Posts Tagged ‘Vieux Nice’

Charcuterie Ghibaudo in Vieux Nice

I’ll try anything twice but this time just the once will do fine.  Porchetta is one of those authentic specialities of la cuisine niçoise I would have loved to love but it just aint gonna happen.  We’d been gazing in awed fear and longing for far too long at the petrifying porcine carcasses in their glass coffins outside the charcuterie shops along rue Pairolière in Vieux Nice; now was the time to bite the bullet and actually buy a slice.  Thank heavens Madame at Charcuterie Ghibaudo was kind enough to offer a demi-tranche as this stuff is not cheap at near-enough €20 a kilo.  As it was, our package weighed a good 400g.
whole porchetta seen from the back in Vieux Nice

So we trotted off home, buying a baguette en route, to unwrap the porchetta and unravel its mystery:

a slice of porchetta nicoise
Not a lot of mystery there, as it turns out: it’s everything that was originally in the piglet, chopped up and mixed together with a few herbs, garlic, a little seasoning, then stuffed right back in.  And when I say everything I mean everything, that brilliant white circle at bottom centre of the slice is a piece of bone, the pale wiggly bits are intestine and the pinky-white chunks are hunks of fat.  The T-zer and I felt like Jack Sprat and spouse trying to enjoy this curate’s egg: he quavers at the taste of offal, which I rather enjoy, while I tremble at the texture of anything too chewy.  Not a hit chez nous, but you may find the idea delightful and, failing a trip to Nice to taste the real thing, here is a recipe (in French) for making your very own Porchetta Niçoise.

2 porchetta roasted pig stuffed with own entrails and herbs
Supply your own squeal…

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My first husband’s idea of wit was to exclaim, whenever the opportunity presented itself (surprisingly, gratingly, often);  “Anchovies? Smelly little fish!”   The marriage didn’t last long, but if by some warped circumstance we had found ourselves strolling the markets of Vieux Nice last week, I should have been delighted to waterboard him with a vat of poutine in response.

baby anchovies for sale in Vieux Nice

Now, fresh poutine is not smelly but it is most certainly a preponderance of tiny little baby fish: the fry of sardines and, yes-you-guessed-it, anchovies; rather rare, rather restricted and rather delicious, netted strictly by licence, only along the Côte d’Azur between Antibes and Menton, and only for a month at the end of winter (February/March): very local, very special and altogether too good for no-good husbands.  Happily for the peace of the Vieille Ville, I was accompanied by the darling Mr T, whose adult approach to things piscine is a joy, an ichthyic ideal.

Jacques Médecin, controversial erstwhile mayor of Nice, was a passionate advocate of Niçoise cuisine and I quote here from his well-regarded cookbook, La bonne cuisine du Comté de Nice:

A la saison de février, lorsque brille, sur les étals, la nacre de poutine, les rues des villes – vieilles ou nouvelles – retentissent de l’appel des marchandes: “A la bella poutina!  A la bella poutina!”  qui inspira mon vieux camarade de classe Gilbert Becaud dans sa chanson sur les marchés de Provence.

Around February, as the pearly sheen of poutine gleams on the market stalls, town streets – old and new – ring with the call of the vendors: “A la bella poutina!  A la bella poutina!”, the inspiration for my former classmate Gilbert Becaud’s song,  The Markets of Provence [Gastroplod’s rough & ready translation]

and for your extreme pleasure, here’s Gilbert Becaud himself – listen out for him calling “A la bella poutina” at the very end and you will have a charming early-spring echo of  Place St-François in Vieux Nice.

click here for the lyrics (in French)

I took my first and as-yet-only taste of poutine at the Café des Fleurs on the Cours Saleya, in one of its traditional preparations in the form of an omelette.  No surprises here, it tasted just like an omelette with all the briny flavour and savour of very fresh anchovies and sardines, and I did enjoy the sparkle of their teeny-weeny little eyes glinting in the sunlight.
omelette made with seasonal baby fish; sardines, anchovies, in Vieux Nice

French Wiki reference: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poutine_(Nice)

* this poutine has nothing to do with that somewhat-stodgier Québecois fries-gravy-curds speciality also called poutine: although I used to enjoy that version now & then in Vancouver, I know which I’d prefer now…

apartment rental

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Once upon a time hill farmers would bring down a flock or two to Nice for a mini Christmas transhumance: the Journée du Haut-Pays Niçois, when the Jardin Albert 1er on the Promenade des Anglais would host a mini-festival of produce from the high hinterland behind Nice, the southwestern foothills of the Alps, indeed.   This mini-vid was taken in December 2007.  I really dig the feisty mini black and white goat.

We were lucky enough to be staying at our apartment – just a short stroll through Vieux Nice to the Promenade des Anglais where we found horses, donkeys, pigs, goats and sheep. It was a delight to see, hear and smell them all up close – and taste all the wonderful products on sale: sheep’s and goat’s milk cheeses, charcuterie, honey, vin chaud; so much on offer I forget but we had a lovely time despite the chilly weather and bought half a kilo of aged farmhouse tomme (de savoie-type), which we nibbled all the following week.

baby donkey down from the hills to the big city
And who couldn’t fall in love with these little guys, just look at that beautiful coat!

Not much porchetta left on this one!

I’m sure Valentine had a good life but I haven’t yet taken the plunge into Nice-style porchetta so couldn’t tell you how well she tasted:  this is no dainty Tuscan arista shoulder stuffed with fragrant herbs but an entire pig stuffed with its meat, tripe and liver, and each slice weighs about 200g,  an awful lot to get through if I decide I don’t like it.   Maybe next time…

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Am I nuts? This short clip was taken over a year ago, and in the depths of winter, yet it still reminds me of sunnier climes. I’m just getting excited about getting back to Vieux Nice: next trip I’ll try to snap some sultry summertime footage.

Might be an idea to turn down the sound thanks to the blustery Mistral…or Tramontana…not sure which wind was blowing at the time but either way it made a horrible noise!

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waiting in line

waiting in line at the boucherie, Place St Francois, Vieux Nice

Talk about a view – this was mine for a full 50 minutes last Saturday.  We waited and we waited and we waited: and then we waited some more.  All I wanted was to pick up a couple of grillades de boeuf at a great price, but the entire population of Vieux Nice descended simultaneously on la Boucherie Chez Francis, standing 12 or more deep,  with a mission to supply themselves and their extended families with sufficient meat to outlast the current geological era.  And every piece cut precisely, if you don’t mind…. We noticed a certain correlation between the apparent poverty of a customer and the exactitude they demanded of their butcher (of whom I counted 10 either working the counter or sawing away in the backroom).  Escalopes of this, paupiettes of that – yes, joint those rabbits and cut their heads in half while you’re about it.  Surely some kind of class warfare going on – the well-dressed expressed their outrage at the wait, only to be rebuffed by the garrulously painstaking staff, while each scruffy personage, once having achieved first place at the counter, prolonged their position in power for as long as their wallet extended.  Many euros and even more minutes later they would finally relinquish prime place and saunter over to the cash register to pay and collect their spoils – all bagged, tagged and delivered by overhead conveyor belt. What an amazing operation.

the crowd starts to thin

the crowd starts to thin - note mountain of orange body bags bottom left

Happily we had already bought tickets for a charity gala at Nice Opera House – a splendid neo-classical edifice with sumptuous interior – which turned out to be an evening of unmitigated musical delights and the perfect gilt-edged, velvet-trimmed, crystal-chandeliered antidote to our afternoon of waiting in line with the hoi polloi: and just a five minute walk from home through the Old Town’s pedestrianised streets.opera

Boucherie Chez Francois : Place St. Francois, Vieux Nice

Nice Opéra House : 4 & 6 rue Saint-Francois-de-Paul, 06300 Nice
Tél. 04 92 17 40 00

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…and I loved it.  No, I wasn’t auditioning for a remake of Pink Flamingos, but as in the direct translation of the Nissard dialect’s Merda de Can and no, it’s not actually what it says on the tin, rather a gnocchi Nissarde made with swiss chard (blettes) and/or spinach, shaped to resemble its namesake; I doubt if the resemblance goes further than that.  This wryly-named Niçois speciality is one of my favourites I usually buy at a wonderful pasta and sauce shop, La Clé aux Pâtes in Vieux Nice, to cook at our flat around the corner or even freeze to take home in my luggage.  Other artisan pasta joints in the neighbourhood get more press coverage but in my experience their products don’t come close in quality to what is made on the premises here.  For a change though, today I enjoyed my traditional dish of canine poop with beef daube sauce at celebrated Old Town haunt of authentic Nissart cuisine L’Escalinada.

Merda de Can

How the young waiters manage their combination of cool insouciance, sharp wit, friendly yet professional service is beyond me but it’s very welcome when all too often any hint of an Anglo accent triggers the dreaded treatment touristique.


The dish was delish, but I have to say Clé aux Pâtes does it more to my liking.  L’Escalinada’s chef produces a looser stool, metaphorically speaking, than does the genius on rue de la Boucherie, and I like my doggy do with a bit more bite.   T went for the sautéed rabbit which although on the dessicated side of succulent was saved by exquisite tagliatelle with pistou; both made on the spot, perfectly simple and simply perfect.

Couldn’t possibly find fault with our starter either – Ribambelle de l’Escalinada – a starry selection of niçoise nibbles for two to share: after a help-yourself bowl of chickpeas with raw onion and aïoli, our platter delivered sliced raw baby artichokes, stuffed vine leaves, beignets (fritters) of courgette and aubergine, roasted red pepper, marinated octopus and best of all, exquisitely teeny-tiny cuttlefish, freshly battered and deep-fried.  In contrast to its soggy-seeming appearance the beignet batter was light and crisp with a creamy interior, the recipe for which I am delighted to see featured in Nice Matin’s August 2008 review: must try and if it succeeds I’ll post with my recipe translation.


It has been raining buckets for the past week apparently but this afternoon we were treated to sunshine warm enough for basking outdoors on L’Escalinada’s jaunty terrace while sipping our pichet of Côtes de Provence rosé and watching the perennial people-parade along rue Pairolière: it’s so very nice to be back in Nice.

L’Escalinada, 22 rue Pairolière, Nice 06300
La Clé aux Pâtes, 8 bis rue de la Boucherie, Nice 06300

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Ah, bliss! A beautiful bank holiday weekend.  Down in the South East we have it good; while the rest of the land experience rain we enjoy the sunshine.  And now it’s sunny and warm we can haul the patio furniture from under its tarpaulin, chill a bottle of Corsican rosé – a pale, mass-produced vin de pays de l’Ile de Beauté evocative of summer lunches in Old Nicebrilliant sunshine, Corsican rose on a turquoise table
and nibble on a simple chickpea salad

chickpea salad with red onion and parsley

and some sardine bruschetta (using the artisan bread, natch – see previous post).

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