Europe

Bouillabaisse

Waiter! There’s a crab in my bouillabaisse!

But fortunately for the purist, this little guy is only there for decoration. The true bouillabaisse contains no shellfish, not even mussels–in fact, it contains nothing fish-wise but Rascasse (a pungent Marseillaise rockfish), Chapon (a Scorpion Fish), Mullett, John Dory, and Conger Eel. And this ain’t just snobbery–in 1980, the 11 leading restaurants of Marseille fought off the dumbing down of their culture by signing la Charte de la Bouillabaisse. The charter committed their chefs to these ingredients, along with a healthy dose of Saffron to transform the muddy-gray soup into something even the faint-hearted could consume with relish. And you need to relish it–the meal as served involves a massive quantity of food and rings the register starting at fifty euros per plate.

Second course at le Miramar

Strange all this fuss over what started out many centuries ago–some say even with the Ancient Greeks who first settled the city–as a poor fisherman’s stew. After selling their more conventional cargo to the rich, the Marseillaise fishermen would gather their scraps and unsellable fish and boil the mess right on the dock in a vast cauldron of seawater. After hours of reduction, the thickened purée would be parceled out and taken home to the wives for further dressing.

Bringing in the fish the old way in le Vieux Port

Today’s meal is served in two basic courses:

First, the soup–with toasted bread topped off with Rouille (a variation on the local Aioli, basically a very garlicky mayonnaise).

Second, the soup–with all of the fish deboned table-side and nicely arranged (with fennel, potatoes, tomatoes, and a whole lot more garlic) to overflow the bowl.

Which is why James Bond (we think) was quite right when he claimed that the only place you could find the true bouillabaisse was in Marseille. The Rascasse in particular has no real equivalent and is only to be found lurking in the hidden calanques and rocky coves of this onetime smuggler’s paradise. As for the Rouille, the garlic and eggs from the local farms have no equal anywhere on earth.

If you’re OCD enough to travel to Marseille for the real thing, you might as well splurge on a bottle from the village of Cassis, a few kilometers along the coast. After all, if you’re counting coins or calories, you’ve come to the wrong place.

Homegrown in Provence

The current signatories of la Charte include:

CHEZ FONFON
Roger et Alexandre PINNA
140, Vallon des Auffes
13007 MARSEILLE
Tel: (011) 33 04 91 52 14 38
Fax: (011) 33 04 91 59 27 32
Email: chezfonfon@aol.com

LE CARIBOU
Maurice CATONI
38, place Thiars
13001 MARSEILLE
Tel: (011) 33 04 91 33 23 94

CHEZ CARUSO
Antoine ZANABONI
158, quai du Port
13002 MARSEILLE
Tel: (011) 33 04 91 90 94 04

LE MIRAMAR (our favorite, right on le Vieux Port)
Pierre et J.M. MINGUELLA
12, quai du Port
13002 MARSEILLE
Tel: (011) 33 04 91 91 10 40

L’EPUISETTE
Bernard BONNET
Vallon des Auffes
13007 MARSEILLE
Tel: (011) 33 04 91 52 17 82

PERON
Roland FRITTOLI
56, Corniche J.F. Kennedy
13007 MARSEILLE
Tel: (011) 33 04 91 52 43 70

LE RHUL
Alex GALLIGANI
269B, Corniche J.F. Kennedy
13007 MARSEILLE
Tel: (011) 33 04 91 52 54 54

CHEZ GILBERT
Robert GASQUET
19, quai des Baux
13260 CASSIS
Tel: (011) 33 04 42 01 71 36

LA RESERVE
Jacques JACQUET
Avenue de la Libération
83150 BANDOL
Tel: (011) 33 04 94 29 30 00

CHEZ CHARLOT
Pierre DARIDAN (Owner)
12, place Clichy
75009 PARIS (seriously?)
Tel: (011) 33 01 53 20 48 00

CHEZ CHIBRAC
Francis CHIBRAC
LE MONT PELLERIN SUR CHARDONNE
1801 CH – Canton de Vaud
SUISSE (even more seriously?)
Tel: (0041) (021) 922 61 61/62

Categories: Europe, Food

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