barely kept from scorching your fingers through a waxed paper bag. We ate good butter on bread with local dark honey; we ate bread with a panade made from rice and spinach; we ate bread with beef daube and pasta with pistou. And of course we ate bread with olive oil; the basket above was polished off with a series of local olive oils at our favorite restaurant. We came to love that full bread basket at every meal.
More from the south of France to come... Bon appétit!
Related: On Hotel Room Eating
(Image: Faith Durand)