The best food markets in the French riviera - Citimarks

Niçoise salad

lady merchant laughing in food market
lady paying for a fish in food market


“It was and still is today a place of varied accents, smells and colors, where superb curses flashed under the eyes of dead fish, rising into the air above the quarters of veal, the cutlets, the leeks.”
Romain Gary, Promise at dawn, New Directions, 2017.
chapter 1

Queen of the market

My mother got up at six every morning, smoked three or four cigarettes, drank a cup of tea, got dressed, took her cane and went to the Buffa market, where she was the undisputed queen. This market, which was much smaller than that of the Old Town, where the big hotels got their supplies, mainly served pensions in the neighbourhood of the Boulevard Gambetta. It was and still is today a place of varied accents, smells and colors, where superb curses flashed under the eyes of dead fish, rising into the air above the quarters of veal, the cutlets, the leeks; a place where -by some Mediterranean miracle- the sweet fragrance of mimosa and carnations managed always to rise triumphantly over a thousand far less appealing smells.

My mother would handle a slice of veal, ponder over the heart of a melon, reject with scorn a piece of beef -whose flabby sound when it was dropped on the marble slab seemed to express humility at being thus rejected- point her stick accusingly at some rusty leaf in a stall of salads, which the market gardener immediately protected with his body, with a desperate “don’t go pawning the stuff, now!”; sniff at a piece of brie, then dip her finger in the cream of a camembert and taste it – when applying her nose to a cheese, a filet or a fish she had a look of suspense which made the faces of the merchants turn white with exasperation – and, having at mast rejected once and for all the wretched merchandise, she would turn away with her head held high, while a medley of challenging insults, curses and outraged cries sounded in our ears the oldest choir in the Mediterranean. 

One felt transported in a flash to some Eastern court of law, where my mother, all of a sudden, pardoned salads, joints and peas for their doubtful quality and exorbitant price, thus promoting them from the rank of shoddy merchandise to that of “first-rank cuisine française,” in the words of the above-mentioned prospectus. 

For several months she would stop in front of M. Renucci’s stall, spend a long time handling his display of hams without ever buying any of them, in a spirit of deliberate provocation […] Then, while my mother brought her nose close to a piece of ham, with a grimace, first of incredulity, then of horror, and made it clear in expressive mimicry that an abominable stench had insulted her organ of smell…

…the butcher, with upcast eyes and hands clasped in prayer, would implore the Madonna to restrain him from committing murder, while my mother, pushing away the ham with a scornful and triumphant smile, would sail away to continue her reign elsewhere, in some kingdom of cheese or fruit, pursued by a storm of laughter, shaking fists, cries of “Santa Madonna!” and tragic oaths.

Whenever I go back to Nice, I pay a visit to the Buffa Market, and I spend long hours among the leeks, the asparagus, the melons, the cuts of beef, the fruit, the flowers and the fish. The noises, the voices, the gestures, the smells and scents have not changed. It needs only very little, almost nothing, for the illusion to be complete, and this I achieve by closing my eyes. Then I wander through the market for hours on end, and the carrots, the chicory and the endives do what they can for me.

Romain Gary,

Promise at dawn, New Directions, 2017.

fisherman in food market
meat showcase
meat market in Nice
fried delicacies in food showcase

In many food markets in the Coast, one can enjoy a lunch on-the-go. Street-food caterers, such as Specialités Niçoises -featured in the photo- have installed long showcases filled with freshly fried sardines and other fish or vegetable fritters, all ready to eat.

chapter 2

A delicious garden

Toulon! How unpredicted this city is, how full of contrasts! […] Certain streets, such as Rue d’Alger and Rue Hocheshowcase a diverse array of shops, suggesting an affluent population that appreciates extravagance. In the morning, Cours Lafayette, the broadest of these streets, shaded by plane trees, becomes the bustling heart of this vibrant city.

Cours Lafayette hosts a market where an abundance of vegetables and fruits from the South creates magnificent displays of color and fragrance. Oranges, lemons, lychees from Japan, grapes, and in the spring, strawberries and cherries, fill bags and baskets, intermingled with lettuce, artichokes, cardoons, and various greens. Stacks of garlic and onions, bay leaves, copious amounts of thyme and sage, melons, cucumbers, and watermelons with pink flesh and black seeds, alongside brightly colored tomatoes, create a visual feast. Flower stands offer armfuls of roses, hyacinths, tulips, as well as tuberoses with their potent fragrance, anemones, and mimosas—an adorable flora!

The market spills over onto the narrow sidewalks, connecting to picturesque covered stands where fishermen bring baskets teeming with scorpion fish, sea bream, red mullet, and eels. On the tables, large tunas with their steel-like armor are expertly prepared. The surroundings echo with an unstoppable cacophony of gasps and joyful chatter, providing an immersive experience you can’t help but embrace.

Victor-Eugène Ardouin-Dumazet,

Voyage en France, Berger-Levrault, 1898. 

merchant smiling at patron
Candied fruits in stall
cheese merchant in market
lady picking fruit in market

Consumers queuing at a fruit stall in the famous “Marché de la Liberation” market in Nice.

chapter 3

Scent of a woman

I savored the prospect of declaring my love to someone, yearning for a human connection that would be the source of all this beauty and the joy of existence. It even crossed my mind that this soul might reveal itself around the first turn of a path I chose to take. It must be so!

Returning to Nice, that same exhilaration accompanied me. I strolled through the Saleya market, immersing myself in its vibrant atmosphere. Venturing into the Place de la Préfecture, a bustling square with stalls and warehouses, bathed in abundant sunlight and echoing with lively shouts. I revisited my favorite stores, now bathed in the morning glow. The wine and oil shops exuded a deep darkness, the little light penetrating them casting shadows on brown and purple barrel planks or greasy metal surfaces anointed with aged oil, incapable of creating reflections. The silhouette of massive barrels hinted that wine was a natural gift emerging from the rock, akin to spring water.

Moving towards the grocery stores at the back, the atmosphere brightened. Their soapstone was nearly as white as alabaster, and the cylinders holding beans or peas illuminated in vibrant red, yellow, or green hues. Tins of sardines arranged side by side or stacked formed a gleaming pattern reminiscent of silver armor.

Amidst the activity, women hurried about, chatting, and waiting between doors and gateways. They were brunettes, willingly full-figured, vibrant, yet devoid of vulgarity. Some were slender and restless. As they approached, it was easy to imagine the scent of their skin: spicy, somewhat oriental, and rather exotic than unpleasant.

Jules Romains,

La douceur de la vie, Flammarion, 1958.

salt in tubes
bottles of liqueurs and fruit rums
spices in glass jars

Nice for gourmet lovers

Enjoy delicious delicacies and colorful markets

French Riviera