The south of France is appealing for so many reasons, not least for its excellent, flavorful, and often healthy traditional cuisine. Typical foods native to the region—from soups to pastries, fish dishes to aperitifs (pre-dinner drinks)—are heavily influenced by Mediterranean, Provençal, and Italian culinary traditions. These are 10 of the best foods to try in the French Riviera, whether you're staying in Nice, Cannes, or Marseille.
Full of intense flavors, this famous vegetable dish is native to Provençe, but is made in one form or another across the Mediterranean. Eggplant, zucchini, and red peppers are gently, separately sautéed, then delicately folded into a tomato sauce rich with olive oil, basil, onions, garlic, and/or Provençe herbs. Ratatouille makes an ideal side with fish or meat, and it's also vegetarian and vegan-friendly.
Where to taste: It's served around the Riviera, but Nice is especially reputed for its version (ratatouille niçoise).
The French Provençal equivalent to Italian focaccia bread, fougasse is an olive-oil rich flatbread that's delicious whether munched straight from the bag, used as a base for sandwiches, or dipped in hot soup such as pistou (see below). Fougasse comes in numerous flavors: plain; dusted with sea salt; or laced with olives, fresh herbs, cheeses, and/or anchovies.
Where to taste: Good bakeries around the Riviera bake and sell fougasse; it's an everyday staple in southern France. Many bakers form the dough into leaves or other eye-catching shapes.
Heading to the western edge of the Riviera and the ancient Phoenician port city of Marseille, it's time to try a heaping bowl of bouillabaisse, a centuries-old tradition. Made with the catch of the day or several types of fish and shellfish, this rich fish stew is slowly cooked in a broth laden with saffron, garlic, high-quality olive oil, and vegetables.
Where to taste: Enjoy it in Marseille at a restaurant overlooking the Old Port (ideally one with sea views).
Similar to a crêpe, socca is a hearty pancake-like dish typically made with chickpea flour and enjoyed with either sweet or savory toppings. It likely originated in Italy—though it might have even deeper roots in the greater Mediterranean and Middle East, as similar dishes can be found elsewhere. Perfect with a glass of rosé wine, olives, and other aperitif dishes, socca can also make a light meal accompanied by cheese or salad.
This hearty yet refreshing vegetarian soup can be described as a cross between Italian minestrone and pesto. With (unsurprising) origins in Italy, it combines beans; summery vegetables such as carrots and green beans; and a basil, olive oil, and garlic broth. It's then topped with a bit of parmesan or other cheese.
Where to taste: It's served across the Riviera and Provençe, but Nice and Menton are known to produce particularly excellent versions of soupe au pistou.
Pompe à l'Huile
A sweet sibling of fougasse bread (see above), pompe a l'huile is a bread-like pastry typically consumed around the winter holidays in Provençe, and is often sold at traditional Christmas markets in the region. Flavored with young, fruity olive oil; orange blossom essence; lemon zest; and sugar, it's a subtle but addictive treat. Buy some from the bakery and eat it straight out of the bag, or enjoy it as part of a holiday feast, Riviera-style.
Where to taste: Most traditional bakeries around the French Riviera make this sweet delicacy, especially in the winter.
This cake is native to the glamorous town of St-Tropez, and is associated with its most famous resident, actress Brigitte Bardot. The brioche-based cake, filled with two types of cream and topped with crunchy sugar, was created by baker Alexandre Micka in St-Tropez during the 1950s. It became a favorite of Bardot's, who reportedly gave it its name.
Where to taste: Go to the source in St-Tropez and taste it at La Tarte Tropezienne bakery. There are also locations in Cannes and at Nice Airport. These days, you can find numerous sizes and flavors.
Salade Niçoise (Nice-Style Salad)
Like ratatouille, this humble salad has traveled across the globe, but in the Riviera, you'll find a fair number of purists when it comes to preparing salade niçoise the "right" way. It's a healthy, protein-rich salad made with fresh or canned tuna, tomatoes, boiled eggs, onions, olives, a variety of vegetables, and sometimes anchovies. Enjoy the salad solo or as a sandwich, in a bun-like bread known as pain bagnat.
Where to taste: You can find it in traditional French restaurants across the Riviera, but since it's native to Nice, try excellent versions at places such as L'Escalinada.
Aioli with Fish and Vegetables
A staple starter across the Riviera is aioli, a mayonnaise rich with garlic and olive oil that's traditionally accompanied by boiled or raw vegetables, boiled eggs, and often, filets of fish (typically cod). Locals enjoy aioli as a light lunch or early evening meal, especially in the summer; at other times it makes an ideal apéritif. Try it with white wine or an ice-cold glass of pastis.
Where to taste: Aioli is served across the Riviera in most traditional restaurants, particularly those specialized in seafood and typical Provençal fare.
The Provençal answer to pizza, Pissaladière is a thin-crusted tart topped with olives, lightly caramelized onions and garlic, olives, herbs, and fresh anchovies. Vegetarians or those who don't care for the strong flavor of anchovies can often find versions without the salty fish. Pissaladière is often enjoyed as an aperitif, starter, snack, or light lunch.
Where to taste: Like many of the dishes listed here, this one's originally from Nice, but it's served across the Riviera. Try it at Lou Pelandroun in Nice.