Thursday, July 5, 2012

Socca and a Visit to the French Riviera

Around this time last year I was on the Direct TGV train heading down to Nice with the Mistress of Spices. For my first home bound 4th of July in years, I am dreaming of that unbelievably blue Mediterranean water, cerulean blue skies, white rocky sands, endless glasses of rosé, and my first taste of socca.

On the actual 4th of July, I distinctly remember laying on a lounge chair facing the famous Côte d'Azur waters, listening to the waves crashing on the rocks, and sipping on an overpriced, but so satisfying, daiquiri.  Remembering the fields of yellow poppy flowers, lush greenery and peeks of the azure-hued water on the six-hour train ride from Paris to Nice, it is easy to understand why the French Riviera inspired artists like Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall.

Nice is located between Marseille, France and Genoa, Italy along the infamous French Riviera. It is the second most visited city in France after Paris, mainly for their infamous beaches, balmy weather and the Promenade des Anglais.

While there I also discovered that they have one of the most amazing cemeteries ever. Yes I know.  Why would you visit a cemetery while on a beach holiday? I have to admit that I have a morbid fascination for walking among old cemeteries to gawk at the intricate carvings on the  and reading tombstones of those who died decades before I was even born. It is incredible what you can learn of the culture and societal mores just from doing that.  Overlooking Nice on the la Colline du Chateau (Castle Hill), the Cimitiére du Château is the poshest place to live out your after life in my opinion. If you are there, definitely pick up a beignet and wander around on an early morning. It is a great walk up the hill and you will be awarded with some of the best views of the city, as well as discovering one of the coolest secrets of the city.

The tiny windy alleyways, cobbled stone pavements and preservation of its traditional architecture versus the modern glass buildings I am so used to back in New York is one of the things I loved the most about my visit to Nice. It was just so picturesque and made me feel like I would discover the most wonderful surprise around the corner!

Due to the proximity of Nice to the Mediterranean, there is a huge influence of Southern Italian food in its culinary history (namely Ligurian and Piedmont) mixed with regional French food from neighboring Provence. While I definitely overindulge in French food on my trips to Paris, sometimes it's a bit much. So the cuisine Nissarde you can find in Nice is a welcome change of pace.  Olive oil, olives, anchovies, and tomatoes  are in abundance in this region. So you will find any of these ingredients featured prominently in most, if not all the dishes. Tourists come not only for the gorgeous beaches, but unique dishes like petits farcis (vegetables stuffed with mixture of breadcrumbs, meat and herbs), beignet de fleurs de courgettes (fried zucchini blossoms), pissaladiére (anchovies and olives on toasted pita like bread) and of course, niçoise salad (In Nice, this means no cooked vegetables in the salad of canned tuna, anchovies, hard boiled eggs, baked potatoes, tomatoes, olives and green beans.)

Socca is one of those native dishes to Nice. It is basically a chickpea crèpe or pancake. Simply made with chickpea flour and water and then topped with smoky cumin and ground black pepper, it is the perfect light lunch alongside a glass of refreshing rosé after a lazy morning laying on the beach and people watching.  Visiting the Cours Saleya, probably one of the best outdoor markets I've been to, is a must: beautiful produce, smelly cheeses, gorgeous (and inexpensive) floral bouquets, herbs, and olives galore abound here.

The star of the market though is Chez Theresa making socca to order in the middle of Cours Saleya on Rue Droite. For less than 5 euros, you can get a piece of socca and a glass of rosé in a plastic tumbler with ice. Just seat yourself at one of the tables, make friends with some people at the table next to you and enjoy the experience of eating a dish that is purely authentic to this wonderful, warm city.

I adapted the socca recipe from David Lebovitz's blog and used a paella pan to get the crusty burnt texture that is so distinctive of the famous socca we had at Chez Theresa's.  It was perfectly crunchy on the bottom just like I remembered.  It's a good thing that socca is usually eaten torn into huge chunks because I still haven't quite mastered the technique yet of getting the whole socca off the pan without breaking apart. My third one was definitely better than the mess of my first, but I'm sure by the time I make my 100th socca I will be a pro! Next time, I will try it in my Scanpan skillet and see if I can achieve the same texture without the socca sticking to the pan.

Make sure your socca batter is spread out thinly and evenly in the pan just like you would a crépe. My first one was a little too thick and tasted a bit doughy because of it. For the chickpea flour, I was able to find it in an Indian grocery store pretty easily with an assortment of options to choose from.  However, you can also find it here.

Below the recipe will find an abbreviated list of some of the best food finds in Nice, as well as places to check out. We kept it relatively simple and inexpensive, so cannot report back on some of the nicer restaurants we had thought to explore.

I hope that everyone had a wonderful 4th of July with friends and family and that this brings a bit of the French Riviera into your home and kitchen!

Makes three 9 10-inch pancakes

Adapted from David Lebovitz, The Sweet Life in Paris

1 cup chickpea flour
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Freshly-ground black pepper, plus additional sea salt and olive oil for serving

1. Mix together the flour, water, salt, cumin, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Let batter rest at least 2 hours, covered, at room temperature. I left it overnight and it was fine.

2. To cook, heat your pan over medium high until it is sizzling hot and add 1 tbsp olive oil.  Pour enough batter into the pan to cover the bottom, swirl it around until it is thin and evenly spread.

3. It should take approximately 3-5 minutes for the bottom of the socca to blister and create a delicious blackened crust. Carefully flip over the socca and let crispy bubbles form on the other side for another few minutes. Like I said, it's not supposed to be perfect. So if it breaks, don't worry about it!

4. Remove socca from pan. Sprinkle with some cumin and sea salt. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil if you like, though I did not find it necessary nor do I remember Theresa doing so.

5. Cook the remaining socca batter the same way, adding a touch more oil to the pan between each one.  Serve immediately.  I did not find leftover socca to be appealing at all. Like french fries, they must be consumed once cooked.

Cours Saleya (outdoor market)
East of Rue Droite in Vieux Nice

Parc du Chateau & Cascade Donjon
Castle Park Vieux Nice east end of quai des États-Unis
Hours: 09:00-20:00 Jun-Aug, 09:00-19:00 Apr, May & Sep, 10:00-18:00 Oct-Mar.

Cimitiére du Château (named one of world's most beautiful cemeteries with plots separated by religion)
Top of Castle Hill

Fennochio (amazing variety of home-made gelato)
2, Place Rossetti
Nice, France 06300

La Taca d'Oli (authentic Niçoise cuisine)
35, Rue Pairolière 
Nice, France 06300
Tel: 04 93 80 70 93

L'Escalinada (authentic Niçoise cuisine, one of our favorites)
22, Rue Pairolière
Nice, France 06300
Tel: 04 93 62 11 71

La Cantine de Lulu (local spot)
26, Rue Alberti 
Nice, France 06300
Tel: 04 93 62 15 33

La Table Alziari (authentic Niçoise cuisine, famous for olive oil)
4, Rue François Zanin
Nice, France 06300
Tel: 04 93 80 34 03

La Zucca Magica (Vegetarian was a bit heavy than expected, but going for the decor made it all worthwhile!)
4 bis, quai Papacino
Nice, France 06300
Tel: 04 93 56 25 27


  1. This is absolutely lovely! I haven't been to Nice (okay- or even out of North America!) since before kids. I spent the summer of '85 running around Europe (France and Switzerland mostly) on a tiny budget. Nice was one of my favorite surprises. Affordable (at the time), exotic (to me)and filled with natural and rustic beauty. I didn't have Socca then, but it looks yummy and worth a try!

    1. Thanks for stopping by Sheri! Europe itself is just so lovely and different from the US. Lucky you were there pre-Euro! Now, it's much more expensive! If you make it out there again, try socca. Otherwise, bring a bit of Nice to your family with this super easy recipe!

  2. Brings back all kinds of great memories! All the rose we drank, the yummy Italian food, the zucchini blossoms, the obscene amount of food they gave us at the Zucca Magica, the Cours Saleya (of course!). Not to mention just laying on those beaches all day long. That's the life! So glad that you tried making your own socca. I've been meaning to make it forever since we always have chickpea flour on hand. Think that I'd use mine as a wrap for some kind of Indian filling. Must do soon! Thanks for the recipe.

    1. I still laugh over Zucca. And the beaches! Though you have amazing beaches out where you are now too. Lucky you! Socca sounds good as a wrap. It is perfect for it. So similar to a dosa.

  3. What a lovely place. I hope some day soon I can make it there!

    1. It was so beautiful! I hope to make it back there again too. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. I am so jealous! I would love to see France. I've never heard of socca. It sounds & looks incredible though!

    1. Until I got there, I had never heard of it either. So excited to have it! It's so lovely there, it should go on your must visit list!

  5. Your pictures are absolutely stunning!

    1. Thanks Tiffany! The pictures don't even capture how beautiful the waters there are. Intense, intense blue!