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Food in Provence: 12 delicious foods to eat in southern France

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The best food to eat in Provence

Some of the best French food is the food in Provence. The food cultures of France and Italy join together the closer you get to the Italian border and the coastal waters of the Mediterranean. It’s a region full of simple yet delicious food. There are also dishes here that you will not find anywhere else in France.

Those who are new to France often put the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region at the top of their must-visit list for two main reasons: the French Riviera of the Côte d’Azur and the lavender fields of Provence.

This region is as diverse as it is large. From the mountains of the Alps to the Mediterranean coastline, there are huge expanses of natural forest in between, many the source of incredible adrenaline-charged outdoor activities.

Lakes, rivers and streams feed small regional towns and major cities like Lyon offer a chance to explore an urban cityscape and uncover centuries of history.

Vineyards, orchards and farming land dot the landscape, bringing richness to the food of the region. You don’t have to go far to find a fabulous wine and you’ll never have to worry about locating a cafe, restaurant or brasserie.

Anyone self-catering in a motorhome will find an abundance of local food markets, even in the smallest of towns, and large permanent markets like the ones in Lyon and Avignon.

cafe le fleurs in provence

So, if you find yourself in Provence, don’t just head for the lavender fields. Do what all the travel writers below have done and seek out your favourite Provençal food. Even better, if you love to cook, most of them can also be cooked at home.

bistro lyon

Where is Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur?

The region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur is located in the south-east of France. Comprised of six departments, it is bordered by Italy to the east, and the Mediterranean Sea and Monaco in the south. The western border runs into the region of Occatanie and in the north, the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.

Panisse

Ayngelina Brogan – Bacon is Magic

Many of the foods in Provence are similar to neighbouring Italy. And so it’s not surprising that panisse, a common Marseille food, is strikingly similar to polenta or farinata, the Italian chickpea flatbread/pancake.

Panisse is a fried chickpea flour bread or cake, and it’s perfect for those who are looking for some sustenance but need to eat gluten-fee.

This chickpea dough makes an incredibly diverse dish as it can be savoury and served as a side dish to rich stews, or cut into coins or fingers and dusted with sugar to be a dessert served alongside Cassis. It can also be used as bread for sandwiches.

Deep fried, baked or grilled. You’ll find it used so many ways in Marseille. The taste is mild, and when deep fried the exterior is crunchy and the interior is creamy. It may not be the healthiest but it is one of the tastiest.

panisse from marseilles
Panisse ©Anygelina Brogan Image used with permission

Navettes

Aga Kozmic – A Matter of Taste

Navettes are orange blossom biscuits originating from Marseille. They are associated with Candlemas (a Christian holy day) although they are available all year round.

There are a couple of legends explaining the shape of the cookie but the most common is that it resembles a boat which brought Saint Mary Magdalene & Saint Martha to the coast of Provence some 2000 years ago.

No matter the story, the biscuit is worth trying. It’s hard and has a rather dry texture but the pleasant orange blossom aftertaste makes you reach for more.

You can buy them in many souvenir shops although the most authentic are available from Four des Navettes – the oldest bakery in Marseille. In the mornings, all surrounding streets are filled with an irresistible orange scent coming out of the bakery. I couldn’t say no to buying a dozen every time we were in the area.

Navettes_Marseille_AgaKozmic food in provence
Navettes from Marseille ©Aga Kozmic Image used with permission

Fougasse

Nadine Maffre – Le Long Weekend

Provence’s answer to Italy’s focaccia, fougasse is a flatbread that is typically stuffed with olives and herbs de Provence (and occasionally other additions such as cheese or anchovies), much like it’s Italian counterpart.

Originally used as a ‘tester’ bread to check the temperature of the wood-fired oven, it’s now a firm part of the Provençal diet. Look out for it in the boulangerie – not all will sell it, but many will and you’ll recognise it by its distinctive form.

It’s most often shaped like a leaf, although tree and wheat patterns are also commonplace. Savour the salty, dense, and highly flavoursome bread with a glass of Provence rosé, as an aperitif, or over lunch with a refreshing salad on the side.

Although most often found in Provence, variations of the flatbread are found throughout France, and if a trip to France isn’t possible right now, it’s not too difficult to whip one up at home either, as recipes abound online.

fougasse
Fougasse ©Nadine Maffre Image used with permission

Tartiflette

Sabine De Gaspari – The Tasty Chilli

Tartiflette is a famous dish of comfort food originating from the French Alps, and more specifically from the Savoy region. It’s normally served during wintertime in the Alps, after a long day of skiing or snowboarding on the pistes.

Tartiflette does not contain many ingredients and is fairly easy to prepare. This heart warming dish is made with potatoes, onions, bacon and the scrumptious Reblochon cheese which is a soft washed-rind cheese made in the region of the Haute-Savoie.

It is said that the producers of the Reblochon cheese came up with the Tartiflette recipe to promote the sales of their cheese. And it worked because the dish is now famous all over France and far beyond.

Tartiflette is usually served with just a light side salad or some pickled vegetables since it can be a fairly heavy and filling dish, but it should always be served with a slice of baguette or French loaf to mop up all the juicy flavours of the melted cheese.

The potatoes are fried with the onions and bacon in a pan, after which some white wine is poured over it and reduced. The cheese is cut in half and placed over the ingredients so it can melt into the dish while in the oven.

You can find the full tartiflette recipe here.

French tartiflette recipe
Tartiflette ©Sabine De Gaspari Image used with permission

Fruit confit / candied fruit

Leyla Giray Alyanak – Offbeat France

Biting into a fruit confit, or candied fruit, is like biting down on sweet sunshine, and Provence is a perfect backdrop for growing fruit of all kinds.

Throughout history, connoisseurs have explored ways to preserve fruit through winter and these preserves – known as ‘dry jams’ – became popular in Italy.

It would seem they arrived in Provence during the so-called French Papacy of the 14th century, when a series of Catholic popes reigned in Avignon, in what is now Provence, rather than in Rome.

According to history, Pope Clement VI tasted them at the home of an Italian cardinal and that sealed the candied fruit’s fate: it would become hugely popular in Provence and would be prized on noble tables.

There was trial and error, though, and the final recipe would only be consecrated in 1555 by Nostradamus, the famous astrologer and seer, who wrote it up in his Treatise on Cosmetics and Jams.

Many fruits can be candied but the most popular include oranges and tangerines, pears, figs and cherries. You’ll even find candied peels of orange and lemons. Whilst they are delightful as snacks, they are also used to decorate cakes and pastries.

Making candied fruit is a complex art that involves replacing a fruit’s natural water with sugar, which then allows the fruit to be preserved. There are a number of stages involved, including blanching the fruit, coating it with sugar several times, absorption, selection, icing, drying and packaging. These days sugar is used but there was a time when fruits were candied with honey.

While you’ll find them throughout Provence, Apt in the Luberon has made this most popular French food its specialty. Since 2018, candied fruit from Apt has been part of UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage.

candied fruits
Candied fruits © Leyla Giray Alyanak Image used with permission

Salade Niçoise

Jenifer Byington – The Evolista

Salade Niçoise is the quintessential French summer dish. It can be served on its own as a main course salad or as a side salad for a fish or meat dish. Niçoise means in the style of Nice, a city in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of France, where this dish originated. 

The traditional peasant recipe consisted of tomatoes, anchovies, olive oil and whatever fresh vegetables were around. There is heated debate as to what ingredients are the proper ones to include.

While it is very common to find potatoes, string beans, hard boiled eggs, olives and capers, they are a more modern rendition of the original dish. Taking it a step further, many chefs now use seared tuna, salmon or other types of fish in place of traditional anchovies or canned tuna.

Regardless of the ingredients that are used and whether it is composed or tossed, one thing is for sure, eating a Salade Niçoise with fresh summer vegetables will instantly transport you to a brasserie in the south of France.

Nicoise Salad food in provence
Nicoise Salad ©Jenifer Byington Image used with permission

Bouillabaisse

Julie Laundis – Wandering Sunsets

Bouillabaisse is one of the most traditional dishes in Provence, and an absolute must have if you are visiting the region. Originally from Marseille, Bouillabaisse is a delicious fish and seafood stew.

It used to be prepared by fishermen using a variety of small rockfish and leftover cuts from the daily catch that didn’t sell. The magic of this hearty and yummy soup is in the wide variety of seafood and shellfish, and the unique blend of flavours and spices. 

There are 3 parts to the recipe: making the broth, cooking the fish and preparing the rouille to eat with the croutons. The Bouillabaisse broth is tomato-based and includes orange zest, fennel and saffron. The sliced fish is then added to the broth and left to simmer for a very long time. 

Bouillabaisse in Provence is usually made with rockfish, sea robin and European conger, along with any other fish caught fresh that day. It is not uncommon to add shellfish and crustaceans to the soup, such as mussels, clams or lobster.

But what makes Bouillabaisse truly unique is the “rouille”, a rich sauce resembling aioli spread on croutons and dipped in the broth. Bouillabaisse is a dish that you absolutely must try if you are visiting Provence!

Making bouillabaisse from scratch food in Provence

Ratatouille

by Chris Román – Explore Now or Never

Ratatouille, which originated in 18th century Nice, is essentially a delicious French vegetarian stew. The name of the dish is derived from the medieval Occitan word “rata” (military slang for a mixture of easy things to whip up in the military canteen) and “touiller” (to stir up).

Typically, ratatouille includes sautéed eggplant, tomato, onion, garlic, bell pepper and zucchini as well as leafy herbs according to the chef’s preference, such as basil, marjoram, thyme or even Herbes de Provence. Sometimes olives are added.

It simmers on the stove for hours until flavors have melded into a savory stew. However, purists prefer to cook the vegetables separately and then combine them at the end.

While it’s often served as a side dish in Provence with fish or quiche, it also makes an excellent main course when served with a crusty baguette or rice. A chilled rosé wine from the region is the perfect accompaniment.

Ratatouille is the French version of Spain’s pisto (similar vegetables but served with cured ham or a fried egg on top) and Italy’s caponata (which includes octopus in Palermo).

Socca

Wendy Werneth – The Nomadic Vegan

Socca is a type of savoury pancake or crêpe made from chickpeas. It is similar to panisse but they are cooked differently.

The batter contains just three ingredients: chickpea flour, water and olive oil. Its exact origins are unknown, but it dates back hundreds of years and was most likely originally invented across the border in Italy. There’s even a theory that ancient Roman soldiers invented these pancakes by roasting chickpea flour on their shields

In Italy, the dish is known as farinata, and it’s a popular Italian street food along the Ligurian coast. That popularity extends across the border into the coastal areas of France, especially in Marseille and Nice. In these cities, it’s called socca and is sold at food markets and street food stalls.

The socca is cooked in huge, round pans, then cut up into squares and served wrapped in a paper cone. Since socca is best when piping hot, crowds tend to form quickly at the socca stalls when a new batch comes out of the oven. Jump in line quickly, or it’ll be gone before you know it!

Socca
Socca ©Wendy Werneth Image used with permission

Boeuf Daube

Boeuf daube is the ultimate French comfort food. A simple yet hearty beef stew, it is perfect for a cold, winter’s day, especially if the Mistral is blowing across Provence. Using secondary cuts of protein, the meat is cooked slowly in a blend of wine and vegetables, until the meat melts in your mouth.

Olive tapenade

Olives are grown all over Provence, a clear sign of the climate that tends to become more Mediterranean-like the further south you are. At any of the food markets, you’ll always find large bowls of every kind of olive imaginable.

If you can find olives, then olive tapenade will never be too far away. A savoury paste made from olives and capers, it is served as part of a cheese plate or spread on bread. It can also have other additions like anchovies and sun-dried tomatoes.

olives at markets

Nougat

Whilst nougat can be found in other parts of France such as the Alsace, it is a prolific sweet treat in this region too. Nougat in Provence is made from sugar (lots of it), honey (more sugar), almonds and egg white. Sometimes, pistachios are used instead of almonds, or with them. Look for it in the markets and gourmet food stores in huge wheels or blocks.

nougat france food in provence
Nougat
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