I have always heard great things about Moroccan hospitality. However, I was still surprised when Asma, French Moroccan blogger of Culture Cherifienne, invited me to her home in Marseille for a weekend. We had never met but soon become acquainted through a common excitement for both food and culture. Before I knew it, I was sent a gastronomic and cultural itinerary for our gourmet weekend in Marseille.
The Best of Provence and Morocco
I wanted the focus to be Moroccan food. She wanted both traditional Provençal and Moroccan. We met somewhere in between.
I suppose, for me, the symbol of our weekend was fleur d’oranger. The delicious scent of orange blossom permeates the air next to Marseille’s oldest bakery. Every time we walked by the Marseille landmark we breathed in heavily. Asma’s particular love for the aroma meant that our copies cups of sweet Moroccan tea were perfumed with orange blossom.
Marseille and Morocco
Marseille is worth discovering. It’s a city unlike any other in France. Yes, it’s dirty. Yes, some of the northern neighbourhoods are dangerous. I still don’t think that’s an excuse.
The city’s port has been a trading mecca for centuries. The flow of Mediterranean spices and products from Northern Africa, as well as the influx of Northern Africans, have influenced the local cuisine. Markets in Southern France often sell harissa, preserved lemons, saffron, large bunches of mint and coriander.
Therefore, I think a Moroccan gourmet weekend in Marseille is appropriate.
Voila! Asma and I’s itinerary. May it inspire you to visit some of the best of Marseille!
Our Gourmet Weekend in Marseille
Our first stop was Torréfaction Noailles Café. This busy café, close to the Noailles market, is full of Provencal confections. The high bars and stools are reminiscent of turn of the century French cafés. Savour chocolates, candies, baked goods and speciality products all made in Provence.
The sole was speared by her husband who fishes before work whenever he can. Indeed, the next morning when he came downstairs in his suit and spear- I was impressed! The fish was baked with thyme and lemon and expertly taken apart by Asma. I must admit that I rarely buy a whole fish myself so it was interesting to see the whole process of cooking it.
My favourite was the seafood pastilla. I’d never tasted a seafood version. Now I’ve also seen how it’s made. I loved watching how the filo pastry was fanned out from the center of the dish and then systematically buttered and folded in. The filling consisted of garlic, parsley, shrimp, mussels, calamari and noodles. It was delicious. This just proves that there’s something for everyone to try in Moroccan cuisine. If you’re not used to spices, I would suggest trying one of these!
Breakfast was another feast. Savoury and sweet are often mixed at Moroccan breakfast and I didn’t know where to start!
The night before we made crêpes mille-trous (msemmen or batbout). I’ve been craving these ever since I walked around a souk in Morocco sucking delicious honey off one of these freshly made pancakes. If you’re familiar with British crumpets, they have a similar texture.
Thé à la Menthe, or Morrocan mint tea, kept flowing as we ate oeufs au khli as well as soupe Harira. The eggs are simply fried with the fat as well as a little of the dried beef included in the egg. This was again a new taste for me. Salty deliciousness.
What I enjoyed most, I must admit, was the Hirira soup. This is a chickpea-based soup that is cooked for a length of time with celery, tomatoes, onion, coriander and turmeric. Every house has their own version. The thick soup is eaten for breakfast and oh my I think that I’m going to start doing the same! Have you ever eaten soup for breakfast? It’s incredibly warming. The light spices help to jumpstart your day. Don’t you find it odd that most cultures eat savoury for breakfast while in North Americans we generally have a sweet breakfast?
Shopping for Fish, Veggies, and Gifts
Once we were suitably stuffed, we headed to the port of Marseille’s small fish market. The fish are so fresh they are still flailing around in their presentation cases. Check out my Instagram for a video.
A Charming Hardware Store
Our next visit was Maison Empereur, a Marseille institution. This is the oldest hardware store in France. There are three stores, all connected, on the same road. Kitchenware and general hardware are the main items for sale. However, if you go upstairs, you’ll find beautiful Provencal pottery, linens, and more gifty items. I could have spent the entire day up there! Worth a visit if you’re in Marseille.
We then stopped at Marché Noailles for veggies and fresh herbs. Noailles, otherwise known as the Arab market, is a bustling everyday market in Marseille. Every spice you desire can be found here as well as pastilla and all kinds of North African bread and pastries. If you’re in Marseille, you’re obligated to stop here. Honestly.
On the way back to Asma’s for yet more cooking (the rather large fish we bought was getting a bit heavy) we stopped in the Saint Victor neighbourhood for a little Provencal history. Here, we visited the oldest bakery in Marseille specializing in navettes. Here, you can see how the navettes are made. These almond biscuits are flavoured with orange blossom. They’re like a more aromatic biscotti.
Next to the bakery is the Savonnerie de Saint Victor where you can find Marseille soaps in various shapes and sizes. I bought a slab of the green olive oil soap that hangs on a rope. Very pretty et rustique!
Worth visiting is also the Saint Victor abbey that overlooks the port. This late roman abbey church looks more like a fortress than a place of worship.
The quaint Provencal restaurant we had planned to visit was, of course, closed for their rather long holidays. Forced to cook at home, I wasn’t disappointed.
Cuisine marocaine aux saveurs provençales
This sauce is poured onto the fish before placed in the oven.
I have always heard Moroccans proudly saying that they can cook their own couscous. I was first confused. My version of cooking couscous is pouring the same quantity of hot water over the semolina, covering it, then letting it steam until fluffy.
When a Moroccan person speaks of couscous it usually means the entire meal of meat and veggies that accompany it. Also, couscous is cooked with a special couscoussier that steams the grains using very little water. The result is al dente texture. Each particle is separated and more flavourful.
We somehow made room for dessert. Don’t ask me how…
If you’re looking to buy quality Morrocan products in Marseille, visit Au Petit Amandier. This is the first gourmet Moroccan bakery and spice store in Marseille. The pastries are less sweet than the usual versions. You can test the beautiful Moroccan creams and buy high-quality orange blossom.
That evening, we watched an art house film, meandered around the old port then retired early.
Breakfast Day 2
Sunday morning was to be a cultural morning. We still had leftovers of Moroccan pancakes. Therefore, I got out of making the Canadian version. To compensate, we poured maple syrup over the Moroccan crepes mille-trous. I would like to bet that hasn’t been done before, ever.
I thought smoothies with vegetables was an American fad diet thing. I’ll never forget when I was in Florida, buying fresh beets with the greens still on. The grocer asked me if I was juicing. HA! NO. I was roasting them and savouring them in their natural, solid form.
Well, it turns out that Moroccans love beet smoothies. And it’s not a recent thing. Asma made me red beetroot, blood orange and orange blossom smoothies. An odd combo you might think, but delicious.
Museums in Marseille
This was the museum morning. We headed to the Mucem expo sur le café.
The coffee exhibit at Mucem is surprisingly fascinating. The exhibit takes you through the history of coffee, the production, preparation, and how it’s been embraced by different cultures. One cannot forget the pride of the Marseillais inhabitants. I was stood behind a woman reading that café had first come to France through the port of Marseille. She sucked in a large quantity of air and beamed a smile. She reread the fact again in her loudest “museum voice.”
We finally, and fittingly, visited the Musée des Regards de Provence small colonial exposition.
On the way back to the train station, Asma and I quickly picked up a final pastilla at Noailles. As I sat on the train watching the disappearing seacoast, with hot oil dribbling down my chin, I realised that Asma had picked the king of pastillas for my lunch. The decadent, fragrant, chicken and almond pastilla, bordering on sweet, is normally reserved for celebrations. What a lovely way to punctuate a Morrocan and Provencal weekend in Marseille.
If you’re interested in Modern Moroccan culture follow Culture Cherifienne on Instagram.
See Asma’s French article about our weekend. Un Weekend Gastronomique avec Ashley.