This post and pictures by Keith Jenkins, luxury travel blogger of velvetescape, exclusively for Trip+ as part of our #housetripping series.
Eva, my guide from the Marseille Greeters, pointed at a sign as we walked past the M-Pavilion, the city’s brand new tourism office, and chuckled. I looked at the sign and though my French isn’t good, I got the gist of it. Bouillabaise is a big deal in Marseille! Even Vincent van Gogh understood it: “I paint with the same verve as a Marseillais eating bouillabaisse”.
This famous fish soup, filled with a variety of local fish, shellfish, potatoes, vegetables and seasoned with special Provençals herbs, is synonymous with Marseille. Previously known as the poor man’s dish, bouillabaisse has experienced somewhat of a renaissance in recent times, with both traditional and fine-dining restaurants serving it in different styles. I decided to find out more about this fish soup so I asked Eva about it. She said we had to start at the fish market at the Vieux-Port. We walked to the market and found a few stalls selling the catch of the day.
There are basically three or more different fish in a traditional bouillabaisse: typically red rascasse, sea robin, conger and sometimes bream, hake, monkfish or mullet. Shellfish such as mussels, crabs or langoustine are often added in the broth. Vegetables like leek, onions, tomatoes, celery and potatoes are simmered together with the herbs and spices in the broth. The traditional method of serving is quite peculiar. The broth is first served in a bowl accompanied with bread and rouille (a mayonnaise with olive oil, garlic, saffron and cayenne pepper), followed by the fish and vegetables in a separate bowl or platter.
That evening, as I walked around the Vieux-Port, I stumbled upon a lovely restaurant called Chez Loury (3, rue Fortia). This charming restaurant is famous for its traditional Marseille cuisine so I didn’t have to think twice – I popped in and ordered a bouillabaisse! The bouillabaisse came in three servings: first, the rich broth which was incredibly flavourful yet not as ‘fishy’ as I thought it would be; followed by two servings of large chunks of fish (six different types) with vegetables and potatoes. This is exactly how Eva described how traditional bouillabaisse is served. It was a feat involving a fine balance between the flavours and textures of the different fish, and the choice of herbs and spices. It was clear to me then: bouillabaisse isn’t just a fish soup, it’s an artform!
The next day, I made a reservation to have dinner at one of Marseille’s most popular fine-dining establishments: Les Arcenaulx (25 cours Estiennes d’Orves). The restaurant was absolutely gorgeous, with bookshelves lining the walls and ancient wooden beams crossing the ceiling. I looked at the menu and smiled. I couldn’t help myself… I ordered bouillabaisse again! This time, it came as one serving in a large bowl filled to the brim with big pieces of fish, mussels and potatoes. It was a slightly more contemporary version of the fish soup but no less tasty. The broth was simply superb.
You would think that two back-to-back bouillabaisse dinners would be sufficient to make me scramble for something more land-based on my last evening in Marseille. That was my intention, until I heard about the bouillabaisse hamburger! I was intrigued. I figured, I’m already on some sort of bouillabaisse trail in Marseille, I might as well find out what this hamburger was about. The restaurant that serves it, L’Aromat (49, rue Sainte), is a cosy place with colourful walls and ditto cushions. I had a good laugh the moment the bouillabaisse was brought to my table. It was indeed a hamburger, but oh so cleverly prepared. The chef had separated the main ingredients of a bouillabaisse (fish, potatoes and the broth) into three distinct parts on a platter: fries, a fish burger and the broth in a separate glass; creating a traditional dish with a quirky, contemporary twist! I loved the ingenuity of it!
I left Marseille bursting at the seams but quite a bit more knowledgeable about its most famous dish. If you’re visiting Marseille, don’t miss the bouillabaisse!
HouseTrip offers holiday rentals in Marseille that make the perfect base from which to explore the city. I stayed at a beautiful apartment with stunning seaviews in the Le Panier district, a short stroll away from Vieux-Port. The owner, Eva, is a wonderful host as well as a guide with the Marseille Greeters – she happily showed me around the city and assisted me with my bouillabaisse trail!
I also visited two other apartments, one in the city centre that’s great for solo travellers,
and another, Vieux Loft, that’s a spacious apartment with one of the coolest interiors around!