Posted by: Brad Nixon | August 13, 2011

Mangiare! (Let’s Eat!)

One of the attractions Europe has for travelers is that there is food there.

Fewer people would travel to Europe if they had to pack their lunch for the entire trip.

However wonderful the food wherever you live, it’s fascinating to discover new dishes made from local ingredients prepared by natives with techniques honed through generations, eaten in situ.

Don’t overlook opportunities to seek your food adventures in stores and shops, not only restaurants. Whether it’s a little grocer’s shop or a big palace of food like Monoprix in the French cities (or the ultimate, Fauchon, in Paris), wandering through the food aisles gives you a look at local food as well as interesting ways of packaging it.

Here, for example, is a display outside a shop in the ancient city of Vence, an hour into the hills of Provence above Nice:

Vence market Brad Nixon 6913 (640x471)

Mmmm! Marinated anchovies, and other delights.

Nearly every European city and town has one or more well-established markets for fish, produce, meat, cheese, flowers and so forth. Some of these markets have traditions dating to the revival of trade at the end of the middle ages. We cherish our tasty memories of shopping in old market towns from many years of travel: Volterra, Italy (possibly originating with the Etruscans); Cortona, Italy; Nice (the Phoenicians started the trading there). Two of the most venerable markets are the produce and fish markets not far from the Rialto Bridge in Venice, with their own docks on the Grand Canal, a testament to the days when Venice was THE European power in trade.

Rialto Market Brad Nixon 6358 (640x480)

You can simply browse, but it’s better to get a few items to tote along for a long day of walking through the city. Find that perfect shady spot in a little campo and take a break with your snack. The vendors may be a bit impatient if it’s a busy day, but they’ll accommodate you even if your vocabulary is limited. Say “hello,” “please,” “thank you,” in whatever local language. Have something smaller than a 20-Euro note with you if possible. One other tip: most markets have a tradition that the vendor picks up the items, and it’s a faux pas to pick it up yourself. Watch for a few minutes to observe the local convention. In the Venice market, the vendors will select the items you want.

You’ll find items in these markets that you may find at home, but not so easily, like zucchini flowers, a Mediterranean delicacy. Here they are (fleurs courgettes) in Vence.

courgette flower Brad Nixon 6909 (640x412)

Dip those in batter, fry ’em up, and see how you like ’em.

Part of the appeal of tourist eating is not only the food, but ambience. Everything tastes better and is more fun to eat in exotic circumstances. There is, especially in the Mediterranean climates, plenty of outdoor dining. La Place Surian in a corner of ancient Vence:

Vence restaurant Brad Nixon 6938 (640x435)

The bustling old quarter of Nice in high season…

Nice restaurant Brad Nixon 6818 (640x544)

“Captain Cook,” a leafy bower at the edge of the old port in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat:

Captain Cooks Brad Nixon 6794 (640x480)

Enough scene-setting. Mangiare!

We’ll start simply. Pizza, anyone? Italy and France are awash in pizza. Pizza in various forms is native to those lands, but in the 45 years since I first visited Europe, pizza has proliferated, driven by demand from tourists. One could spend weeks marching and munching across Italy and southern France fueled by nothing BUT pizza in endless variety, price and quality.

The Counselor and I agree that our personal World Standard of All Pizza is from a little place on a square in the Trastevere section of Rome. Whenever we think of returning to Rome, an underlying assumption is that we will return to that sacred spot and again savor the thinnest, most delectable crust and most savory ingredients ever pulled from an oven.

There are rivals. Here, in that sun-drenched square in Vence:

Vence pizza Brad Nixon 6940 (640x432)

Tasty, perfectly cooked, served in ideal conditions with a glass of cool wine in the Provencal sun. This is why one travels (aside from the enlightening visits to museums and other historical and educational improvements, of course). (CLICK HERE to see more of our visit to Vence.)

Pizza itself is just one take on a basic food form that’s replicated around the world in a variety of flat, bread-like dishes using any variety of ground meal. The Cote d’Azur has its own native concept of pizza: socca. It’s a flat bread made from chickpea flour. Another variety, pissaladerie, includes onions and anchovies. Both are delicious. Here’s socca, served with some salad Nicoise.

pissaladerie Brad Nixon 6819 (640x406)

Bouillabaisse is one of the famed dishes of the Cote d’Azur, an undertaking both in preparation and consumption. One can enjoy it in endless forms. In Cap-Ferrat, The Counselor wanted a light lunch after a long, hot walk. She ordered the pureed fish and stock, soupe de poisson, as served at Captain Cook in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.

bouillabasse Brad Nixon 6790 (640x425)

Rub the garlic on the little toasts and put them in the soup with the grated cheese. You can put the garlic/mayonnaise rouille on the toast or in the soup.

bouillabasse Brad Nixon 6792 (640x551)

(CLICK HERE to see more of our visit to Cap-Ferrat.)

At lunch in Verona, I was overconfident I could explain in Italian that we wanted to share one dish of risotto cooked with red wine. We were served two full helpings.

Verona risotto Brad Nixon 6430 (640x470)

It was delicious, and we ate all of it.

In the Renaissance city of Treviso, in a building that once was a mill powered by the canals that thread through the town, The Counselor had a tasty lunch of linguini with mussels.

Treviso pasta Brad Nixon 6591 (640x480)

Good, as you can tell by all the empty mussel shells.

During our week in Villefranche-sur-Mer, we had a place of our own with a kitchen, which gave us the opportunity to do our own shopping and cooking. Here’s our version of the local ratatouille — polenta with vegetables.

Villefranche ratatouille Brad Nixon 7023 (640x384)

Dessert was clafoutis — batter cake with fruit — from a local patisserie (pastry shop) just up the street from our apartment.

clafoutis Brad Nixon 7077 (640x506)

The classic thing is to get up from the table, walk around, then duck into a shop to get gelato (in Italy), or — in France — glace’. Nearly every town has a variety of shops, some of which have been in business for decades. Here’s part of the selection that runs to scores of flavors at the famous Fenocchio, in Nice.

Fenocchio gelato Brad Nixon 6833 (640x407)

My favorite gelato stop in all the world is Della Palma, in Rome, near the Pantheon, but we discovered a rival on this trip: Savoia, in Verona.

Where are your favorite travel food experiences? Leave a comment.

© Brad Nixon 2011, 2017



  1. Bon Appetite!


  2. I love seafood and don’t get enough of it in Paris. Great post and photos!
    I need to blog more about food. I attempt to try some of everything in new places.


  3. A nice travelogue of edible delights! I can’t wait to go back to Fenocchio — must try, inter alia, the lemon meringue sorbet, the violet glace and that special treat for lawyers, avocat. Cheers for the fig and the rhubarb sorbet.


  4. Absolutely delightful! Mouthwatering! Brain and body ache to be there. BTW, after Daisy saw your photo of the clafoutis, she was inspired to make one of her own, to celebrate a birthday here at the office.

    à votre santé!


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