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CAGNES SUR MER
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Making the most of the market during your stay in a Riviera Pebbles holiday rental apartment
Whenever I visit a new city the first thing I do is seek out the nearest food market to get a picture of how people really live. In Marseille, octopus fresh from the sea threaten to slither out of their blue plastic tubs, while in Istanbul it’s the heaps of spices in shades of orange, brown and ochre that arrest the senses. Along the Côte d’Azur what has always amazed me is the quality and variety of the fruits and vegetables, which are picked ripe and rushed to the markets. One of the joys of renting a holiday apartment on the Riviera is being able to take advantage of this produce, which is abundant at any time of year. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of a trip to the market:
Pick your moment
Depending on what time you visit the market, the atmosphere and selection of produce will be completely different. Chefs and serious food-lovers aim to be at the market around 8am, particularly on Saturdays when small farmers drive down from the hills behind Nice and Cannes bearing small quantities of exquisite produce: perhaps a few punnets of fragrant Mara des Bois strawberries or, in early spring, broad beans so tender they can be eaten straight from their shells. An hour later, most of the best stuff is gone—something that many people who show up at 10 or 11am don’t realize as they stand patiently in queues. Bargain-hunters wait until the market is preparing to close down, when vendors will often slash prices rather than store their wares until the next market day. Though you can save money by playing this game, be sure to check the quality of the produce. There is no point in paying for something that needs to be thrown away immediately.
Look for the “petits producteurs”
For newcomers it’s not always easy to tell the difference between petits producteurs (small farmers) and resellers who stock up at the wholesale market near Nice airport at dawn. It’s worth seeking out the farmers, not only to be sure of buying seasonal produce grown in the immediate area but also because they need support. The steep and arid arrière-pays can be inhospitable to farmers and many of their children are opting for less taxing careers. Thankfully, a young generation of organic farmers is emerging to reverse this trend. Look for small stands selling only seasonal fruits and vegetables—imported produce such as bananas, pineapples and red peppers or ripe-looking tomatoes in midwinter are sure signs of a reseller. At the Cours Saleya in Nice the producers are grouped in place Antoine Gauthier, beside the main market, while in Cannes and Antibes you’ll find them along the main market’s central aisle. Of course, the resellers often have beautiful produce too and it’s always wise to stroll all the way through the market comparing quality and prices before buying anything (something I have never quite succeeded in doing!).
Resist the urge to fondle, unless encouraged
French markets have their etiquette, but the confusing part is that this varies wildly from stand to stand. Some vendors ham it up for photos, while others put up grumpy pictures of crossed-out cameras. One olive seller at the Cours Saleya market encourages all passers-by to dip their fingers in and taste, while others keep their wares carefully covered. As a rule, it’s always better to ask permission before taking a photo or touching anything—particularly delicate produce such as ripe peaches or fleurs de courgettes, the bright yellow courgette flowers that are often dipped in batter and fried. Funnily enough, the small farmers are often more laid-back about letting customers help themselves than the resellers—perhaps because they intend to sell all their goods that morning and not store them until the next market day.
The main food markets on the Côte d’Azur are open every day except Monday from around 7am to noon (1pm on weekends).
A few of the best markets
Cours Saleya, Nice—arguably the prettiest market on the Côte d’Azur, down a long open space with café terraces on either side and the sea just through the archways.
Marché Forville, Cannes—though Cannes is better known for its film festival, the market is pretty glamorous too. Look for gorgeous produce from small producers, freshly caught fish and exceptional cheeses.
Cours Masséna, Antibes—a covered market that has been in this location for centuries, with a nice collection of small farmers.
Halle aux Poissons, Port Abri du Cros de Cagnes, Cagnes-sur-Mer—if you love fresh fish it’s worth seeking out this market, which sells only the day’s catch (7am-1pm, 3.30-7pm).
Marché des Halles, Menton (near the port)—the place to buy the famed Menton lemons, prized for their sweetness and aroma, as well as top-quality fish and produce.
Marché de la Condamine, Place d’Armes, Monaco—this moderately good market is worth visiting to taste Monaco’s take on the Niçois onion tart known as pissaladière. Here, it’s called pichade and has tomato mixed in with the onions.
– Rosa Jackson
Food critic and cookbook author Rosa Jackson moved to France from Canada in 1995 to work at the Cordon Bleu cooking school and run Paris Market Tours. Rosa loves the way of life on the French Riviera and has made Nice her home with her husband and five year old son.
Rosa has written two cookbooks, edited five editions of the Time Out Paris Eating and Drinking Guide, updated the dining chapters of the 2006 Time Out South of France and Fodor’s Provence and the Cote d’Azur guides and written about food for magazines and newspapers around the world.
As well as writing for Riviera Pebbles and for numerous other publications, she runs the custom-designed itinerary service edible-paris.com and through Les Petits Farcis offers market tours, cooking classes, and meet-the-producers tours. To read more about Rosa’s inspiring life in Nice and Paris, visit her food blog!
Riviera Pebbles is delighted to have her on board to share her knowledge and passion for the edible delights of the Riviera.