Nice, France's fifth largest city, is well known for its food culture as well as its warm Mediterranean climate and seaside promenade. Located in the French Riviera, Nice lies at the foot of the Alps. The city draws people who want to luxuriate on the beaches and sail the waters—many of whom also appreciate fine food.
Nice is a spectacular place for food and those who prepare it. You'll find the fruit, vegetables, and famous olive oils of nearby Provence, local specialty meats, and fresh-from-the-ocean seafood.
You can shop the markets, dine al fresco at fine seaside restaurants, and take a class on local cooking techniques during your stay in Nice. When people think of Nice, they think of the Niçoise salad but there is much more to the traditional cooking of Nice—the sauces are light, the food is fresh and local, and olive oil is used liberally.
The Markets of Nice
The fabulous, seductive market in the Cours Saleya is one of Nice’s great attractions. It’s not a tourist attraction, though visitors make it one of their first stops. Like the well-known vegetable and fruit markets in Antibes, it’s a working market, frequented by the local residents and chefs. The best way to see it is to walk through the market on your own—you'll be offered tastes of local delicacies, an opportunity to buy cheeses and grapes for your picnic, and can pick up a bouquet of fragrant flowers.
Be sure and peruse the olive oil stands because olive oil production is serious business in the Mediterranean. The (AOC) appellation controlée, designating a particular region of origin, is applied to olive oil in the same way as AOC wines—just as carefully produced and just as expensive. And you’ll find yourself comparing the "nutty with hints of apples" with the earthy tastes of the various oils just as you might compare fine wines.
The market is open every day from 6 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. except Mondays, Sunday afternoons, and public holidays. It’s worth getting up early before the tourists arrive to see how the locals shop, and it's the first stop for any serious food lover.
The bustling fish market is a great place to discover species of fish you may not recognize and see what the chefs pick out. It's a short walk from the Cours Saleya to Place Saint-Francois and is open from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily except Mondays. (In 2018 the market was moved temporarily to nearby Place Toja due to tram construction but is expected to be back in the original location when the work is complete.)
Where to Find Local Specialties
There is no greater pleasure than eating local dishes prepared by knowledgeable chefs and Nice has plenty of both.
Try the Cours Saleya market and the little streets of the Vieille Ville (Old Town) for socca (a thin pancake made from chickpea flour and olive oil, baked and crisped in the oven and seasoned with black pepper, a little like a crepe), pizza, pissaladière (pizza-like onion tart), petits farcis (delicious stuffed Provençale vegetables), salade Niçoise, pan bagnat (fresh or bread filled with salade Nicoise), tourte aux blettes (tart of Swiss chard, raisins and pine nuts), and beignets de fleurs de courgettes (deep fried fritters in olive oil with vegetables like courgettes flowers (squash blossoms).
You can buy these specialties at the stalls or try the local restaurants that serve traditional food. Some of the best restaurants serving local food are inexpensive ones.
- Chez Pipo, established in 1923, is where the locals go for typical Nice dishes like socca. This small, traditional restaurant at 13 rue Bavastro is run by creative chefs who have expanded the repertoire and introduced other Niçois specialties like pissaladière and tourte aux blettes.
- At René Socca, 2 Rue Miralheti, line up to buy your socca or beignets, then grab an outdoor table and order drinks.
Niçois Cooking Class
If you want to know more about Niçois cooking, book a day at Les Petits Farcis cooking school. Classes take place at the cooking studio, with room for eight students, at 12 rue Saint Joseph in the Old Town of Nice, a five-minute walk from the Cours Saleya market.
Cordon Bleu-trained owner Rosa Jackson takes you through the Cours Saleya market and introduces you to her favorite producers, like Claude Aschani who makes olive oil, olive pastes, specialty vinegar, and honey on her farm in Coaraze. Shop, learn how to cook the ingredients back at the cooking school, then eat the results. It’s fun, informative, and relaxed.
Wine bars offer the chance to glean information directly from knowledgeable sommeliers. Unlike wine bars in the U.K. or U.S.A., you are expected to eat as well, though the menu is less formal than in a regular restaurant. La Part des Anges is a favorite. Olivier Labarde is a sommelier who really knows his stuff. Try recommendations from his 600-strong wine list, and keep sober with plates of charcuterie or cheeses, lamb confit and more at this small, buzzing wine bar located at 17 rue Gubernatis.
Foodie Day Trip From Nice
Make your way to nearby Antibes for its daily covered fruit and vegetable market (and the other antique markets). You won't regret it and Antibes is a fabulous coastal town to visit with a host of attractions like the picturesque Château Grimaldi with its small Picasso museum and the sights along the Cap d'Antibes.