The south of France is a region filled with a quiet elegance. Once you cruise into the historic and vital port of Marseille, you’ll find a bustling, Mediterranean melting pot of cultures and fishing town. It’s a distinctive part of the world you’ll be privy to when you take a cruise to Europe.
Marseille is its own unique getaway, with a variety of things to do. But the region is best known as a gastronomic paradise because, as a gateway to the south, the port has attracted everyone from Greeks, Italians and Armenians to North Africans and Vietnamese, to name a few ethnicities.
To help you experience the uniquely mixed style of cuisine found in Marseille, we’ve compiled a list of 15 things to eat in Marseille.
If you’ve ever wanted to taste chickpea delicacies, try this specialty from Marseille, the panisse. It’s similar to a French fry, yet made from chickpeas. It’s fried, baked and served with a dipping sauce.
One of Marseille’s specialties is the iconic shell-shaped and sweet sponge cake called a madeleine. These almond-flavored cakes are very popular throughout France and taste best when they’re fresh. Buy them at their peak freshness and take them back on the ship pre-packaged and unopened for the safety of other passengers.
3. Moules Marinière
Moules marinière or marinated mussels, are fried, simmered in stock then baked and are always fresh and delicious. Also try moules frites — mussels with fries, a traditional dish in Marseille.
Marseille is all about nautical themes, and even its biscuits are boat-shaped. Navettes are orange-flavored biscuits that are very popular during Christmas, yet are always available year-round. Buy them pre-packaged and unopened for the safety of guests on the ship.
This little treat, which has black olives, is a blend of pizza and a puff pastry tart. It’s a Marseille tradition made with onions and anchovies all tucked into a tart crust.
Marseille’s most famous and classic dish is bouillabaisse, which was once known as the poor man’s soup. It’s hardly that now, thanks to its popularity and higher price, which tourists gladly pay. This dish is a hearty meal and is loved by true seafood enthusiasts.
The soup is made using a variety of seafood combinations, typically decided upon by the chef or by what is available.
Ingredients can range from multiple types of fish, shrimp, crab, lobster, mussels, and sea urchins and often includes any combination of vegetable seasonings such as garlic, onions, potatoes and fresh herbs. Locals will attest to the deep, rich quality of the bouillabaisse created in Marseille.
7. Pieds et Paquets
Roughly translated, pieds et paquets means tripe and trotters, or, as some say it means stomach and feet. The dish is not for the faint of heart or stomach. Yet, when in Marseille, do as the locals do and give the dish a try. You’ll find pied et paquets in restaurants throughout Marseille that cook up this traditional, local food.
It looks like mayonnaise, but in Marseille, aïoli is a gourmet spread made of garlic, lemon juice, eggs and olive oil. It’s a popular dipping sauce for fries, cod, vegetables, shellfish and just about any other dippable food.
9. North African Food
Marseille has a large North African immigrant community from the former French colonies of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, which has resulted in vibrant cuisine. Try leblebi, a Tunisian soup, or merguez, a spicy stew made of Moroccan sausage.
This delicious spread is one that you may need to develop a taste for — it’s made from a purée of capers, anchovies, black olives, and lots of garlic and olive oil. It’s inexpensive yet is also a real gourmet treat.
If you’re looking for something to buy in Marseilles as a souvenir or gift, tapenade is a perfect choice. It’s small, prepackaged and unopened, making it ideal for transporting and then giving as a gift once home.
There’s actually a Marseille style of pizza, and it’s everywhere you turn. What sets Marseille pizza apart from authentic Italian pizza is the garlic used to flavor the dish. The Marseille pizza includes lots of garlic, intensifying the flavor and the eating experience. Most pizzerias add an olive to each slice—a very Mediterranean touch.
Provençal cuisine wouldn’t be complete without a taste of ratatouille. It’s a culinary specialty of Nice, and it is literally defined as a motley stew of vegetables, which can be found in your travels around Marseille.
Saffron, along with many other spices, is a mainstay spice in Marseille cuisine. It’s interesting to note that French typically don’t cook with many spices, but they do in Mediterranean-influenced Marseille. The more exotic the flavor, the better.
While in the Old Port of Marseille, pick up a bottle of an Italian-inspired, anise-flavored aperitif called pastis. It’s a refreshing and strong drink produced from the star anise, a spice originally from China.
Its distinctive sweet licorice taste is also used to cook up many dishes in Provence. Check with Carnival to see if the cruise ship allows pastis on board. Typically, the ship allows you to bring one 750 ml bottle of alcohol per adult if you’re over 21 years of age.
When in France, always buy wine. One of the more popular things to do in Marseille is to take a shore excursion to Avignon and visit a local winery, Chateauneuf, to tour age-old vineyards. Buy a bottle as a memento.
As a rule, when you’re wondering what to eat in Marseilles and you’re scanning a menu, note whether the prices advertised are followed by the letter “P.” This is short for “à partir de,” and translates to the word “from.” You could be charged more than you expect for small menu additions, such as adding a sauce to an otherwise plain dish of mussels.
Shore excursions in Marseille offer free time for plenty of eating and shopping. Carnival cruises take care of all the details to leave you free to bask in the earthy, unpretentious and rustic beauty of European ports, including Marseille.