Returning to Marseille after 17 years in Southeast Asia, I wished to immerse myself in the essence of the city, reconnect with its inhabitants, and once again feel the human warmth and generosity that emanate from them. I wanted to immerse myself in this proud and jovial population. To be seduced by a very special day to discover the spirit and charm of this millennial city. A return to the homeland.
Back to the sources, the heart of the Phocaean city
To experience again the atmosphere and traditions of Marseille, I wanted to reconnect with the family spirit that reminded me of other people and faraway lands I discovered during my travels in Asia. Above all, I wanted to rediscover what makes Marseille unique: its sweet way of life, boules, pastis, candid speech, and above all, its delicious Provençal cuisine.
I needed to feel the pulse of the city, beating to the rhythm of fishing boats that silently leave at night and return at first light, bringing back to the Quai des Belges incredible rock fishes destined for the fish market.
Visiting Marseille with my gourmet guide friend
At this precise location, I meet Gilles, my friend from Marseille with whom I have shared my passion for travel and culinary discoveries. Having become a guide and family cook through conviction rather than modesty, Gilles proposes to celebrate our reunion with a “convivial Provençal cooking lesson” in the company of a small group of privileged individuals.
Exploration of neighborhood markets
The first step takes us to the fish market, where the generous fishmonger advises us on the freshest fish that will accompany our menu. Then, we head to the Noailles market, strolling through this emblematic neighborhood near the Old Port. Gilles shares juicy anecdotes about this vibrant neighborhood.
At the Capucins market, colors and fragrances explode. Gilles helps me choose the most beautiful vegetables for our culinary creations. Together, we rediscover the fresh aromas, the mixtures of fennel and anise, basil and savory, and the herbs of Provence.
On our way, we are accosted by cigarette sellers among the sardine and grilled chicken stalls. Despite the temptations, Gilles remains attentive to everything happening around us, guiding us through the lively alleyways.
Stuck between an African hairdresser and the entrance of a Tunisian restaurant, we enter a huge shop overflowing with colors and scents, the Ali Baba’s cavern of spices. The vendor, a living embodiment of the neighborhood’s history, introduces us to products such as candied ginger and a “special sex” mixture, confirmed by a customer and the vendor with a knowing smile.
Cooking Class in Marseille
A few minutes later, we arrive at Gilles’ house, in his large family home. We explore his residence, and especially “the kitchen,” the heart of the house, where meetings, friendships, and the tales of lost sailors take place. Gilles, a pedagogue, launches into a culinary demonstration worthy of a great chef, while maintaining simplicity and conviviality.
Faced with numerous appetizing recipes, we make a difficult choice between scorpion fish with pasta, bourride with aioli, fish soup, bouillabaisse, pistou soup, sardines with escabeche, breaded rastègues, Marseille-style daube, Marinette’s Marseille-style mussels, and omelette cakes for tonight’s aperitif. For Gilles, the emphasis is not on technique, but on the harmony of flavors, colors, and smells.
In a very familial spirit, after setting a beautiful table on the shaded terrace, we share and savor the dishes we have just concocted. A thought for our ancestors accompanies this moment, thanking them for passing down these timeless recipes to us.
During a coffee break, we exchange thoughts on our shared passions for cooking and gastronomy.
This day shows me how much I enjoy re-discovering beloved places. Marseille is becoming familiar, now it’s up to me to take the time to reconnect with it.