'Snapshots from the South of France' on Serious Eats

Snapshots from the South of France: Merguez Frites

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. If you take one look at Merguez, and then one sniff, you’ll know nothing proves that old adage quite like this Moroccan sausage. The smoke comes from the cumin seed and the waft of the grill; the fire from the flames that lick its charred casing, and the burning heat of chili that you find within. If you read my weekly column French in a Flash, then you know that I tend to produce what might be called artistic French home cooking. And if you read that column you’ll also know that I have a French-Moroccan grandmother. What you may not know, my best worst-kept secret, is that I absolutely live and breathe for... More

Snapshots from the South of France: Calissons d'Aix

I love nothing better than a bit of food and romance in a story. Luckily, French food lore is full of sexy escapades. (I've already told you the one about how Roquefort turned blue.) The region of Provence brims with food, from the minuscule melons de pays at the roadside produce stands, to the almond trees that clutch the rocky earth, clinging down from the breezy mistrals. The city of Aix-en-Provence, one of the urban heartbeats of a region connected by winding arterial roads through vineyard-plaid mountains, has a magical quality to it. On one winding street you'll pass all the usual modern French shops: Princesse Tam-Tam, Petit Bateau, L'Occitane en Provence. At the corner is a church, and... More

Snapshots from the South of France: Rustic Macarons

"Between the two cookie halves was no cream, no chocolate, no jam. It just was what it was. And it was perfect." I never knew it before, but the macaron is a lot like Eliza Doolittle. Imagine you met Miss Doolittle at the end of My Fair Lady, when she can talk, dress, and dance like all of the other society girls. It is in this altered, Pygmalion state that I first encountered the macaron, a two-bite cookie gem, in Paris. All you see is the polish. You have no idea that this girl, or this cookie, has an underside anything other than pure luxury, hauteur, entitlement. But indeed, you are mistaken. There is much that you do not know.... More

Snapshots from the South of France: Bouillabaisse and Rouille

I wrote a few weeks ago in my French in a Flash column that two great ladies came out of Marseille: my mother, and Bouillabaisse. We had been in the South for two weeks, and I had had plenty of time with the former. We took boat tours through the Calanques together, climbed the steep stone steps to Les Baux, and negotiated the pebbly shores of Cassis. I can never quite have my fill of maman, but I had not even so much as had a taste of bouillabaisse. I had been saving the (second to) best for last, and I had made a reservation for our last night. The locals in Cassis, a short half-hour journey in a... More

Snapshots from the South of France: Navettes

It’s easy to forget in our modern, secular world, but France is a Catholic country. Even its food contains a drop of Holy Water. In the South of France, there docks a very widespread yet singular cookie in the shape of a boat. It is called a Navette, which takes its name from a word that originally meant "boat," but now means something closer to "shuttle." The story goes that at one point, Mary Magdalene sailed to Marseilles, and these little cookies have been made ever since to commemorate her voyage.... More

Snapshots from the South of France: Chocolate Olives

Now I know why we stole the phrase Trompe d’Oeil right out of the French language. Absolutely everywhere we went in the South, from every tiny medieval town to every swarming, sultry city, we found chocolate olives. I’ve already told you about the black olive ice cream that we ate in Nice, but these don’t actually have any olives in them whatsoever. Instead, they are sort of the peanut M&M of the South of France. The outside is a candy sugar shell, inside dark or milk chocolate, and inside that, a toasted almond or a bit of praline. The lovely thing about them is that they are sold in vats, just like the olives outside in the market, in... More

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