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25-30 January 2009
As part of the French fondness for food, Nice hosts a large variety of restaurants. The Niçoise cuisine has a strong influence from nearby Italy and the Provence area including a large variety of seafood. Many restaurants, which are found in large numbers in the old town and surroundings, offer relatively inexpensive menus for lunch and dinner. Many restaurants and cafés have terraces, which are perfect places for a chat. Especially in the old town, there are numerous pubs; frequently, they offer live music. Restaurants can be checked at http://www.fra.cityvox.com/restaurants_nice/Restaurants.
Prepared by the Co-Chairs of ASLO 2009: Jean-Pierre Gattuso, CNRS-University of Paris VI, Laboratoire d’Océanographie, BP 28, 06234 Villefranche-sur-mer, Cedex, France; email@example.com; Markus Weinbauer, CNRS-University of Paris VI, Laboratoire d’Océanographie, BP 28, 06234 Villefranche-sur-mer, Cedex, France; firstname.lastname@example.org; Peter Bossard, Department of Limnology, EAWAG, Limnological Research Center, CH-6047 Kastanienbaum, Switzerland; email@example.com
Reprinted from L&O Bulletin 16.3.
‘Living like god in France’ is certainly related to food, a French obsession. This does not only mean excellent quality of the products used and virtuosity in its processing, but also good company. Without good company, a meal is only half as good. And without wine, well... . Nice offers a wide variety of restaurants serving excellent cuisines from all over the world, which you can enjoy in good company. Needless to say you also get meals from many regions in France, which have so marvelously preserved their specific ways to prepare food.
Nice has its own regional cuisine (cuisine du terroir) and the restaurants range from inexpensive and cheerful to top 2- and 3-stars Michelin restaurants such as the one run by Alain Ducasse in nearby Monaco. In the old town (Vieux Nice), close to most hotels, the restaurants are often quite charming with their wooden beams on the ceiling and the tiny tables that can bear so much food. Southern France has a relaxed and slow going pace. Do not get impatient, it will not increase the speed of any service (not only in restaurants) and will be regarded as impolite. You may consider this: checking menus is an important task and takes time, and while tackling this task you have to talk to your friends and this takes time as well.
The salade niçoise is famous. It requires mesclun (salad greens), onions, tomatoes, tuna, anchovies (anchois), little artichokes, boiled eggs and of course seasoning with basil, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Similar ingredients in a special type of bread give a wonderful lunch sandwich, the pan bagnat. Salads with hot goat cheese on bread (chèvre chaud) are also memorable (salads are served as full dish for lunch). Peppers in olive oil are not only typical, but also delicious. La pissaladière is pizza-like with a mixture of caramelized onions and anchovy paste, sometimes served to ease your study of the menu. Some restaurants also offer a selection of entrées (starters) for several persons, so you can get a wide choice of Niçoise cooking within a meal. Another local specialty is socca, a mixture of chickpea flour, olive oil and salt, spread in a huge pan and made crispy in a charcoal oven. It is a delicious in-between meal that goes well with a glass of wine (it is said that fishermen ate this when they came back in the morning from their hard labour). Famous starters from Nice are fried, battered vegetables (beignets) or tomato slices with minced meat (petits farcis niçois). The merda de can is a special kind of green elongated gnocchi dish (often prepared with beet greens) and not what you may think it is. The side dish ratatouillle with the major ingredients courgettes, eggplant (although there are claims that aubergines are not used in traditional ratatouille niçoise), sweet peppers, tomatoes, onions and garlic is a revelation.
Among the main dishes are daube à la niçoise, a kind of beef stew or goulash, often marinated over night and always cooked in (good!) red wine with the local herb trinity, thyme, rosemary and laurel for about 4 hours; soupe de poisson with based rouille (somewhat similar to mayonnaise, with garlic and pepper; note that aioli is similar but there is a hot debate on the differences); marmite du pêcheur, a mixture of fishes, mussels, octopus and squid in a saffron sauce, often served in a pan for two persons; boudin noir, a blood ‘sausage’, served for example with cooked apple or potatoes. They are all delightful! And there is more... oysters and sea urchins for the connoisseurs...tapenade...anchoide...pistou...stockfish niçois...tripes à la niçoise...lapin à...aahh this constraint of words (1,000 for this bulletin, what a restriction!!). Close to Italy (although never part of the Kingdom of Italy), Nice also provides a variety of pasta (pâtes; do not confound with paté, which is a thick meat paste) dishes, including signature raviolis filled with fish, meat, or vegetables. Saignant or bleu means rare, à point is medium; if you want meat well done (bien cuit) the waiter will frown. If you want tap water order une carafe d’eau (it is free). Don’t call the waiters garçon, use Monsieur or Mademoiselle or just say s’il vous plaît (pronunciation help will be provided). Service is always included, and tips are not compulsory and small. You may want to leave 1-2 euros if the service was very good.
Cheese is an important element of French cuisine. Its diversity is impressive and led past French President Charles de Gaulle to say “How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?” (nowadays, there are many more) Cheese can be replaced or, better, complemented by all the sweet things one should not eat such as îles flottantes, crème brûlée, dame blanche... At the end of a dinner a small cup of strong coffee (espresso) is served on request.
One should not forget to look at the specials of the day or plats du jour. They are often written with chalk on a blackboard and often provide the best value. At lunch, some restaurants offer a ‘formule’, i.e. a menu all included (also drinks, sometimes). A ‘menu’ is a three course meal (typically without wine included). Restaurants serving more courses are also plentiful (but more expensive). And, if you chose a three course dinner, you will not leave the restaurant hungry!
French cooking is meat- rather than vegetable-based. However, salads are often made without meat or dairy products (but come in sufficient amounts) and beignets are available and pasta dishes are also served with vegetables or mushrooms. There are also vegetarian restaurants in Nice with very good quality (although a bit expensive).
An article about food in France is never complete; but not mentioning the wine would be... just silly. The Nice area is not at the top for wines but its reputation is rising. One can get high quality Côte de Provence at a price much more affordable than, say, than wines from Bordeaux or Bourgogne. The rosé here can be quite special. Some people think that rosé is a mixture of white and red wine or that it is not ‘real’ wine. Both opinions are wrong. For the regional rosé (Côte de Provence and surrounding area such as Var and Bandol) a little rule of thumb: the paler or more yellowish the rosé the better. Un pichet is a jug of house wine (of unpredictable quality, but often quite good, and inexpensive). There is of course also wine from other France regions but seldom from other countries (why would you want that in France?).
The best approach is probably to go out and try for yourself (avoid empty restaurants, there is a reason why nobody is there; be careful with pizzerias, some of them are tourist traps with expensive food of low quality). Enjoy life in Nice with friends you meet and with friends you make at the 2009 ASLO meeting! At the Cours Saleya flower market, as well as in other places, you may sit outside and have a rich coffee after lunch with good talks until the next session starts.