Cuisine of Nice: Where & What To Eat
French food is famous around the world for its elegant flavors. Yet, the cuisine of Nice is probably not what most people have in mind when they think of French food. Located on the southern coast, Nice’s food culture is unique, combining Mediterranean, English, and Provincial French influences. Unlike the rest of France, many of the dishes that Nice is known for are vegan or vegetarian-friendly, and on the healthy side.
The English Influence
The reputation France now enjoys as the home of fine cuisine was forged largely in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the 18th century, English visitors to France deplored the local fare and, as far as possible, imposed the delicacies of English cuisine on the French.
In Nice, on 20 September 1789, Arthur Young found himself dining on roast beef, plum pudding, and porter, which made him ‘drop for a moment the idea of the formidable distance that separated me from England’. The physician Edward Rigby, visiting the town that year, was treated to a dinner tout à l’anglaise (everything English).
Seventy years later, of the situation in Menton at the eastern end of the coast, Dr J. Henry Bennet recorded: “As I have been told by Menton hotel keepers, the dinners we positively require and exact every day at the hotels are to them festive dinners, which they never dream of unless to welcome friends for a marriage or a baptism. To provide this high standard of food, to many hundred strangers, the country had to be ransacked for a hundred miles around.”
The Unique Cuisine of Nice
The cuisine of Nice, and the French Riviera in general, is a refreshing break from the heavy dishes that are more common in the northern parts of France. Inspired by seasonality and natural bounty of the land and sea, the people of Nice have developed a landmark cuisine that is part French and part Mediterranean — with an English twist.
With its fair share of Michelin-starred restaurants plus a variety of homegrown dishes, the Côte d’Azur is a great place for both fine dining and rustic fare while overlooking the Mediterranean. Niçoise cuisine is so tasty that city elders are bidding for UNESCO recognition of 90 key recipes including Salade Niçoise.
Nice is also unique in that you don’t need to leave city limits to visit vineyards and wineries. With just 70 hectares under vine, AOC Bellet is among the smallest wine regions in France, and the only one found entirely within city limits. The two indigenous grape varieties, Braquet and Folle noire, predate the Riviera’s Roman occupation. Look out for early vintages in the tasting rooms of Cave Bianchi .
Tip: “Niçois” and “Niçoise” means “of Nice” in French, and thus will come up in the names of many of these local dishes.
Seasonal ingredients from the local markets play a key role in the local cuisine. Due to the particularly hospitable weather, Nice is a very farm-to-table city, with nearly all ingredient being grown at nearby farms.
Residents—including professional chefs—head to the Cours Saleya market to grab ingredients for home-cooked meals. Ranked as one of the best markets in France by the National Council for the Culinary Arts, this market offers the freshest and most locally sourced ingredients in town. Striped awnings house colorful flowers such as dahlias and geraniums and customers can peruse through stall after stall of organic vegetables, fruits and cheese.
Even delicacies like the pungent winter truffles found in restaurants like Terre du Truffes hail from foraging parties high the nearby Alpes-Maritimes’ oak forests. Less pricey seasonal fungi like chanterelles and ceps are also sourced nearby.
The Niçois are unfailingly creative when it comes to vegetables: While the delicate yellow petals of the courgette are rarely used in other parts of France, here they are put to good use in farcis (see below) and various other dishes. The most popular way of cooking the flowers, which adorn market stands across the region from May through September, is to fry them in a light batter to make beignets (fritters).
Nice takes their heritage cuisine seriously. The city has created a certification label called Cuisine Nissarde to let foodies know where to go to enjoy the city’s traditional local dishes. You can enjoy the authentic cuisine of Nice and its original flavors in one of the restaurants labelled “Cuisine Nissarde”. Across the Cote d’Azur, there are about two dozen restaurants that are officially labelled “Cuisine Nissarde,” eight of them in or near Vieux Nice.
Perhaps the most authentic is family-run Chez Acchiardo , which has been beloved by locals since 1927, serving traditional dishes like daube, beef stew made with red wine and Mediterranean herbs; trouchia, a frittata with baby Swiss chard; and pissaladière, a flatbread topped with caramelized onions, anchovies, and olives. Here and at many other restaurants, be sure to try merda de can, green gnocchi topped with pistou, the Ligurian (Northern Italian) version of pesto.
Nice’s Most Famous Dishes
Between sunbathing on the glistening French Riviera beaches and exploring the winding streets, be sure to try these quintessentially Nice dishes:
Socca (aka, Farinata)
The definitive Niçois snack, Socca (also called farinata) is best served as an aperitif with a chilled glass of Côtes de Provence rosé. No knife and fork required, it’s French fast food at its best: Chickpea flour, olive oil, and salt are combined to make a smooth mixture, which, after several hours’ rest, is baked in a wood-fired oven, in large, round socca trays. The result is a crispy golden pancake with a soft, tasty interior.
Order a large portion, sprinkle liberally with black pepper, and share with friends. With plenty of protein and naturally gluten-free, socca is a great choice if you’re looking for a light meal or snack.
Where to try it: Tucked away behind Nice’s port, Chez Pipo has been the place to go for une part de socca since 1923. Expect to wait for a table: Chez Pipo’s stellar reputation has become one of Nice’s worst-kept secrets among locals and savvy tourists alike.
Don’t want to sit? In Nice, you’ll see street vendors baking socca in sidewalk stalls. Pick up a slice to nibble on while you shop the open-air markets.
Make it at home: Socca recipe
Farcis Niçois (aka, Les Petits Farcis)
Farcis niçois, also known as les petits farcis, is a dish often mistranslated on menus, much to the bemusement of tourists, who are left wondering what “a plate of stuffs” could possibly be. It is in fact a delicious local specialty consisting of baked vegetables—usually peppers, eggplants, courgettes (zucchini) and their flowers, and even onions—stuffed with minced veal and beef, bread crumbs, and vegetables, sometimes topped with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.
The stuffed veggies can vary in size and are sometimes served as an appetizer, but often they make a satisfying main meal alongside a large side salad and a hunk of bread. Typically eaten during “la belle saison” (spring and summer), faris niçois make a light and refreshing meal. Enjoy them as a light lunch on a hot day or as the vegetable course of a sumptuous Provincial dinner.
Where to try it: Les petits farcis feature on most restaurant menus, but for an authentic experience head to the narrow streets of the Vieux Nice and snag a table at Restaurant Acchiardo . Family-run for several decades, this local institution specializes in rustic, down-to-earth Niçoise cuisine, including les petits farcis. Unlike the tourist traps that desperately try to lure in visitors, Acchiardo seems to fill up effortlessly night after night. Note that it’s closed on weekends and during the tourist-packed month of August.
Make it at home: Farcis niçois recipe
Ever proud of their world-famous salade Niçoise, the locals invented a portable spinoff: Generally speaking, the pan bagnat is all that’s good about a Niçois salad —tuna, boiled egg, anchovies, radish, celery, artichokes, olives— drizzled with olive oil and stuffed into a sandwich made from whole wheat pain d’campagne (“country bread”).
Tip: Even though the French love mayonnaise, you should never ask for mayo with your pan bagnat. It’s olive oil or nothing!
Where to try it: During your stay in Nice, you’ll see pan bagnat everywhere, from chic cafes to corner bakeries and food stalls on the streets. Most boulangeries are well stocked with pan bagnat.
It’s ideal for taking to the beach for a picnic or for a lunch on the go. Be warned, though: It’s not the easiest of foods to eat. The bread, a large round bun, and its contents are predisposed to becoming an oozing mess, so eat this alone or with someone you’re not necessarily trying to impress!
Make it at home: Pan bagnat recipe
Salade Niçoise & Pasta Niçoise
Salade Niçoise is famous well outside of France. But just because you’ve had salade Niçoise before doesn’t mean you should skip the dish on your trip to Nice. After all, seasonality and fresh, local ingredients are at the heart of Niçoise cooking. The ingredients that make this complex and satisfying salad —anchovies, olives, eggs, olive oil, summer vegetables— are at their best in the south of France.
Salade Niçoise is great for either lunch or dinner. You’ll leave the table feeling like you’ve had a rich meal without being overly stuffed.
A famous variation of this dish is pasta Niçoise, where you swap the lettuce and egg for pasta.
Where to try it: Lou Balico is known for their Niçoise salad —which varies from the American version, with artichokes in place of haricots verts, plus anchovies and pickled diced vegetables, served over fresh greens with tuna, olives, tomato, and a boiled egg.
Pissaladière is thick bread dough topped with black olives, caramelized onions, and whole anchovies. Believe it or not, pissaladière was once the quintessential Nice breakfast. The most important ingredient in a pissaladière is anchovies, but don’t let that deter you. Salted anchovies from the Mediterranean have a wonderful savory flavor that’s much more palatable than the canned varieties. Today, you’re likely to find it as an appetizer at both lunch and dinner.
Make it at home: Pissaladière recipe
Soupe au Pistou
“Pistou” is a unique pesto-like sauce, which comes in a dollop on top of this vegetable soup. As the American gourmand Waverley Root observed, it’s one of the finest soups known to man. In addition to vegetables like carrots, summer squash, and potatoes, soupe au pistou also contains hearty beans and a burst of fresh herbs. Like a lot of typical Nice dishes, it’s light, healthy, and very flavorful.
Make it at home: Soupe au pistou recipe
After the salade niçoise, ratatouille is probably the most famous dish from Nice. Remember the animated movie featuring the rat with big dreams of becoming a chef? This is the dish that inspired that film.
This veggie stew consists of tomatoes, onions, courgettes, aubergines, and peppers all sautéed with garlic and herbes de Provence (a mixture of dried herbs, typically oregano, rosemary, thyme and marjoram, among others). True ratatouille is a no-nonsense vegetable stew that is filling enough to have as a meal on its own.
Where to try it: The unassuming entrance to La Merenda may not immediately catch the eye, but it’s one of the best places in the city to try local specialties like this one. The chef, Dominique le Stanc, walked away from the Michelin stars he earned at the acclaimed Le Chantecler (at the Negresco Hotel) to open this snug dining room in the Old Town, where he concentrates on authentic Niçoise cuisine.
It’s a rare chance to taste local dishes cooked by a Michelin-starred chef at accessible prices, and if you’re in Nice during the summer months, he’ll cook you an exceptional ratatouille made from local veggies.
Make it at home: Ratatouille recipe
La Daube Niçoise is a beef stew which, paired with a bottle of Cotes du Rhone, makes for a hearty dinner on a cool evening. Don’t let the Mediterranean sunshine put you off ordering this dish, which is served at any time of the year. The typical ingredients of a daube stew are braised beef and fresh vegetables flavored with a bouquet garni. However, the people of Nice add three special ingredients to their stews: cremini mushrooms, brandy, and cayenne pepper. The earthy mushrooms, spicy pepper, and sweet local branda transform a simple, comforting stew into a rich culinary experience.
Make it at home: La Daube Niçoise recipe
Even though many people assume that this ravioli came from Italy, the truth is that this pasta dish was invented on the French Riviera and is still super popular in Nice. These delicious ravioli are traditionally made with leftover daube niçois. Using the already-stewed beef yields a tender and flavorful filling for the pasta, and the stew itself serves as the perfect sauce. However, it’s also common to find raviolis niçois filled with ground beef and the second essential ingredient, Swiss chard. As fresh pasta is always a treat, keep an eye out for this dish when you’re eating out in Nice’s many restaurants.
Make it at home: Raviolis niçois recipe
Tourte de Blettes
Although this is a dessert tart, you wouldn’t think it, but its main ingredient is chard. The pastry that forms the top crust and base is made with olive oil and the filling consists of parmesan, pine nuts and, of course, chard. Sometimes a layer of apple is also included.
Despite the fact that it’s heavily comprised of a vegetable, this dish is sweet, delicious and the perfect way to end a meal. Think of it as comparable to carrot cake or sweet potato pie!
Make it at home: Tourte de blettes recipe
If you want to make your experience tasting these tantalizing French foods as nice as possible, try them in Nice. Or stop by Nice’s incredible market and pick up some local delicacies. After all, authenticity is one of the best ways to ensure a delicious meal.