Monday, January 17, 2005

Highlights: Marseilles

OK, I’ve already written about that amazing pizza truck my sister and I found back in September (see “Pizza in Marseilles”)—time to recall some other finds. I’d been meaning to do this for a while, but tonight’s meal—Moules aux Safran at Chez l’Évêque (1030 Laurier W.)—brought back all kinds of memories.

Among the highlights of our brief 3-day stay:

• Moules Frites at Brasserie de l’Hotel de Ville PMU: There are a whole host of restaurants with terrace seating down along Quai du Port on the northern side of the Vieux Port. La Brasserie de l’Hotel seemed to be attracting a good crowd that included a lot of locals. Inside the bar, things were quite boisterous—the place doubled as a local betting center (hence, the PMU), after all—outside, the scene was relaxed. We sat outdoors and looked at the menu, but we already knew what we wanted—we’d seen it on the board posted by the sidewalk: mussels. Karina ordered the moules marinière and I ordered the moules sauce Béarnaise, and we split a salade chèvre chaud. The mussels were delicious—they were perfectly prepared and came with excellent frites—but what I really remember was how fresh they tasted. I rarely remember moules tasting that fresh.

• Street food along Rue Longue des Capucins: We hit the North African market district of Belsunce one day around noon. We took in the sights, the aromas, and the sounds and tried to decide which stand we’d visit for a snack. We ended up at a place called Le Soleil d’Égypte. There they had these lovely crêpe-like flatbreads that they filled with a vegetable stew. They were savory but they had a sweetness to them that came from the onions and peppers—more importantly, they were really, really tasty. The guy behind the counter picked up on my accent and asked where we were from. I told him I was visiting from Canada. The word “Canada” clearly conjured up all kinds of arctic visions in his mind. He asked me if we ever got weather like that of Marseilles (it was about 25˚C that day) in Canada. He seemed shocked when I told him that temperatures could get well above 30˚C in some parts of Canada. Then he asked me if we had ever had anything like Egyptian food back home. He was surprised to hear that although I couldn't find many of the specialties available in Belsunce back home, other types of North African and Middle Eastern food were plentiful in Canada.

• Our final night in Marseilles we treated ourselves to a local legend: Toinou on Cours St-Louis. For generations now, Toinou has been THE place for shellfish for tourists and locals alike. On one side of the Cours sits Toinou’s open-air stall where you can pick up your shellfish to take home with you or have a half-dozen of this or that right there on the street. On the other side sits the restaurant which is open for both lunch and dinner, and which packs them in every day for both. We sat inside and ordered a plateau de dégustation and a couple of glasses of white wine from les Pays d’Oc. We were floored by the platter that arrived. We’d never seen such a wide assortment of shellfish, and all of it (there were at least 40-50 items, including three different types of clams, oysters, mussels, and shrimp) for the extremely reasonable price of about € 15.

Café Noailles on Canebière: Definitely our favorite café. Earthy atmosphere and top-notch coffee (roasted on premises)—a great place to study the local dialect.


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