There is perhaps no national cuisine more venerated than that of France, and no French region more famous for its culinary prowess than the southeast. Here, the warm sun of the Mediterranean meets French savoir faire. One of the best parts about staying in a vacation rental rather than in a hotel or resort on your trip to Provence is that you’ll have a home with a full kitchen at your disposal to try your hand at the famous cuisine of Provence and the French Riviera. Keep reading through our gastronomic guide to get some ambitious cooking ideas during your stay in a home-away-from-home in the South of France!
1. Herbes de Provence
Not so much a dish as they are a common thread between all the famous specialties of the region, herbes de Provence are as fundamental as they are beautiful. The bundle of seasonings, while not a fixed formula, is normally made up of savory, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, and oregano. For a dash of color, lavender is often included (see above), but doesn’t fit into the flavor palette. A special spice blend can make a great Provençal souvenir to commemorate your trip and bring a bit of France home with you!
No ingredient is as deeply associated with the Mediterranean as the olive. Indeed, whether green, black, or Kalamata, these savory little fruits appear everywhere in the cuisine of the region. The Provençal iteration of olive-based seasoning is the now-widespread tapenade. A basic recipe includes olives, capers, anchovies, and plenty of olive oil, a winning combination!
While aioli may be known to most foreigners as a delicious sandwich topping or a dip for fries, the hard-to-spell sauce is actually a foundation of Provençal cuisine. The spread itself is a mixture of garlic, olive oil, egg yolk, and lemon juice, a zesty yet creamy complement to many dishes. In Provence, aioli is also a dish: the namesake sauce (homemade of course) surrounded by plenty of boiled vegetables, poached fish, and hard-boiled eggs. Pick up these ingredients and more at one of Provence’s outdoor markets. Aioli is so tasty, you may find yourself wanting to try it on everything else in the kitchen!
Socca, one of the most savory and multicultural dishes native to the region, is the Southern French response to the crêpes of Brittany and Paris. This chickpea-based flatbread is cooked in an open oven, typically on a massive (almost 1 meter wide) copper platter. Seasoned with herbes de Provence and plenty of cracked black pepper, the dish is best eaten straight from the oven, no silverware needed!
Most French regions have their own spins on fougasse, a descendant of a Roman flatbread served across the Empire, but Provence’s is unique. Like many other Mediterranean delicacies, the flatbread is improved by a hefty dose of olives, cheese, and anchovies. Sound familiar? Along with its cousin socca, fougasse has been called “Provençal pizza.” While this might be more of a marketing ploy than a fair characterization, the resemblance is undeniable!
6. Salade niçoise
There are only a handful of French salads that have made their mark on the broader world. Chief among them is salade niçoise, a specialty from the country’s far southeast corner. A salade composée in the French tradition (not exactly the leaves-and-dressing American formula), a salade niçoise contains fresh tomatoes, tuna, hard-boiled eggs, local olives and anchovies for good measure. The combination is topped with vinaigrette and has a unique flavor deeply tied to the Mediterranean region.
Thanks to health food crazes and the well-known Pixar film of the same name, ratatouille has gone from being a disregarded peasant meal of inexpensive vegetables to an iconic French dish. The stew, which originated in Nice like many of these dishes, is composed of tomatoes, eggplants, onion, zucchini, and bell peppers. It’s slow-cooked with garlic and herbes de Provence into a subtle yet comforting dish that’s so easy to make that you can try it yourself in a unique outdoor kitchen like this one in our 4-bedroom rental in Saint-Rémy.
8. Bouillabaisse & Rouille
Bouillabaisse, an authentic seafood-heavy dish from the port city of Marseilles, is a fishy stew that’s well-renowned outside of the South of France. The soup traditionally has at least three kinds of fish; red rascasse, sea robin, and European conger, though this component of the dish is flexible. What’s more important is the seasoning: a combination of herbes de Provence, garlic, onions, and tomatoes, and its traditional side; rouille. Meaning “rust” in French, this spread is closely related to aioli and consists of olive oil, breadcrumbs, garlic, saffron, and chili. Spread it on a crusty slice of bread and soak in bouillabaisse broth for a flavor combination that’s prototypically Provençal, perfect for any time of year, but particularly if you’re planning a winter trip to Provence!
9. Soupe au pistou
Something you may notice about many of these dishes is their close connection to northern Italian cuisine. Nowhere is the resemblance more clear than in soupe au pistou, the Provençal adaption of Italian pesto. This cold soup includes the same ingredients as the basil-based pasta sauce and is often served as a topping on a minestrone-like vegetable stew. Top with lots of parmesan or gruyere cheese and you’ll have a hearty meal, perfect after a long day of exploring the region.
10. Thirteen desserts of Christmas Calends
Much of Provençal cuisine and French gastronomy in general is tied to culinary traditions that go back centuries. Perhaps the most unique of these traditions is the thirteen desserts of a Provençal Christmas Calends, or feast. While variations across the region are common, the traditional version of the meal features:
- pompe à l’huile (fried dough)
- mixed nuts
- white nougat
- candied fruit
- vin cuit, a spiced wine
- dates, and
- fruit preserves.
11. Bonus: Pastis and AOC wines from Provence and the Côte d’Azur
After sampling all these delicacies, you may find yourself needing something to wash down your meal. Thankfully, Provence’s traditional beverages are perhaps even more well-known than its cuisine, from the aniseed-flavored spirit pastis to the AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) regional wines.
Are you stuck on the wrong side of the Atlantic, far from the warm sun of the South of France? Don’t worry, there are plenty of places in the U.S. to sample Provençal cuisine! Provence en Boîte has been serving up French and Provençal delicacies since 2011 from their location in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, known to some at NYC’s “Little France.” Stay in our 1-bedroom vacation rental in Boerum Hill and you can walk there to get fresh croissants in the morning and pastis at night!