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

How unpredicted this city is (note: the city of Toulon), how full of contrasts! […] Certain streets, such as Rue d’Alger and Rue Hoche offer a great variety of shops; we can assume a rich population that loves the pomp. In the morning, Cours Lafayette, the widest of these streets, shaded by plane trees, is the most bustling part of this lively city.

The Cours has a market there where all the vegetables and fruits of the South […] pile up in superb stacks of color and fragrance. Oranges, lemons, lychees from Japan, grapes, and, in the spring, strawberries and cherries fill up the bags and baskets, all crammed between lettuce, artichokes, cardoons, and other greens. Piles of garlic and onion, bay leaves, loads of thyme and sage, melons, cucumbers, watermelons -of a pink flesh, sown with black seeds-, brightly colored tomatoes. Flower stands offer armfuls of roses, hyacinths, tulips, as well as tuberoses with the strongest of scents, anemones, mimosas: an adorable flora!

The market is extended on the sidewalks of the narrow streets to connect to the picturesque covered stands: there, one can find fishermen bringing baskets full of scorpion fish, sea bream, red mullet and eels; on the tables, large tunas with their armor of steel are cut up. […] There is an unstoppable noise of piercing gasps and joyful rumors in which you are happy to delve into.

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 relished the idea of making a love declaration to someone. I was looking for a human existence that would become responsible for all this beauty, all this happiness of living. […] And it even seemed to me […] that this existence will show up at the first bend of a path that I would take. She must!

I returned to Nice with the same exhilaration. I walked around the Saleya market. […]I crept into the Place de la Préfecture, a very crowded square with stalls and stockrooms, abundant in sunlight and shouts. […] I saw my favorite stores again in their morning glory. There were shops of wine and oil that looked very dark, since the little light that penetrated them fell upon brown and purple barrel planks, or, a greasy metal, here and there, anointed with old oil, incapable to create reflections. One could only make out the outline of huge barrels, which made me think that the wine is a gift of nature coming out of the rock, like spring water.

The grocery stores at the back […] were brighter because their soapstone was almost as white as alabaster and the cylinders containing beans or peas illuminated in their red, yellow, or green colors. Moreover, tins of sardines placed side by side, or one on top of the other, formed a pattern that was shining like a silver armor.

Women were rushing, ferreting about, chatting, waiting between doors and gateways. They were brunettes, willingly chubby, vibrant and possessed no vulgarity.  Some of them were slim and fretful. When they drew near, it was easy to imagine the scent of their skin: spicy, a little 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