Bustling food markets are an integral part of day-to-day life in France, in whichever region you happen to be. Each one has its own individual character, depending on the particular location, and on the specialities specific to that region. Although some of the food markets in Paris, such as Marché Maubert, and rue Mouffetard are legendary, the food market par excellence on the French Riviera, without doubt, is Le Marché Provençal (Provençal Market) in Antibes.
The smells and tastes in Antibes market are evocative, sensuous and blissfully memorable. Like the cuisine itself, it is all about pungent and gutsy ‘head on’ flavours and textures – food that actually ‘talks to you’, unlike some of the more bland cuisines of other départements of France. Like the people themselves, many of the local dishes have a distinctly Italian flavour, ‘peppered’ with all the characteristic colours and flavours of neighbouring Provence …. and with the spices from North Africa and the Caribbean.
The Côte d’Azur is a region bursting with brilliant colours and heady fragrances – a mélange of purple lavender, rich green basil, shiny peppers in the Ferrari colours of red and yellow, the aromatic citrus tang of lemons and limes, the unmistakable and all essential pungency of garlic, and, the one small fruit which immediately conjures up this cocktail of sunshine flavours ….. the olive! You will find every size, shape and colour imaginable in Antibes market. It is difficult to imagine a local dish that does not contain olive oil or olives, or, more often than not, both. They are all here for the tasting, and there are many artisanal producers eager for you to try their ‘local brew’. Be bold, and try them like a true professional! First sniff deeply on the bouquet, and then taste the olive oil neat on a small spoon. Only the faint-hearted dunk bread into it, so save that just for cleaning the palate between tastings! One of the most popular dishes using plump olives in abundance is Tapenade; an unctuous pâté, based on plump black or green olives. The crushed olives are traditionally mixed with anchovy fillets (the most popular small fish of the region), capers, lemon juice, garlic, a generous dash of brandy … and of course, olive oil. There is an abundance of tapenade for tasting in Antibes market (both black and green), as well as other ‘pâtés’ made from sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, anchovies (anchoïade) and chèvrade (comprising chèvre cheese). You can enjoy a wonderful shopping degustation instead of breakfast!
The Marché Provençal is rather like an Aladdin’s cave of everything edible! Who would imagine that there would be one stall just selling potatoes – not one variety but ten! The Ratte potatoes are to die for – irregular in shape, but a superb texture. For those who prefer something a little more colourful then the violettes are a speciality. They almost resemble a truffle to look at, but under the dark outside lurks the most amazing purple marbled flesh. They make the most delicious potato salad (with a difference) or a wonderful scrunched potato, with the skins left on.
For salad, head to Marina’s stall right in the centre of Antibes market, where you will be spoilt for choice. There are no less than ten wooden palates of different salad leaves: dandelion, beetroot, mesclun, etc. Just grab a plastic bag and add the leaves of your choice – what could be better. For lovers of courgette flowers, Marina has the best selection and quality – either the simple flower heads, or the mini courgettes with the flowers still attached.
The cheese selection on two stalls is sublime, many of which are chèvres. Amongst the most popular are Brousse de la Vésubie, Banon, Annot and Bairols, not forgetting the very distinctive Niolo from Corsica.
Once you have completed your food shopping, head for the far end of Antibes market. Here you will have one of two options, or both! There is an open clay oven producing la socca niçoise – a unique type of ‘pancake’ made from chick pea flour and olive oil. Delicious! Alternatively, make a visit to the oyster stall just to the right hand side. Here you can choose 6 or 12 oysters, opened for you, and they will be delivered to you at Bar Bacchus just two steps away …. to enjoy with a glass of chilled Côtes de Provence. (white or rosé).
The Marché Provençal in Old Antibes is open from 8h00 to 13h00, Tuesday to Sunday, and in the summer months it is open on Monday mornings as well. Antibes market is a five minute walk from the yachts in Port Vauban.
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