May 14, 2004
Europe - Day 14 / Marseille, France - Day 2
Location: Marseille, France
This is the first full day I'm touring Marseille. Naomi and I had a light and pleasant breakfast at the hostel. It was frugal - mid-size baguette, a sachet of French butter and coffee, but I had a nice time just the same. We had a chance to do our piling laundry and took a walk while waiting for the dryer to finish its job. We covered good ground although not necessarily scenic.
Planning our itinerary took most of our time - what to do, where to go, how long to stay, train schedules, etc. It would seem like a quick thing but too many variables had to be factored in. We helped ourselves to a full bottle of cheap Rosé (but otherwise acceptable Rosé) while doing this. We got pleasantly tipsy and had a blast.
We decided to stay one more day in Marseille but to move to a downtown hotel by Saturday night. We leave early on Sunday to have breakfast in Nice, dinner in Monte Carlo and then take the night train to Genova.
My 3 concerns were:
- have my Bouillabaisse in Marseille
- be back in Geneva on the 18th
- make sure I have enough Euros left until I reach the Philippines
We commuted the scenic bus route to Vieux Port and took the suggested walking tour of the city. Marseille certainly has its unpretentious charm - laundry being dried up on the building balcony, narrow streets where working people live, children playing on the streets, etc. We did enough of the walking until we got hungry....for my long-awaited Bouillabaisse meal.
Flashback to Toronto
My introduction to French food dates back long before I had my first step on European soil. I was in Marché, a popular market-style restaurant in Toronto, when I ordered my first Bouillabaisse, a Mediterranean fish stew made with saffron. It was love at first bite.
After that meal, I was convinced that the French had good reason to be proud of their culinary heritage. I meant to explore that realm. I immediately proceeded buying a set of professional copper-lined pots and pans - the same ones seen hanging from kitchen pot racks in popular TV food programs by famous French chefs.
Next, I bought 3 French cooking recipe books. I was cooking French food daily for the next full month. I must have tried every conceivable Bouillabaisse recipe there was - each time, I was hungry to try for more. Given my Bouillabaisse quest, there was one trivia that kept popping up: that the best Bouillabaisse can only be found in Marseille, France. That pretty much spelled my next destination.
A Failed Bouillabaisse from a Previous Visit
4 years ago, I took my Dad, whom I haven't seen in years, to a tour of France as a Father's Day treat. We took the Trafalgar packaged tour - France in 7 days by coach. Marseille was one of the destinations. Of course, finally, my chance to have Bouillabaisse from its place of origin. To my utter astonishment, my Dad had a craving for Chinese food! Since the whole occasion was in celebration of Father's Day, I presented no argument. By the time we were done with our meal, our tour bus was on its way to the next city, and with it, my dream of savouring Bouillabaisse in Marseille. I vowed to come back.
After asking a few of the locals where I can get the most Bouillabaisse for my money, I was referred to Oscar, a touristy restaurant located right by the port that specialized in Bouillabaisse. Like most restaurants, it offered dining in its outdoor patio. We took the table fronting the street. Price was staggered: E15, E28 and E45. The E45 included lobster. I would have gone for that, but it meant walking all the way back to Geneva instead of the train. I opted for the E28 version.
The fish was openly de-boned in full view of all the passing tourists. Later, they presented a starter soup with rouille, a pepper based sauce used for dipping garlic-rubbed baguette slices. Finally the main course arrived. The fish-infused soup was intense, thick and richly laced with tomale. I was on Cloud 9. I graciously paced myself savoring every spoonful that entered my mouth until I couldn't have more.
The Homeless Guy
There were 3 more portions of fish I could no longer finish. I thought everything was anti-climactic from then on, when without warning, I saw a hand dive into my soup, grabbing the fishes, and straight into the mouth of this homeless man who looked me in the eye and casually walked away. I was speechless. So was Naomi and the other restaurant guests who witnessed the episode. Upon recovering from the initial shock, Naomi and I burst into an amused laughter. This certainly added more color to my Bouillabaisse experience. The waitress even gave us free espresso as an appeasement.
I got more than what I expected from that Bouillabaisse indulgence. It was all good. I don't have to go through life wondering what real Bouillabaisse is like!
--- Gigit (TheLoneRider)
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