Friday, October 9, 2015

Meat and Fish for Lunch at Dame Oseille and Boite à Sardine

There are no shortages of churches, statues, and fountains in Marseille. At the transit stop Les Réformés, there is the Église Saint Vincent de Paul,

 this monument,
 this fountain,
 and this gazebo.
There is also Dame Oseille, a tiny cafe with a handful of tables inside or out.
Even though I was in a seafood city, the braised lamb sounded too comforting to pass up. I was very happy with the meat that was literally fork tender, the crisp and creamy polenta cake, and the roasted cherry tomatoes. For just 14.50 Euros or about $16 USD, this was a bountiful plate with lively flavors and quality ingredients. I was also happy to see salt and pepper on the tables and have no desire to use either:)
I had to have fresh fish while in Marseille, so what better place than a restaurant that was also a fish market? La Boite À Sardine is only open from about 11am-3pm, and if you only go to ONE place for fish in Marseille, go here. You can call ahead for a reservation (they only speak French) or wait up to an hour for a table, either way it will be worth the effort. Trust me :)
This is not a touristy place, so don't expect any English spoken (I had to tell a guy looking for the bathroom where it was because the wait staff didn't know what he was asking). They are very friendly and helpful, and will show you the fresh items on the menu if you don't understand the French words:) 

This was the most fun place I went to during my entire five days in Marseille. One of the chefs literally wrestled a huge live lobster on the counter, I met two local women at the counter who both said this was their favorite place in Marseille, and the staff joked with me throughout my meal, saying I had to finish my plate by closing time at 3pm, and when I didn't touch the bread basket after seeing the copious plates of food, they asked if I was on a diet:) Even though I never asked for wine (3.5 Euros or about $4 USD), they served me a glass since it was inconceivable that anyone would eat without drinking some wine!
I started with six medium sized Camargues oysters which arrived with their shells on, and my favorite addition, wedges of fresh lemon for 12 Euros or about $14 USD.
They were "medium" to the staff, but large to me; I barely had room to put the shells once I lifted the "lids" off the oysters!
I ordered the mackerel with mustard sauce and sardine croquettes which had a minty tomato sauce side, and when this platter came out I gasped; this was a serving for ONE for 14 Euros or about $16 USD! Now you see why the waiters said I had to finish by closing time:) The mackerel had the most tender sweet flesh I've ever tasted for mackerel and honestly I was satisfied after eating one, but it was so good I slowly finished both. The sardine croquettes were a bit dry without the tomato sauce, and I only ate about one and a half because the fish was so good.
 The fun decor of the dining room with scales, nets, and shells is continued in the toilette downstairs.
 Thankfully the metro and tram were only a few steps away
 with plenty of seats to transport my very full tummy back to my rental for a nap:)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Fish and Soap in Marseille

Marseille has been a center of commerce for centuries, and one of the oldest professions linked to this port is fishing. Every morning the local fishermen and women arrive at the Quai des Belges in the center of the Vieux Port, or old port, to sell whatever they have caught that morning. Boats range in size, but most are modest worn affairs which show the wear and tear of a hard working life tied to the sea.
There is no middle person at this market, the ones who fished in the morning are the ones who sell what they caught. The fish were literally taken from the nets and placed into the blue selling tubs as I walked past. Each merchant tub had a number on it so you could see that they were legally licensed to do business at the port.
Presentation is less important than quality of the fish here.
This guy has probably been fishing since he was a boy.
Some of the bigger fish are cut to order and sold by weight.
The day's catch included tuna and swordfish.
There were quite a few women selling fish and enjoying espressos with each other:)
There were also eels, octopus and a lobster for sale.

A shark or two literally lost their heads,

and prices were so low compared to Paris that I was tempted to take some fish home (8 Euros or about $9 USD for 2 lbs of fish).
The Quai des Belges is also the central hub for buses, trams,
and in the metro, they have aquariums :)
Besides fish, Marseille is known for its soap, with stores offering varying qualities and perfumes all over town. I strolled around the Vieux Port and found a soap museum and soap store called the Savonnerie Marseillaise de Licorne. The store is attached to a soap museum, and there is also a factory in town that you can tour for free if you want to see how the soap you are buying is actually made locally with local ingredients. This company has been in business for over 100 years and still makes their soap by hand, right down to their trademark stamps! The shop personnel were so helpful and kind that I bought a big cube of lavender artisan soap embedded with bits of lavender (3.50 Euros or about $4 USD). This company also has a smaller store on the other side of the port with the same products if you don't want to walk to the museum shop near the Theatre de la Criée. I compared my purchase to soaps in other soap stores and was very happy I bought where I did because you can immediately tell the difference between real and fake Marseillaise soap by the intensity of the perfume and the smooth non waxy feel of the soap itself. I had it in my suitcase and all my clothes now smell of fresh lavender :)

Monday, October 5, 2015

View of the Vieux Port of Marseille

Marseille is only about three hours from Paris on the high speed TGV train, but it's a world away in attitude and atmosphere. Every region of France is different and even though I've traveled extensively throughout France, the character of this notorious port city lives up to its press, both the good and the bad. The locals are warm and helpful, offering smiles freely, but some areas are also rough and seedy, especially at night around the main port. Do not leave your phone on a table in a cafe, or sling your purse over a chair unless you don't mind getting them stolen.

Arriving at Saint Charles, the main train station, and connecting to the metro downstairs is easy, but be prepared for two flights of stairs or a wait for the tiny elevator. Buying a ticket at any of the machines is easy with cash or a chip and PIN card, but if you want an unlimited weekly pass (13.70 Euros or about $15 USD), you'll need a color photo, and a wait at the ONE window with a human, only open during limited hours. I gave up after waiting in line for an hour at the human ticket line and bought a rechargeable 2 trip card (3.10 Euros or about $3.50 USD) at a machine to just get me to my AirBnB accommodation before nightfall. I learned that I could buy a 3 day unlimited pass (10.80 Euros or about $12.50 USD) at the machines without a photo or a ticket agent, so I did that the next day and that worked out perfectly. 

When I told my host that I write this blog and wanted some suggestions for places to eat and visit, he gave me some excellent recommendations, and the first one on the list was a place hidden away that only locals knew about. It was so well hidden, I couldn't find it the first day (but I did eventually, so there will be a later post on it). I ended up walking to Le Pharo, which had a beautiful panoramic view of the port. 

The building on the left is Fort St Jean.

The boats range from small pleasure and fishing boats

to larger sail boats and yachts.
This sculpture at Le Pharo epitomizes the nature of life at sea,
while this sculpture shows the juxtaposition of modern and historical elements in the city.
You can see Notre Dame de la Garde looking over the port on one side
while the other side is guarded by Fort St. Jean and Mucem, the national Museum.
Yes that is a yacht parked next to the Mucem, and behind the Mucem, the Cathedral of Saint Mary Major.
I made it back to the Vieux Port center
just in time to see the sun descending.
A video of the port (sorry about the noise; it was windy) viewed from Le Pharo:)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Parisian Chocolate Desserts

The sweetest gifts are presents from people who know what you enjoy and surprise you with their thoughtfulness. A friend I had not seen in decades found me through this blog and brought me some chocolate treats from Angelina, remembering how much I love chocolate. She brought FOUR desserts for the TWO of us, giving me a very generous allowance for my appetite still being what it used to be in my twenties. I only managed to eat about half of ONE, and because she would not take the rest with her for her flight back to the US, I was left suffering the terrible sacrifice of having to eat the leftovers :)
The Negresco, made with meringue, light and dark chocolate mousse, dark chocolate icing and dark chocolate shavings.
The Choc African, my favorite, made with African origin chocolate, chocolate brownie, chocolate mousse, and chocolate cream.
The interiors  of the Negresco and the Choco African show how light and silky the mousse fillings were.
This summer variation on the classic Mont Blanc added strawberries to the meringue, whipped cream, and signature chestnut cream vermicelli. If you enjoy strawberries and cream, with a slight chestnut flavor, this would be a great choice.
Another friend gave me these chocolates from Mococha as a thank-you gift. Seems everyone knows chocolate is a good way to make me smile.
Mococha brings together very talented chocolatiers, several of whom are MOFs, to one place,
giving them all a showcase for their skills, and giving me a variety of choices to satisfy my chocolate addiction; with all this chocolate, I think I'm set for at least a few days :)