Visiting Provence means giving yourself that wonderful chance to taste the “cuisine du soleil” (cuisine of the sun). This amazing region provides visitors with a somewhat overwhelming array of flavors and taste sensations – all inspired by the sunny landscape and proximity to fresh seafood, farm produce, fine dairy foods and amazing wines. In fact, there are thousands of dishes originating from the region, and they range from pastries and cheeses, fish dishes and wines, charcuterie and soups, and much more.
To be sure you experience the flavors of Provencal as comprehensively as possible, there are some iconic dishes that were born here and which are a summary of the different flavors and traditions that add up to cuisine du soleil. If you are traveling to the region, be sure to sample these classics, and try to make a point of scouting out the restaurants noted for offering some of the best examples.
With the mountain terrain, lamb is the ideal meat of choice. You can find it prepared in many ways, but you will certainly want to enjoy a meal prepared with lamb officially labeled as being from Sisteron. This is a “red label” meat that is considered the finest quality. One restaurant noted for its amazing hand with lamb dishes – not overdoing it with lots of distractions but always serving it with an ideal companion – is La Table du Vigneron near Narbonne.
One of the simplest dishes but also one protected by the Charter of Bouillabaisse (created in 1980), it will always contain rockfish, red mullet, conger eel and St. Pierre monkfish, and it should be presented rather than simply served. This means the restaurant explains the fish and filets it at the table – serving with some boiled potatoes and soup. It should also arrive with saffron-scented, garlic croutons.
Arguably, some of the best Bouillabaise in Provence is that served at Chez Gilbert in the seaside town of Cassis. The more laid back will want to visit La Poissonerie (also in Cassis) to enjoy this dish as well as a wider variety of fresh seafood.
Often misnamed Provencal beef stew, it is a wonderfully rich dish that features beef braised for a long period in red wine, garlic, herbs and seasonal vegetables. It is often served over or alongside potato pasta (gnocchi) or polenta. If traveling in Nice, look for an amazing variant on this dish that features ravioli stuffed with the fork-tender beef. There are too many establishments offering it, but it will always be the smaller, lesser-known and local favorites offering the most authentic and hearty versions. A prime example is La Merenda in Nice, famous for its daube as well as its amazing dessert – the tarte au citron.
If you have a chance to join a truffle foraging excursion, do so. It allows you to take in the landscape and savor the scents that are only available to those involved in the hunt. A great way to enjoy truffle hunting and dining on them in the finest ways is to join the Les Pastras tour in Cadenet. This is an organic farm and truffle plantation that allows visitors to help in the search for the famous mushrooms, learn how they are handled and prepared and then savor their unique tastes. You can also head to Richerenches or Carpentras during their truffle market days (Saturday and Friday respectively) to purchase them yourself.
The hillside restaurant L’Oustalet in the village of Gigondas is also known for making some of the best truffle dishes in the region. Chez Bruno in Lorgues is the ultimate spot for truffles and serves more than five tons per year!
In addition to these foods and dishes, be sure to sample at least one pastis cocktail (best in Marseille), tapenade in its many forms, nougat confectionaries throughout the entire region, ratatouille, aioli (it is always served on Fridays), and that signature cake of St. Tropez known as tarte tropezienne. Of course, you must try as much cheese as you can manage – particularly the fromage de chevre (goat’s cheese). Enjoy your culinary experience in Provence, it will be unforgettable.