FOOD OF PROVENCE
“Provence is a country to which I am always returning, next week, next year, any day now, as soon as I can get on a train.” Elizabeth David
Mother Nature is abundantly generous in this part of the world, and Provençal cooking is naturally delicious and flavoursome due to the sun-kissed produce that is readily available in this region. Not to mention the aromatic herbs which grow plentifully here. Thyme, rosemary, oregano, fennel and basil are widely used in Provençal cuisine. And of course there are the biggest stars of all – garlic and olive oil. There is no good cuisine without good oil and there is no Provençal cuisine without garlic.
Provence is famous for a number of dishes. Bouillabaisse is their classic seafood stew made with an assortment of fish and shellfish, tomatoes, garlic, saffron, herbs, wine and olive oil. Best eaten at Chez Fon Fon in Marseille or L’Oursinado. Pistou is the Provencal equivalent of pesto. It is used as a sauce and flavouring agent in the hearty vegetable Soupe au Pistou, Provence’s version of Minestrone. Basil can be bought with the smallest emerald leaves or large juicy ones, perfect to be torn up on top of a tomato salad.
Another famous accompaniment is Tapinade, a ground mixture of olives, anchovies, capers, olive oil and lemon juice. This can be homemade, but the olive man in the Friday Village Market has the most delicious Anchoiade and Tapinade. He also sells a dozen or more kinds of olives from the smallest Niçoise, to stuffed olives with lemon and feta. These are all delicious and make a perfect lunch with a crunchy bagette L’ancienne. Our favourite boulangerie is on right of the R8 just after you leave Le Beausset towards La Daby.
The meat of this region is prepared in a variety of ways. Daube is perhaps the most popular with the meat being slowly cooked in red wine and stock along with black olives – a comforting winter stew. The nearby hills of Aix provide an abundance of rabbit which is delicious stewed, or marinated and then cooked on a barbique.
All year round there is a plentiful selection of fresh fruit and vegetables. In the summer we enjoy succulent aromatic white fleshed peaches and nectarines, every sort of melon, figs, cherries, downy apricots as well as the humble tomato – which with basil, sea salt and olive oil, makes a staple dish day in / day out.
Le Beausset has an extensive market on Fridays, with a smaller farmer’s market on Sunday. During the summer months, most nearby villages provide a weekly market – including at Bandol and Sanary sur Mer – but serious food lovers should go to Toulon where the locals do their shopping, and produce is generally cheaper.
Provence is the home to the best goat’s cheese or chevre in France, with the fresh ones crumbling into frittatas and being perfect fin salads. A mature goat’s cheese with a just ripe pear is the best simple dessert. Often you will be offered as many as 20 different goats cheeses, as well cheeses from other regions. Do look out for the Tomme specialist in Le Beausset market who sells this ewe’s milk cheese with the nuttiest smoothest flavour.
Being so close to Italy, freshly made pasta can be readily bought, and Le Beausset has its own wood fired pizza takeaway which is a great excuse for the cook’s night off! Indeed, you will find small vans dotted around all over selling whole, or just slices, of pizza.
Although, there is every opportunity to eat fabulous gourmet food in restaurants, it is also easy to eat well and cheaply. Moules frites by the sea or the plat du jour in a shady place. Most restaurants will have a menu de jour which will always be fresh and delicious. The steak and Roquefort Panini’s after the Sanary night market are best eaten with legs dangling over the quayside whilst watching the world go by! Come and join in the fun!!
We recommend visiting La Cadiere for the Resturant L’Arlequin; A pizzeria with steak frites, good salads and simple food. The restaurant is on a square so the kids can run around while you chill and drink rosé.
Another hill top village is Le Castellet, although a bit of a tourist trap it is fun to go in the evening. The candle shop that has been there for years, and the leather/belt shop both have good stuff. We recommend Le Pied De Nez. Also near the village is L'Olivier, run by an English couple. Le Castellet has 3 michelin stars, but honestly the food you get from the market in the village and then cook at home is going to be as good!
Le Grange in Le Beausset for steak frites is good but not cheap, check the menu out.
For crepes visit Le Roydys where the bretanne crepes with cider are good. Have supper at home and just come for sweet crepes with amazing toppings including sweet chestnut, chocolate, brandy and crème chantilly. Crepe suzette is a favourite or raspberry sorbet with framboise. The spinach with bacon and a fried egg is a good shout too.
If you get to go out and want somewhere good for just adults we recommend L’Esperance, top food, in Bandol the port with cocktail bars and a fun night life atmosphere. If your mood is more for steak frites sandwiches head to the kiosk at the far end of the town where there is a playground. An easy supper and a walk along to see the boats, stalls and a fair.
Our favourite restaurant is La Cantinetta. Yes it is an Italian restaurant in Marseille. We love Marseille, especially the museum district, visit 'MUCEM' a totally amazing building. Le Panier, the old part of Marseille is lovely to walk around and there is the best hardware/cooking/everything shop ever at Maison Empereur. Chez Fon Fon in Marseille is a special outing for lovers of Bouillabaisse. For architecture lovers, there is The Unité d'Habitation by Corbusier, a brutalist building towards the sea and the mirrored canopy designed by Fosters reflecting the fishermans’ catch underneath. We often stop in Marseille on our way to the airport giving us a bit of culture before returning back to the UK.
Go to the beach Port d’Alon lovely for walks, or hanging out on pebbly beach. There is a lovely café that does good big salads for lunch while kids potter in the sea. Have a kir or beer and its ice cream for kids.
Les Lesques is the sandy beach we go to. But get there first thing around 9am or go in the early evening. It is very difficult to find parking in August and don’t go at the weekend if you can avoid it. We used to go down about 5pm for a swim and an ice cream. There is a lady in a white ice cream van who sells the best homemade sorbet – fruit de la passion blows your mind. Les Lecques is fun for water sport and we hire a pedalo with a slide. The restaurants are much of a muchness with average moules frites. Le Patouille the most obvious restaurant on the beach by the playground is the perfect spot to have an aperitif and watch the kids play on the beach. The pizzas are good there and so is the fish you buy by the kg and the chevre three ways is not bad either.
SUPERMARKETS & MARKETS
Food is not cheap. If you are really good about saving Euros, go to the amazing fruit and veg market in Toulon. It is fabulous and worth the 20 minute drive. It is in the main drag you can’t miss it, park in Place des Armes and walk, it is an agreeable town with a sea feel.
The best big supermarket is Carrefour at La Seyne, where the fish, cheese, meat will amaze you. You can get a pig’s head and whole frozen octopus. The fish in Carrefour supermarket is definitely the best, and their butcher isn’t bad. We generally get meat from the butcher in the village - he is excellent. Ask where he is. But we don’t eat a lot of meat. We rarely eat beef and usually get a roti de pork which is delicious, you can cook it on a spit in the oven in Lauriers. Lots of palma ham, paté and salami and salads though, with pasta in the evening.
Le Beausset market is small on Sunday, bigger on Friday – best lavender and acacia honey you will ever buy from grumpy Monsieur Rasam, who used to keep hives on our land (say you know us and he will look vaguely happy.)
For wine definitely go tasting, my favourites are Ott and Tempier, the most expensive. But Pibaron, Pradeaux are excellent too. Get boxes of decent rosé at Ray Jane on the way to Bandol and Terre Brun has a lovely vineyard with walks about it. The rosé will keep you happy and all the vineyards do tasting. There is also now an excellent wine shop on the way out of Le Beausset towards St Anne d’Evenos. It is expensive rosé starts at 12 euros. The wine selections are extensive in the supermarkets. There is also the best cheese shop, definitely worth a visit on the same strip of shops, just on from Carrefour.
My advice though is don’t move. Get some delicious tomatoes, with some cheese, wine and wild boar prosciutto and a big bunch of basil. Sit by the pool and eat peaches, melon and apricots. Get a fit person to run down to the Boulangerie on the D407 to bring back croissant, pain au chocolate and bread for the day in the morning. Swim, chill, and enjoy the heat.