Archive for the ‘Marseille’Category

Maison Empereur is Ali Baba’s cave for foodies

exterior of Maison Empereur in Marseille
Julia Child reportedly lamented her husband Paul’s transfer from Paris to Marseille in the early 1950s, but she took solace in the cuisine of Provence. Perhaps she had already assembled a full kitchen battery at E. Dehillerin in Paris ( If not, she also had the riches of Maison Empereur (4, rue des Récolettes, +34 04-9154-0229, at her fingertips in Marseille. Tucked into a corner of old Marseille a few hundred meters from the Old Port, this “hardware store” (quincaillerie) founded in 1827 claims to be the oldest in France. More than 90 percent of the products sold at Maison Empereur carry the Enterprises du Patrimoine Vivant label, a certification of excellence in traditional artisanry and industrial processes.

cookware at Maison Empereur in MarseilleYes, you can buy nuts and bolts and Bakelite doorbell buttons and porcelain lamp fixtures and all the other wonderful weird merchandise carried in old-fashioned hardware stores around the globe. But kitchenware is where Maison Empereur really shines. Its outside signage advertises art culinaire and art ménager. Those roughly translate as the everything you need for cooking and housekeeping. It is not a boast, simply a statement of fact. The kilometer of aisles in the series of interlinked buildings on the point where rue Musée and rue des Récolettes meet are narrow and jam-packed with goodies ready to be discovered. That could be every imaginable shape of aspic or chocolate mold, every known size of cast-iron frying pan or enameled stew pot, and every gadget your foodie heart could covet. The store’s owners bill it as containing the wonders of Ali Baba’s cave, which is amusing since the surrounding neighborhood is principally North African. Only our limited luggage space kept us from maxing out the credit cards.

Trés Provençal

olive wood salad ware at Maison Empereur in MarseilleIn addition to the industrial hardware, Maison Empereur also carries traditional hand crafts of Provence, including utterly beautiful salad bowls and utensils crafted from olive wood (right) or large olive-glazed ceramic pitchers decorated with white bands. Even the “saladier gratte ail” struck us a marvelously Marseillaise. It is a large ceramic salad bowl with a rough bottom intended for grating a head of garlic. If you want to make salad something of a fixation, Maison Empereur also sells kits for making your own vinegar, complete with a vinegar crock fitted with a spigot. For the true salad fanatic, the shop also carries a device to press your own olive oil at the table.

Opinel knives at Maison Empereur in MarseilleThe traditional devices captured our attention even more than the innovations. We had to resist the temptation to buy a chocolate shaver (which can also be used with a round of hard cheese), chocolate pincers designed to break up sheets, or any of the dozen varieties of wooden kitchen utensils. We did succumb to the longstanding desire to own perhaps the world’s finest wood-handled folding knife. The Opinel knives were invented in the 1890s in the Savoie region and the No. 8 with a plain wooden handle and a carbon-steel blade has become an icon. It fits the hand beautifully, has just the right curve in the blade to cut thick vines and tree shoots, and can be honed sharp enough to use as a straight razor. Even better, it is a classic that sells for less than €11. Naturally, Maison Empereur carries all the sizes and variations in its front room devoted entirely to knives and other cutting instruments.

Maison Empereur is open 9 a.m.-7 p.m. daily except Sunday.


01 2018

Bouillabaisse without fish but full of ceremony

Bowls of Goodness cookbookIf there’s one subject more contentious in Marseille than the sanctity of the Olympique football team, it’s the proper recipe for bouillabaisse. Some sources argue that it’s a poor fisherman’s stew made up of bycatch, while the charter of the Marseille Bouillabaisse organization specifies at least four kinds of fin fish and two optional shellfish. That the dish is usually served in two courses and spiced with pricey threads of saffron argues that maybe it was always a dish for the wealthy.

Most of those fish species are expensive imports where we live, so we’re always happy to find another way to enjoy the dish. Nina Olsson, the force behind Britain’s, has provided a really striking vegetarian alternative for bouillabaisse in her recent cookbook, Bowls of Goodness published by Kyle Books ($27.95). These vegetarian recipes, which include notes to make the dishes vegan and/or gluten-free, pay heed to culinary traditions and tried-and-true flavors while offering healthy plates for a plant-based diet. Her bouillabaisse keeps the spirit of the stew but skips the fish, relying on seaweed for the umami of the ocean. We prefer a pinch of saffron to the single thread she proposes.

Fish free bouillabaisse photo by Nina Olsson


Rustic saffron and vegetable soup with seaweed and rouille

There’s something very romantic about rustic soups such as bouillabaisse. As much as I like perfectly blended soups, the sense of the Old World that derives from a soup full of texture is hard to beat. This one comes from Marseille, the old seaport in southern France. In this recipe I have transformed what was originally a fish stew into a delicious vegetarian soup, infusing it with a seafood flavor from kombu seaweed.

A traditional bouillabaisse is made with a variety of seafood, often the leftovers after fishermen have sold the best of their catch. To duplicate the textures in a classic bouillabaisse I used a mixture of vegetables, giving cauliflower a prominent position. The soup’s flavor is elevated by saffron, fennel, and almond. It is served with a tasty rouille sauce made with roasted pepper and mayonnaise, which is spooned into the finished soup and scooped up with bread. – Nina Olsson

serves 2 to 3


2 red bell peppers, 1 cut into strips and 1 left whole
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into half-inch dice
2 cups cauliflower florets
olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
3 shallots, thinly sliced
handful of almonds, thinly sliced
half leek, thinly sliced
4 cups vegetable broth
14 oz. can diced tomatoes
2/3 cup dry white wine
4-inch strip of kombu seaweed
2 bay leaves
1/4 lb. black olives
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional)
1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup
8 oz. can chickpeas, drained
1 saffron thread
1 tablespoon Pernod (optional)
salt and pepper
extra-virgin olive oil

1 red bell pepper, roasted (see above)
1/2 cup mayonnaise (or Vegenaise to make a vegan version)
juice of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves, crushed
pinch of ground star anise (optional)
1/2 teaspoon harissa paste
rustic bread, to serve


Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment. Place the peppers, sweet potato, and cauliflower florets on the baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and thyme. Roast until soft, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. Once cool enough to handle, peel the skin from the whole red pepper, then halve and remove seeds, ready to make the rouille.

Blend all the ingredients for the rouille and refrigerate, covered, until ready to serve.

To make the soup, heat a saucepan over medium-high heat and add a drizzle of olive oil. Gently cook the garlic, fennel, shallots, and almonds for a few minutes. Add the leek and cook, stirring, for another minute. Add the broth, tomatoes, wine, kombu, bay leaves, olives, nutritional yeast (if using), honey, and salt to taste. Cover the pan and let it simmer slowly for 15 minutes. Add the roasted vegetables, chickpeas, and saffron, then continue to simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and discard the kombu and bay leaves. Add the Pernod (if using), and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and serve with the rouille and rustic bread.


01 2018

Enjoying everything fishy in Marseille

The fish market at the Quai des Belges in Marseille

When a magazine assignment took us to Catalunya last fall, we decided to extend our trip by taking a train to Marseille. After all, it was the only one of the three great port cities of the western Mediterranean that we didn’t already know and love. Its history is deeply entwined with Barcelona and Naples. What Marseille has that the others lack is a long slot harbor where small vessels are well-sheltered from the weather. Le Vieux Port (“old port”) forms the picturesque waterfront of historic Marseille.

stepping off a fishing boat at Quai des Belges fish market in MarseilleThe anchorages here primarily host pleasure craft, but every morning small one- and two-man fishing boats—primarily seiners and trawlers—tie up at the Quai des Belges and unload their overnight catch. In many cases, the fishermen’s wives meet the boats at the quai. They wrestle big polyethylene tubs of fish onto display tables, set up scales and cash boxes, and sell to all comers. Buyers range from Marseille householders planning dinner to chefs from the waterfront restaurants picking up that evening’s catch of the day. We saw a restaurateur snatch up an entire tub of hake before the fisherman could even get it to a table. Others were shopping for the assortment of fish to make Marseille’s famous (and expensive) bouillabaisse. We saw it as a chance to familiarize ourselves with the likely dinner menu.

Varied catch shows health of fishery

mollusk seller at Quai des Belges fish market in MarseilleNot all the catch necessarily comes off boats. The older woman at left hopped from a van and wheeled her shellfish into the market in a home shopping cart. Setting up on a small folding table, she sold whelks, cockles, and limpets that she had gathered in the intertidal zone. She chalked her prices—€2-3 per kilo—onto small squares of slate.

The catch can be surprisingly different from boat to boat, reflecting the general health of the Mediterranean in this part of Provence. One boat may only have small tuna that the fisherman cuts into steaks, while another will land big tubs of red mullet. Another may have small sea bass and a version of ocean perch, while yet another may have caught nothing but mackerel. Some vessels that have been out longer may have catches from different spots—tubs of beautifully mottled squid, a couple of kinds of flounder, and a rainbow of silvery mackerel and plump golden gilthead bream.

The fish market operates daily from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m.

variety of fish at Quai des Belges fish market in Marseille


01 2018
  • Find us on social media

    twitter button 110pxinstagram button 110px