In terms of gastronomic delights, Nice does not fall short of the refinement so characteristic of the French cuisine. The gastronomy typical of Cote d’Azur (and Provence, for that matter) features its regional inflections, at least as compared to other French regional cuisines, with Mediterranean influences materialized in the use and consumption of seafood, fish, vegetables and fruit. However, the concessions made to such influences do not alter the finesse for which all dainty feeders appreciate the French cuisine.
Another notable feature of the regional cuisine observed in Nice refers to the extensive use of a wide range of herbs, such as bay leaves, basil, thyme, oregano and, in moderation but constantly, garlic. Olive oil is an ever present ingredient, and this is precisely what distinguishes the cuisine on Cote d’Azur from all the other French gastronomical traditions. The prestige and the extent of the use of olive oil in the French Riviera cuisine is reflected by the fact this region is one of the main suppliers of olive oil in France.
Salade Nicoise (occasionally referred to as insalata nizzarda) is the very gastronomic ambassador, so to say, of Nice to the world (next to the famed ratatouille). The origins of this salad are not well defined, and the wide range of versions of the Nicoise salad is also pretty confusing with respect to the way it should be cooked and to its ingredients.
However, the bottom line is in Nice the likelihood of managing to stumble on the original recipe and product is considerably higher. Thus, the salad is a mix of slices of tomatoes, slices of hard boiled eggs, boiled potatoes (disputably) and steamed green peas, all laid on a layer of lettuce (optional). The entire “edifice” is topped with tuna (either canned or seared) and canned anchovies.
Socca is far from being labeled as a refined specialty, but, on the other hand, its popularity might be attributed precisely to its elementariness. Thus, this type of flat unleavened pancake (crepe) is made of chickpea flour and olive oil, and it is served hot and heavily seasoned with pepper. It stands as an excellent quick snack and, in fact, it is the French version of what the Italians refer to as farinata or cecina, and the Argentineans know as faina.
The streets of Nice are replete with food stalls selling socca, so the opportunity to sample it is quite at hand.
Nice is the place where yet another internationally famed dish is originated, that is, ratatouille. The cooking of ratatouille is still under debate, but the ingredients refer to a mix of vegetables and herbs (thyme, bay leaves, marjoram, carrot, onion, garlic, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes).
Ratatouille is often served as a side dish, and it can be associated, for instance, with omelet (either as filling or garnish). The Nicoise ratatouille has inspired the creation of sundry international versions of ratatouille.
Soupe au pistou
Soupe au pistou is a dish popular throughout Provence, and it refers to a bean soup enriched with pistou. Pistou is a garlic-based sauce heavily flavored with basil, all mixed with olive oil. The addition of sundry types of hard cheese (parmesan or pecorino, for instance) to the sauce is optional. The origins of this dish allegedly go back to Antiquity.
Where to eat in Nice
Gastronomic Nice does not come down to sampling the international or the traditional dishes and specialties served at the wide range of eateries (restaurants, bistros, cafes) of the city. Heaving a meal in Nice is always a much more complete experience fueled not only by the eating as such, but also by the refined atmosphere of the restaurants clustered in central Nice.
Of course, Vieux Nice is where such moments always come at a price, but other alternatives do exist, which is reassuring as far as budget travelers are concerned.
La Petite Maison
La Petite Maison enjoys a privileged location in Nice, in the very center of Vieux Nice. The restaurant specializes in Provencal and Mediterranean cuisine, inviting clients to delight in the most tempting array of seafood and fish-based dishes. The desserts are said to be exceptionally exquisite. Due to the specialties served here, La Petite Maison is said to embody the spirit of the genuine Nicoise cuisine.