Updated: Nov 2, 2020
Marseille has become one of my very favorite cities, the more I have gotten to know her – the more she fascinates me. Obviously, the redevelopment of the port has added so many layers of interest. The old and new have melded so perfectly together. Hats off to the Mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin who over saw the transformation! It has its glamour, its street art alleyways, neighborhoods filled with ethnic aromas, and it has its seaside with salty breezes. But it is no longer a city to shy away from, but to embrace.
I have always been happy to sit at a portside cafe in the sunshine winter or summer with a glass of rose and olives. Even in winter the sun warms things up if it’s not too windy. My early morning walks usually lead to at least a hike around the port, and finding a few chaluts coming in with fish….it has become rarer to see more than just a handful of tables set up around the mirrored canopy to sell some fish. It makes me sad as this was once so thriving with fishmongers and their wives.
Bouillabaisse is the one pot meal of Marseille and the seaside of Provence. It developed over the centuries as a meal in which humble fishermen threw rockfish — several species of sea creatures, most of them ugly and at one time unsellable — fresh off the docks into a large iron caldron of boiling fish stock to feed the family. But by the late 18th century, a version was served in restaurants. Many food historians speculate that bouillabaisse is a descendant of kakavia, a traditional soup of the ancient Greeks, who colonized Marseille in about 600 B.C.
Traditional Bouillabaisse is made with various fish, one might call trash fish such as rascasse, scopionfish, red mullet and conger as well as any handy crustceans like crabs or spicy lobster but then be prepared to double the price. Tomatoes, onion, garlic, fennel, and the most crucial saffron; be careful because some cooks will substitute the costly saffron with turmeric and paprika to give the color thus, making for an inferior product sold at touristy restaurants. And it must have toasted rounds garnished with Rouille similar to aioli. Broth is served first, it is not a stew, first cooked in stages and then eaten in stages. The broth course is accompanied by the crouton rubbed with a clove of fresh garlic and spread with bright orange Rouille (meaning rust). The second course is the whole fish themselves, presented on a platter and filleted in front of the diners.
True Bouillabaisse does survive, especially in this city, which is celebrating its food this year with an initiative called Marseille Provence Gastronomy 2019. But it became such a crisis for the town that a group of 11 local restaurateurs drew up the Marseille Bouillabaisse Charter in the 1980s, codifying the ingredients and preparation allowed, convinced the tradition was becoming debased by these tourist traps so Le Caribou, Chez Caruso, Le Miramar, Le Cabonon de FonFon, L'Epuisette, Peron and Le Rhul raised their voices in unison. So typically French.
For a real treat do as the locals do…follow the road signs to Cap Croisette peninsula to my favorite of all time, the small fishing village of Les Goudes a favorite go to for authenticity- there isn’t anything better 40 minutes east along the coastal road to the small fishing hamlet Les Goudes, the farthest point in Marseille before you hit the hidden inlets known as calanques. You will pass a spectacular, arid almost lunar landscape and where you will possibly pass a shepard and a herd of Rove goats grazing. These goats were brought to Marseilles port by the Phoenicians 2600 years ago. You can tell if they are from the original domesticated rustic stock because they have twisted horns and a smooth coat.
Get a table at L’Esplaï du Grand Bar des Goudes, menu is entirely based on seafood. No delivery, No takeout! Eat it fresh! It has existed for 100 years! Usually filled to capacity but service is always smooth and very efficient. Do not miss the opportunity. https://www.grandbardesgoudes.fr/
Recipe for Rouille
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Pinch of saffron
3 garlic cloves finely chopped
3 slices white bread with crust removed.
2 egg yolks
¼ tsp chili & Salt to taste
½ cup olive oil & emulsify
Top on a grilled crouton