French food is famous around the world for its simple elegance. Yet, the cuisine of Nice is probably not what most people have in mind when they think of French food. Located on the southern coast, Nice’s food culture is unique, combining both Mediterranean and Provincial French influences.
Nice is an eclectic coastal city, alluring to both high-class travelers and starving artists. Between sunbathing on the glistening Riviera beaches and exploring the winding streets, be sure to try these quintessential Nice dishes.
Socca (aka, Farinata)
Socca (pictured above), which is also called farinata, is a flatbread made from chickpea flour. With plenty of protein and naturally gluten-free, socca is a great choice if you’re looking for a light meal or snack. Socca is traditionally made in copper dishes baked in wood-fired ovens. In Nice, you’ll see street vendors baking socca in sidewalk stalls. Pick up a slice to nibble on while you shop the open-air markets.
Farcis Niçois (aka, Les Petits Farcis)
“Niçois” means “of Nice” in French, and thus will come up in the names of many of these local dishes. Farcis niçois, also known as les petit farcis, are vegetables stuffed with ground beef and rice or couscous. Typically eaten during “la belle saison” (spring and summer), faris niçois make a light and refreshing meal. You can find farcis made from tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and even onion. Enjoy them as a light lunch on a hot day or as the vegetable course of a sumptuous Provincial dinner.
The most important ingredient in a pissaladière is anchovies, but don’t let that deter you. Salted anchovies from the Mediterranean have a wonderful savory flavor that’s much more palatable than the canned varieties. Pissaladière is thick bread dough topped with black olives, caramelized onions, and whole anchovies. Believe it or not, pissaladière was once the quintessential Nice breakfast. Today, you’re likely to find it as an appetizer at both lunch and dinner.
During your stay in Nice, you’ll see pan bagnat everywhere, from chic cafes to corner bakeries and food stalls on the streets. This sandwich is perfect for a delicious and filling lunch. Made on whole wheat pain d’campagne (“country bread”), pan bagnat contains anchovies or tuna, hard-boiled eggs, raw vegetables, and a drizzle of olive oil. Even though the French love mayonnaise, you should never ask for mayo with your pan bagnat. It’s olive oil or nothing!
Salade niçoise is famous well outside of France. Just because you’ve had salade niçoise before doesn’t mean you should skip the dish on your trip to Nice. After all, seasonality and fresh, local ingredients are at the heart of French cooking. The ingredients that make this complex and satisfying salad–anchovies, olives, eggs, olive oil, summer vegetables–are at their best in the south of France. Salade niçoise is great for either lunch or dinner. You’ll leave the table feeling like you’ve had a rich meal without being overly stuffed.
La Daube Niçoise
“Daube” is a meat stew that you can find anywhere in France. The typical ingredients of a daube are braised beef and fresh vegetables flavored with a bouquet garni. However, the people of Nice add three special ingredients to their stews: cremini mushrooms, brandy, and cayenne pepper. The earthy mushrooms, spicy pepper, and sweet local branda transform a simple, comforting stew into a rich culinary experience. La Daube Niçoise, paired with a bottle of Cotes du Rhone, is the perfect dinner for a cool evening.
After the salade niçoise, ratatouille is probably the most famous dish from Nice. Outside of France, ratatouille is often served as a side dish: eggplant, zucchini, tomato and other vegetables sliced with a mandolin and delicately layered. However, true ratatouille is a no-nonsense vegetable stew that is filling enough to have as a meal on its own. Like many dishes from the region, fragrant garlic and rich olive oil lend bold flavor to the otherwise simple ingredients.
These delicious ravioli are traditionally made with leftover daube niçois. Using the already-stewed beef yields a tender and flavorful filling for the pasta, and the stew itself serves as the perfect sauce. However, it’s also common to find raviolis niçois filled with ground beef and the second essential ingredient, Swiss chard. As fresh pasta is always a treat, keep an eye out for this dish when you’re eating out in Nice’s many restaurants.
Soupe au pistou
“Pistou” is French for “pesto,” which comes in a dollop on top of this vegetable soup. Traditionally, soupe au pistou is made from water, not stock. This allows the flavors of the fresh vegetables to shine and makes this soup a reliable vegetarian-friendly choice. In addition to vegetables like carrots, summer squash, and potatoes, soupe au pistou also contains hearty beans and a burst of fresh herbs. Like a lot of typical Nice dishes, it’s light, healthy, and very flavorful.
The cuisine of Nice is a refreshing break from the heavy dishes that are more common in the northern parts of France. Inspired by seasonality and natural bounty of the land and sea, the people of Nice have developed a landmark cuisine that is part French, part Mediterranean, and wholly satisfying.